The Winding River
by Ramon West

  • Flowing across the land, charting its own course naturally, the river is not concerned with tomorrow.

    It was a dry, hot day, and the three boys had been out for several hours. The muddy river was flowing rapidly carrying driftwood and other debris downstream. The reddish-brown bluff was about forty feet high with an occasional tree jutting out from its rocky ledges. Just minutes before, Chris and Jesse had been up ahead…searching.

    David, Chris, and Jesse had spent lots of afternoons together walking and exploring in the prairie. It was a short walk from Chris’s house, and only took a few minutes to get to the small grove of trees near the river. The river was full of life, but at first glance it appeared to be just muddy water. The boys had learned how to move quietly along the edge of the water, and by doing so, they had often come upon raccoons, whooping cranes, coyotes, and a variety of other wildlife.

    Today had seemed like a good day to look for arrowheads. They were never sure what they might come across when looking for these small relics, but in order to find anything, they would have to swim across the river and climb to the top of the bluff. There they could reach the plateau where arrowheads could sometimes be found. Just one hundred years ago Native Americans had roamed this land freely. It was their land, their home. David had heard that they used the bluff as some kind of lookout. His cousin said that he knew the location of an old campsite where there were campfires and tools left from the last time the tribe had been there. David had never seen the place, but he hoped his cousin would take him someday.

    But today on the plateau, David had only found a few rocks with an unusual shape. They are probably just plain rocks, he thought to himself, but he saved them anyway so he could try to impress Chris and Jesse. He gazed out from the top of the bluff and imagined being a young brave, scouting for the good of the tribe, looking out for buffalo or the white man. He didn’t see any buffalo. They had all been killed years before along with the natives who roamed these plains.

    As he looked out across the landscape, David could see Chris’s house in the distance. It was a small white house nestled gently in a plot of land just outside of town. It always had a fresh coat of paint and never seemed in need of repair. A vegetable garden grew out back, and a short distance away was a reservoir with clean fresh water. The house and reservoir were surrounded by rows of cotton. There were three big trees spaced about fifty feet apart on the edge of the field. The trees seemed out of place there, as if someone had planted them long ago as some sort of marker.

    Christopher Johnson was from one of the many cotton growing families in the area. They owned a small piece of land near the river. This time of year the fields were green with young plants reaching for the sky, but later, puffy white balls would appear on the plants, and the cotton would be harvested. Chris had a younger sister that David always liked. She was really nice, a little shy, and David thought she was pretty. The boys let her join them sometimes, but today she was working with her mother in the garden.

    Chris’s dad worked really hard on the farm. Between the cotton field and the few animals they owned, there was always work that needed to be done. Something had happened to Chris’s dad that David was never too sure about. He thought it had happened to him in the war. Mr. Johnson was missing part of his right arm. There was some kind of metal clamp attached where the lower part of his arm used to be. It didn’t seem to slow him down any though. He was often covered in dust or mud from working his land. Mr. Johnson always had a big smile when the boys came around, and David could see that he loved Chris and was very proud of him. He also loved his life and work on the farm. This was apparent when talked about the condition of the cotton or the weather, and you could see it glow in his eyes. David thought he looked peaceful when he was in the field alone.

    David lived in town with his grandparents. They owned a small store where they sold groceries and household supplies. David’ grandfather had converted a section of the store into a sort of a library he stocked with books. People could borrow the books from time to time by signing a paper on the clipboard hanging from the shelves. The books in the small library were old and were not easy to find. Grandpa preferred reading to talking and was always studying one of his books. He had a chair at home where he would sit and read for hours in the evening, sometimes falling asleep there. On the desk in behind his chair he had a small box that held a Purple Heart he received in World War II. David had asked him about the Purple Heart one day, and he said, “I got it for something I lost in the war.” In his spare time, Grandpa also liked to work on old cars. He spent lots of time in his garage tinkering with Studebakers. Sometimes he would drive them around town or to church on Sunday, and everyone would wave to him as he went by.

