by Luke Tennis
I drove out there, the river up by Fredericksburg, the low
bridge on pilings and the woods all around, four in the morning by
the time I arrived. The cruisers were parked, one behind the
other, flashing red-and-blue lights. They showed me the breech
she'd made in the rotted wood railing of the bridge. She'd gone
clean through. The kid there too, the one who'd been driving the
other way. He said Jamie had been going fast, her pickup truck
careening. Veered right off into the water, the kid said. The front
end nosing down, slow motion sinking. Water seeping in and no
way for my little girl to get out. Eighteen, but still my little girl.
And the red pickup nearly that old, what I drove before I passed it
on to her.

I absconded. Ten days after, passport in hand. I had my ponytail
and my Fu Manchu, which I've had these many years and still
have. A plane to the Philippines. The junk—I guess that's what
they call it. I never knew what to call it. On Puraran Beach it
comes cheap in the little clear packets.

A sweet kid, still wrapped in the blanket. He'd parked and waded
out, but it was dark and the river deep and nothing he could do
but swim around, helpless. He'd called in the license plate,
somehow had gotten it. Jamie beneath, tiny like her mother, my
ex. The ignition shorted out and no way to open the door or break
a window. Trapped, water coming up inside, her panic. I couldn’t
think of it anymore and thought of nothing else.

On Puraran Beach you can get all the packets you need. Just walk
into Sak Nomi on Chalk Road, the ex-marine at the back table. So
pure you can't go to the bathroom. Not even to urinate. That's
what it does, but it does the job. You can hide again inside your
white morning dreams, lying on the sweaty sheets of your hut on
Puraran Beach.

Five minutes or more she could’ve lasted. No point in guessing
how long, the cops said. The kid, shivering, the night cold and the
woods deep, the railing black with algae. The one cop removed his
cap. Did she drink? Have thoughts of harming herself?

On Puraran Beach women in cone hats paraded up and down the
sand. The first time was back in the Navy. Before marriage, before
Jamie. All the service guys in the Philippines. Partying on Puraran
Beach. It still looked the same. I walked the perimeter in my
straw sandals, chest bare and arms emaciated, still marked with
the old green sailor tats.

There were other men too, the ones who'd winched the pickup out
of the river at first light. Her lips pale, body limp, dangling hair
sopping. In the funeral home I hugged my ex. An awkward
embrace, us holding each other in a way I once took for granted.
A fierce blond, barely a hundred pounds. Why don't you shave off
that mustache, she said, cut the hair? It's about time, don't you

One day on Puraran Beach I didn't wake up for twenty hours. I
puked in the squat hole and walked outside, found a log to sit on
in the shade.

They junked it, the pickup. I was spared that decision. Towed it to
an auto yard a few miles away if I wanted to get it, which I didn't,
though I could've gotten it to run fine. I'd stayed around after the
towing. Saw the pavement still wet. The pickup had dripped the
whole way down the road. I haven't been back since. Not until
today, weeks since the accident, weeks since Puraran Beach,
something telling me to drive up. To see the river, the bridge.

A balmy evening, unseasonably warm, a quarter moon nicking the
sky. Black below the shoulder of the road when I pull over to park.
The water glints out in the middle. It moves sluggish below me at
the railing, the breach boarded up now, a plywood panel.

In the funeral home we stood side by side to view her, our Jamie.
We left for coffee after, close to each other in the red booth, our
car keys spread out on the table. If you want to get high, she
said, it's only to get high. So don't kid yourself.

She knew. Knew it before I did. After the pills and the cheap tap
brew, the ten days, there was nothing left for me but to abscond,
and when that got used up, when I got so sick and could think of
nothing but the final way out, I somehow came up clean—ran into
the ocean thinking I was done with all that. But it isn't so.

It stays. Worse every day now. My ex doesn't call. We left the
booth that night in our separate cars. Nothing's for granted

The water hushes past, black below. The pine trees rise above the
bank road, tall and spare in the late fall. The air pure, the sky
pure. I'll come back here again. In the daytime. I'll come in the
early morning, the late afternoon. I'll come back at midnight, in
winter and in spring. I'll get to know this place. The trails in the
woods or how the river bends northward, how often cars cross the
bridge. How the wind shifts and the different birds that fly
overhead. I'll keep coming back until one day I won't any longer
know why.

Luke Tennis has published numerous stories, most recently in
Free State and The Forge Literary Magazine. Writing awards
include two fiction writing grants from the Maryland Arts Council,
winner of the Phoebe Magazine Short Story contest, the Tucson
Book Festival literary competition, and the Prime Number
Magazine Flash Fiction contest, as well as other competitions. He
lives with his wife and two children in Baltimore.