The angel faces east, overlooking the old cemetery. There are more elegant monuments in this place, but I love the austerity of the wings.
Shelly and Hank had planned this camping trip as an attempt at getting back together. It wasn’t working. He was late picking her up, the drive took five hours instead of their usual three, and when they finally found a space to camp, they argued over where to set up the tent.
She dropped the side of the tent she was holding and walked away. “All right, fine. You deal with it.” She headed for the river bluff. She thought Hank would come after her, but he didn’t.
The bluff dropped steeply away to the river, maybe thirty, forty feet. Willows clung to the banks and leaned out into the sky like filmy, green parachutes. Shelly walked as near the edge as she dared and considered climbing down. She had always wanted to do it; why not now?
She looked for a place that wasn’t a sheer drop, where there was brush, or outcroppings of stone. She eased over the edge and grabbed a sapling, then another, her breath coming hard, thought I can do this, until a branch bent and snapped, rocks skittered and fell, and she slipped, clutching at mud and stone and brush. She slid all the way down, landed on the narrow bank, rolled towards the rushing water, clawed at the mud to drag herself back. She lay still and assessed what hurt: her head, her right shoulder, her right ankle.
She sat up. The knees of her jeans were torn and stained with blood, her hands scraped and bloody, too, and caked with mud. She unlaced her hiking shoe and took off her sock. The throbbing ankle was already swelling and turning blue. Jesus. She pulled the sock back on and forced her foot back into the shoe. Pain jolted from her ankle to her thigh.
“Hello?” she yelled. “Hank? Anybody?”
Nearly five o’clock. The bluff cast deep shadows on her and on the river. Maybe twenty yards away, a sandbar extended out into the water. She’d be more visible from there. She tried to stand, but she couldn’t bear weight on the ankle. She crawled far enough out onto the sandbar to see the top of the bluff. She called out again, “Hello? Hello! Down here! Help me!” But the day picnickers and hikers would have gone home by now. The overnight campers, like Hank, would be settling in. On the river, no vessels—an old-fashioned word her father, a retired Navy man, would have used—this time of day, no kayaks or canoes, no pleasure boats.
The sky was a clear, deepening blue. The wind out on the sandbar went suddenly chilly. The rising moon had a corona of light. That was supposed to mean something: a sign of rain? Bad luck?
Shelly washed her stinging hands and splashed her face with the cold river water. She struggled to her feet and tried her weight again on the throbbing ankle. She had to get off the sandbar. She hobbled the length of it before she dropped to her knees and crawled back to the shelter of the bluff.
No way she could climb. She’d be fine right there, a little banged up and wet. Hank would come looking for her. All she had to do was wait.
This piece of flash fiction is headed over to Yeah Write, where writing events abound. Writer friends, be sure to check them out!
Last spring, I attended a family reunion, a gathering of distant cousins who were mostly strangers, all linked to my great-great-grandfather who settled in middle Tennessee in the early 1800s. We cousins are a diverse group–all ages, many different professions, some with strong genealogy interests and knowledge and some, like me, more or less novices. I am an only child. Until the last few years, when these cousins surfaced, I’d felt isolated and wished for a big, extended family. Now I have one. We swapped a lot of stories that day.
For the reunion, my husband and I stayed in Corinth, Mississippi, the nearest town of any size to Selmer, Tennessee, where my father’s family roots are. We visited the Civil War Museum in Corinth, a museum that doesn’t glorify the war but portrays its heartbreak and deprivation. We also discovered the little railroad museum built beside the tracks that, as in so many little towns, run right through the heart of things.
The rails in the photograph mark where the east-west and north-south railroads crossed–a significant crossroads for both North and South, thus the battles nearby for the control of that area. Those railroads and the nearby Tennessee River were major conduits for goods and soldiers.
At the war’s end, my great-grandfather reached a crossroads of his own. His oldest son had been killed at the Battle of Corinth. (My father was named for that soldier.) A younger son was arrested for passing himself off as a Confederate soldier and commandeering a horse and a mule. My great-grandfather posted bond for him, using his land as collateral, and when his son failed to show up in court at the appointed time, my great-grandfather went on the run, too, taking his family, including the wayward son, with him.
I imagine him rushing into the house, the door banging shut behind him, telling his wife to hurry, throwing things into the wagon–a feather bed, a chicken crate, pots and pans, maybe my great-grandmother’s travel trunk she refused to part with–settling in the children, and setting off into the night. Leaving much behind: house, land, family, friends, debts, a dead son. They moved to Mississippi, and that’s where they stayed. My grandfather, the youngest child, was six years old.
Colorful stuff, this. The stuff of story.
Think about your parents’ or grandparents’ crossroads. Whose choices have shaped your life?