    David’s grandmother worked in the front of the store. She talked to customers and always helped them find what they needed. Everyone liked her, and she was always ready for friendly conversation. Grandma always found the best in people. She seemed to love everyone. David had seen her give discounts to some of the workers when times were hard. Once he saw her give a woman her groceries free of charge. She told her that she could pay later.

    David’s dad was off in Vietnam fighting a war. It had been a long time since anyone had heard from him, and David didn’t really remember anything about him. He had a picture of his father in a military uniform on the dresser in his room. No one spoke of David’s father around the house except when they said the prayer before dinner. Then they asked God to “please deliver our son home safely.” David never asked about him because it seemed to upset everyone when the war was discussed. He could tell his grandparents were worried though. And no one knew where David’s mom was. She left one day and said she was going to find herself. David didn’t know what she meant by that. She was right there, how could she not find herself? Anyway she was gone.

    As David stood on top of the bluff, looking out across the valley, he saw Jesse coming over to talk to him. Jesse’s parents were Mexican immigrants. David didn’t really know too much about them. They lived in a small wooden house that was well outside of town. David had seen his house only once when he rode the school bus into the country to take the kids home. He had gone just for fun, riding out from the school and back in again. He assumed Jesse was born here, probably in the same hospital as himself, but he wasn’t sure since Jesse never talked about his family much. They worked the fields for one of the farmers, and David suspected that his parents were illegal immigrants from Mexico. Next summer Jesse was going to work in the fields also. David probably wouldn’t see much of him then. He liked Jesse though, and they had always had fun together. One time they had gone into a haunted house. At least they thought it was haunted, but it turned out to be just an old house with dust and dead bugs everywhere. It didn’t matter. It was exciting to go inside anyway. They explored the old house several times, but eventually it was torn down. Now it was just another vacant lot.

    “Hey David, have you found anything?”
    “I found these rocks that look like something, but I’m not really sure what they are.”
    “Let me see. Are they some kind of tool?” Jesse inspected the rocks. “They don’t look like they’re tools. Maybe they are something, but I don’t know what.”
    “Yeah, I don’t know either, but the shape doesn’t look natural.”
    “Yeah, you’re right. It looks like someone was working on them. Hey, maybe they were carvings of animals, and they just weren’t finished yet.”
    “Maybe. I suppose this one could be a bear, and this one a bird of some sort.”
    “David, Jesse, come over here,” Chris yelled. “Look at this!”
    “Alright I’m coming,” David said as he continued to examine the stones. Jesse walked over to the bushes where Chris was standing.
    “What is it?” David asked.
    “Hey, it’s an arrowhead!” Jesse had a look of excitement on his face.
    David ran over to the bush where Jesse and Chris were staring at some object on the ground. When he got there, David saw that Chris held an arrowhead in the palm of his hand. It was a small piece of hard stone with sharp edges and a point that had been perfectly cut. The imagination of the boys ran wild! Had this arrowhead been used in a battle or to kill a buffalo? Who made it? Was it a brave or maybe even the chief of the tribe? They wondered on the infinite possibilities for the small piece of stone. Even though they had searched the plateau many times, this was the first real arrowhead they had ever found. Then David and Jesse showed Chris the small rocks that looked like carvings. “Yeah, I can see what you mean. They do look like small animals.” Chris seemed impressed with the shapes of the rocks.

    They were all very excited about finding these relics. The objects seemed to connect them with the past somehow, and it made them feel closer to those that had once roamed this land. Luck was with them today, and they were anxious to find more. “Why don’t we split up and see if we can find another one,” Jesse suggested.
    “Alright. You two go over in that direction, and I’ll look around the area over there.” David pointed in the direction from which he had just come. “We’ll meet back here in thirty minutes.” They agreed to split up and each went their separate way diligently searching the ground.
    David returned to the edge of the bluff where he continued his own search. As he neared a bush up ahead he noticed small creature with very large ears. The rabbit didn’t seem to see him, or if he did, he didn’t care that he was there. The animal was moving slowly, occasionally hopping, and appeared to be disoriented. David was a little wary of this small animal. He’s sick, David thought as he carefully moved away. After all, he didn’t want to get tularemia. “Hey!” David yelled at the rabbit. The small animal stopped for a moment and looked back. He seemed to consider the boy for a moment, and then continued at his own slow pace, wandering away. The rabbit then struggled to move quickly, and David let him go. He felt sorry for this animal. It wouldn’t make it through night.
    David continued searching along the edge of the bluff, and when he came upon a small crevice he jumped over it. As he went over, he saw something move below him. Stopping to turn around, he was curious as to what might be hiding there. Was it another rabbit or some kind of bird? He looked down into the small crack in the ground and saw a large rattlesnake. It was stretched out on a rock just below his feet. The snake seemed to be about six feet long with a thick round body, and it stared up with black eyes. David was suddenly very sorry that he had stopped to look down into the small gap at the top of the bluff. In the next moment he heard a rattling sound and thought he saw the snake begin to move.
    Fear took control as he scrambled to get away from the black-eyed reptile. In a panic he started to run away but slipped instead, falling to the ground, knocking dirt and rocks into the crevice, and bouncing his head off of something very hard. Scrambling to his feet, David noticed a pain in his leg as he started to run. After a few seconds, he began to feel very dizzy and stopped to rest and inspect his wounds. Blood dripped out of a large cut on his forehead and was getting into his eyes. As he wiped his hand across his forehead and eyes, he began to check the rest of himself for cuts and bruises. I must have hit my head on a rock David thought to himself as he raised his pant leg. When he looked down, David found two small holes on the side of his calf. He wondered for just a moment how these holes had been poked in his leg and then remembered the snake. Nausea came next as he sat on the top of the bluff and cried. Where had Chris and Jesse gone? Looking around he found they were nowhere in sight. “I’ve been bitten by a snake!” David cried. He was afraid and totally alone on top of the bluff.

      What is it that courses through our veins but a river?

      As David lay on the plateau images began to rush through his mind. Mother and father, grandparents, and home all came vividly as if watching them on a screen. Everything was spinning and the heat was intense. “I have to get out of here!” he screamed, gripped by a deep fear, hoping that Chris and Jesse would hear him.
    His leg and head throbbing with pain, David decided that he had to get down the bluff, across the river and back home! “I need help!” David screamed again. But his desperation was carried away in the wind.
    As he began to descend the bluff, he heard Chris and Jesse yelling to him. “David wait! What’s going on, wait for us.” Turning around to look, another wave of dizziness overcame him and with his head spinning in the hot sun, David lost his balance and fell glancing off of a rock and into the muddy water below. The reddish brown water was cool and enveloped his body in comforting waves. He wanted to just close his eyes and relax, but fear gripped tightly with its cold fingers around his throat squeezing him slowly in agonizing torment.
    “Jesse go get help!” Chris yelled as he scrambled down the side of the bluff with Jesse right behind. Jesse climbed down to a small ledge and dove into the water. He swam against the rapid currents of the river to the bank on the other side and took off running towards the green fields in the distance. As Jesse ran, Chris made his way to the bottom of the bluff and grabbed onto David before he was carried away in the water.
    David raised his head and moved towards the embankment at the edge of the bluff. Before he made it to the bank, he sat down and allowed the cool water to run over him.
    “David are you alright? What happened? Why did you take off like that?”
    Shaking his head David tried to stand. “I was bitten by a snake and I didn’t know where you went. I need to get home!”
    Chris knew by looking at David’s misshapen arm that it was broken from the fall. The cut on his head was bleeding and running into his eyes. He looked very pale, and Chris could tell that David was delirious and might not realize he had just fallen down the side of the bluff. And if he had really been bitten by a snake, he knew he needed to get him across the river and to help as soon as possible. Jesse was out of sight and the water was flowing fast, but Chris was a good swimmer and thought he could make it across with David. “Hold on tight,” Chris said as he put David’s good arm around his neck. “We’re going across.”
    David looked at the muddy water. It was flowing all around him and Chris, but he didn’t feel anything. His body was numb with fear. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words would come. As the boys went deeper into the river, David saw the red muddy water turn to blood. Chris struggled with David, now unmoving and mumbling incoherently. Driftwood rushed by them carried by the current until it was out of sight on the horizon.
    “Hold on tight we’re in the deep water!” Chris screamed as he tried to fight against the current and hold David at the same time. The water carried the two boys downstream as Chris struggled to reach the other side. They were making it across, but David was dead weight, unconscious, and he was of no help to Chris.

      David began to see soldiers flowing through his clouded mind. They were the same as the scenes he saw every night when he sat with his grandparents on the sofa and watched the news. He didn’t really know exactly what was going on, especially in Vietnam, but it scared him anyway. The soldiers were reaching out and trying to hold on to something. “Who are they? Why are they here?” David mumbled incoherently as Chris gasped for air. “David hold on, I’m losing you!” Chris was struggling to keep his grip on David. They were being carried downstream and underwater much of the time. It was no problem for one person to swim across the river when it was flowing like this, but to swim across carrying David was proving very difficult for Chris.
    David’s mind was swimming. Dizziness had been replaced with shock, and at this point he had inhaled lots of water. He was no longer aware of Chris or the river. Drifting in a sea of confusion and pain, David saw his father floating by. I can’t believe it. Dad has come home! He is here to help me! Thank you god, oh, thank you, thank you! He reached out his hand as his father floated nearer to him.
    “David hold on!” Chris screamed. They were almost to the other side of the river, but Chris could no longer keep his grip on David as he slipped away and went under the water disappearing in a muddy swirl. Chris made it to the bank and stood up frantically searching for his lost friend. He saw David come to the surface for a moment downstream, but he seemed to be moving away just like the driftwood.
    David could see his father crying even through the red water. He spoke, but David could hear nothing. He seemed to be holding onto something, but it was difficult to tell what it was. As David moved closer he was able to see what his father was clutching. He has a picture of my mother and me. In the picture David’s mother was wearing a soft yellow cotton dress and holding a small baby. His father stood up in the bloody water, and David saw a round hole in his chest. He seemed to be in great pain as he made his way through the water. David reached out his hand and pulled himself forwards, then he put his arms around his father’s waist and began to cry. David tried to speak but he couldn’t. Words formed in his mind but would not come forth.

    Everything began to look dark. Sleep and pain overwhelmed him as he settled into the darkness, and a cool breeze blew across his face. He opened his mouth again to speak, and again nothing. Even the darkness seemed distant now. Where does the breeze come from? It’s cold. Dad, where are you? Darkness and cold carried him in silken silence on a journey in the muddy river, a river that flowed endlessly carrying debris yet flowed naturally, creating its own path, it was free to roam as it pleased. Spinning in the cool brown water, David was alone.

    Suddenly he felt a hand on his back pulling him from the darkness into the muddy red light. Pain pulsed through his body throbbing in intense hot waves. Dad where are you?
    “David wake up!”
    He raised his hands to push at the mud and the water covering his face and then began coughing the water out of his lungs. More pain rushed through his arm and throbbed in his head, as he coughed the water out of his stomach on to the bank. “David can you hear me!”
    “Can you hear me!”
    David tried to look through the red mud flowing in the back of his eyes. At first all he saw was the endless darkness. Then he began to make out the shape of Chris’s father. It appeared as if Chris and Jesse were standing behind him, but David couldn’t be sure. Mr. Johnson stared down with a deep concern spread across his face, and his eyes seemed full of love and a little fear. He also seemed to David to be searching the river.
    “You fell down the bluff. I think you have broken your arm. You just take it easy, we’re going to get you some help.” David thought of the metal clamp on the end of Mr. Johnson’s arm and of the soldiers in the river. “What about my dad?” he moaned.
    “Just lay still and relax. You’re going to be alright.”
    David closed his eyes and swam in the darkness again. I am going to be alright. My dad is back! Everything is all right. Everything…

      “He is a lucky young man.”
    “He’s waking up!” Was that grandma’s voice?
    “David, can you hear me?”
    As he awoke he saw a doctor standing over him shining a light in his eyes. Everything looked blurry for a moment as he tried to focus. “Where am I?” David looked around the room.
    “It’s alright David, you’re in the doctor’s office.” His grandmother and grandfather were standing behind the doctor. They looked worried. He suddenly realized they were getting old. Lines flowed across their faces charting a course that covered their bodies. It struck him that they were like the old books in his grandfather’s library, and the lines were like stories etched on their skin. They seemed to move very slowly as if carrying the weight of their lives.
    “Just calm down son,” the doctor said as he placed his hands on David’s shoulders. “You need to just relax and calm yourself.”

    “Where is my dad? He helped me get across the river.”
    The doctor looked at David and forced a smile. “You have hit your head pretty hard son. I don’t think that your dad was able to help you.” Then he suddenly looked uncomfortable and walked to the other side of the room to get an instrument off the shelf above the sink.
    Grandma approached slowly and spoke. “David we’re so glad that you’re alright. We were very worried about you. You were so sick for a while. We thought we were going to lose you too.” Tears were rolling down her face.
    What did she mean by that? Lose me too? David felt confused. He also felt now that something else was terribly wrong. He looked around the room and saw his grandfather just sitting there, staring out of the window into space as if he were lost. David suddenly thought of him driving his Studebaker down Main Street with the people waving to him. “David, your mother is back,” grandma said, her voice shaking in time with her hands.
    Then he saw his mother in a corner of the room. She was sitting on a chair, with her face in her hands, crying. She came over to David and held him.
    “Mom! You finally came home. I’ve missed you so much.” David held his mother tightly, and he never wanted to let her go. Then he thought of his father.
    “Dad helped me get across the river!” Excitement was in his voice. “Is he here? Where is he?” His mother began to cry again and held him tighter. “What’s wrong?” David spoke, but he was not sure he really wanted an answer.
    “We just got word that your father was killed in action,” his grandmother said with tears rolling down her face. David felt the cold breeze blow across him again. This room was too cold, too white, and he hated the smell. Clear jars of cotton balls, tongue depressors, and other supplies lined the walls, and there was a stainless steel sink directly below them. A box of rubber gloves sat next to the sink with an empty finger hanging out of the top. It was a cold room, and it made everyone’s voice sound strange. “But he helped me, he helped me get across the river. I couldn’t have done it without him.” “You had a bad accident,” the doctor said. “Your friend Chris helped you across the river. You were bitten by what looks to have been a rattlesnake. There are a lot of them around this time of year. Fortunately it was a dry bite, and the snake didn’t release any poison. You probably just startled him somehow. I’m sure it gave you a fright though.”
    David had forgotten about the snake. A dry bite? He had never heard of such a thing. “I thought the rattlesnake poisoned me.”
    “No, you were very lucky.” David began to feel sick. “Hysteria is not uncommon after being bitten by a snake,” the doctor continued. “Certainly you must have been afraid. You may have panicked as you tried to get home. Fear is a powerful thing. Then, apparently you fell while climbing down the bluff. You hit your head very hard on something, and we had to put ten stitches in you to sew it up. You also broke your arm and have several cuts and bruises. You really are very lucky. It could have been much worse.” David looked down at his left arm. It was wrapped in cold white plaster. “Lucky for you your friend Jesse made it to Mr. Johnson in time. He ran from his field over to the river and pulled you out.”
    “Chris’s dad pulled me out?” Yeah, I remember that. “Where are they?” The sick feeling worsened inside of him. But I saw him in the river! Then came the memory of the hole in his father’s chest and his weakened voice. Suddenly David realized that he had no memory of his father’s voice. He only vaguely remembered his face from playing together as a small child, but there was nothing of his voice in David’s memory. “He is dead,” he said to himself. At that his grandmother broke down, and with tears streaming down her tired face she went over to David’s mom. The two women hugged and tried to comfort each other. His grandfather continued staring out of the window looking completely lost. Hysteria. What did the doctor mean by that? “Mr. Johnson and your friends are waiting outside in the hall. Do you want to see them?” The doctor asked.
    David wanted to talk to them, to ask them if they saw anyone else in the river. No, I am sure they didn’t. He was tired and feeling very sick to his stomach. “I will see them later. I just want to sleep now.” I just want to sleep.

      As he slept David dreamed. They were driving down Main Street in grandpa’s Studebaker. The gold paint was in perfect condition, and the vinyl seats felt warm and sticky against his skin. Grandpa and grandma were in the front seat waving at people as the car passed slowly by. It was a beautiful sunny day with the sky a rich deep blue, and the birds flying freely above. Dad sat in the back seat between mom and David. He was wearing his uniform, and his arms were around them both. The back windows were rolled down and the warm breeze blew gently through the car, the fresh air caressing their lungs with each breath. David waved to Chris and Jesse as they drove by. They waved back and ran behind the car for a while. The family was driving out to the river for a picnic. “Maybe we will be able to find some arrowheads,” David said, as they turned on to the long dirt road heading out to the river.

      Even when it is gone, the river leaves its mark upon the land.

      Years passed and David’s life changed. He moved away from the small town where his grandparents lived to find a job in the city. Occasionally he returned to attend funerals and other family gatherings. Things didn’t change much there. One time when he was visiting he went out to the river and swam across. He climbed to the top of the bluff, and he walked alone on the plateau. When he approached the small crevice at the edge of the bluff, he looked over the edge. Inside there was a rattlesnake. It looked to David as if it was the same snake that had bitten him that day long ago. He sat down at the edge of the small gap in the ground and stared at the snake. The snake looked back with its black eyes unmoving. It remained completely still and seemed as if it were very calm. They looked at each other for a long time, and neither of them moved. Finally, David rose and walked back to the edge of the bluff where he climbed down to the river.
    Chris joined the military and was shipped overseas. David got letters from him sometimes, usually telling stories of strange lands. He was involved in special operations, and they were training him in electronics. He seemed happy, and David was happy for him.
    One day David received a phone call from Mr. Johnson. He told him that Chris had been killed in action. The news of this was more than David thought he could bear, but bear it he did; however, it was the only thing on his mind for months, and it stirred in him much contemplation. Why did this have to happen and why to Chris? He was such a good man. David had begged Chris not to join the military, but he said it was a good way for him to get an education. Maybe he did get an education. The details of his death were sketchy, but from what they knew, Chris had died trying to save another person’s life.
    At Chris’s funeral, David saw many of the people he had known as a child. They all remembered Chris in their own way. David heard stories about Chris rescuing a cat that had climbed too high into one of the trees or the little girl he had stopped from running out in front of the car. The people here loved Chris, and all would miss him greatly. David asked about Jesse. “Did anyone know how Jesse was or what he was doing?” No one had heard from Jesse, and his family had moved long ago. He hoped that Jesse had a good life. He thought of him sometimes when he saw a vacant old house or the green fields with rows neatly arranged and maintained by workers. By the time the funeral was over, David realized he would never see either of his old friends again.
    After the funeral, David went to the farm to visit with Mr. Johnson. He was much older and could no longer work his land the way he used to. His farm was about the same though. Nothing much had changed. Now as he sat on the front porch of his house, gazing out upon the landscape, he had the same peaceful presence that David had seen in him before. David had never known anyone else like him. He had lived a long life and had seen much. Much of what he had seen had been horrific, yet he was still peaceful. David considered this for a while and felt that he might understand him. Mr. Johnson considered himself a part of the land and as such was subject to its harshness. But how could he endure the loss of a son? David realized that his son’s death was the hardest thing this man had ever faced.
    Chris’s sister had married a man, and they built a house beneath the three big trees on the edge of the cotton field. She had left the farm for several years while attending the university where she studied horticulture. It was there that she met her future husband. After dating for a while they were married. David knew all this from one of Chris’s letters. She was working in the garden when David arrived, and he still thought she was very pretty. He wondered why he had never gotten to know her better. Her husband worked the farm for Mr. Johnson now, and they had three sons. The boys climbed in one of the trees as David and Mr. Johnson sat on the porch. It reminded him of Chris, Jesse, and himself those many years before.
    After a while, the two men walked over to the river and sat near the edge watching the water flow by. The river still carried driftwood downstream, and some of it washed up on the bank. Sometimes a piece of wood would get caught for a while. The water would beat against it, spinning it around, until it finally came loose and continued its journey. They sat together in silence for a long time, watching the driftwood, watching the river, and listening quietly. Occasionally Mr. Johnson would look upstream as if searching for something. “You remember when I pulled you out of this water after you fell down the bluff,” he said.
    “Yeah, I remember.”
    “You sure were lucky then.”
    “Yeah, I guess I was.”
    “Chris almost drowned trying to get you across.” He chuckled softly for a moment.
    “I couldn’t have made it without him.”
    They were silent again for a while before Mr. Johnson finally spoke.
    “You know, there was something else that happened that day that I never mentioned to anyone.”
    “Something else, what do you mean?”
    “Well, when I pulled you out you were going on about your dad being in there with you.”
    “At the time, I thought he was.”
    “Well, when I pulled you out…” he hesitated, choosing the next words very carefully. “For just a moment, I thought that I saw someone else in the water with you.”
    David looked at Mr. Johnson. He had the same lines on his body and heavy appearance that David had first noticed in his grandparents and in many others since. These lines ran freely across his body, charting their own course, much like the river. Mr. Johnson had fought in a war where he lost part of his arm and undoubtedly experienced many other atrocities he would never discuss, he had worked long hard years on his farm just making enough to support his family, and he had lost a son in a war he didn’t care about. In a way life had been hard on him, but he had something special inside. As David looked at this man he saw the same person that he had known as a child. There was a deep kindness and love residing within him together with a sense of calm, peace, and well being. He seemed to be able to accept the realities of the world around him, and he looked strangely familiar in this landscape, like it would not be complete without him. Was this all Mr. Johnson would ever have? Was this enough?
    He wished that Chris was here with them. God this is so hard! A tear began to well up in his eye. He didn’t like to think of Chris being dead. He never got to say goodbye. The last time he saw him was just before he shipped out, and they had planned to get together next Christmas. What was left of him now? Where had he made his mark? Chris had left no works in stone or print for people to remember him by, no paintings, no speeches, and there were very few photographs of him. There was some of his handy work still around the farm, but that would disappear soon enough. Now that Chris was gone, did his life have meaning? Did it have purpose?
    David looked at the man sitting next to him. Here was a person who accepted life as it came. He had a great pride in his son, and there was no doubt that he loved him dearly. What would become of him now that Chris was gone? He was a solitary man, spending much of his time alone in his fields, but he had always shown a great love for Chris. This love grew within Chris and made him the selfless person that he was. It was this love that had saved David’s life when he was a boy. In fact, this love had undoubtedly saved many others. As David reflected on this, he began to think of all those who might not be here if it weren’t for Chris. Himself for one, and the little girl Chris had stopped from going into traffic was another. How many others were there? David suspected there were many. After all, Chris was a soldier.
    Maybe it was just the journey that mattered. What difference did it make if times were hard or not, if people came or went? What difference does anything make? Mr. Johnson and David sat there next to the river for hours. At times they would look upstream, searching for Chris, waiting for him to float by so they could bid farewell. They never found Chris, or David’s father for that matter. But as the two of them sat there watching the muddy red brown water flow by, they knew that for now at least, they had each other.