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       Bed Rock, p.4

           Bernard Fancher
 
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diminished, continued on pushing, sending him slowly yet inexorably across the flat rock ledge between waterfalls, until, yet stunned and unable to move, he felt himself falling again into the deepest pool waiting directly below.

  As a very young man he’d discovered this deepest of depths while wading into the white curtain of water shielding the face of the falls. At a point congruent with the vertically falling, horizontally flowing, and back-swirling waters, the bottom of the creek seemed to spontaneously open beneath his feet, sending him with the force of the still falling water plunging into what seemed a bottomless abyss. He worried he might lose his glasses, and imagined them dropping free, a conglomeration of tumbling glass and metal, reflecting light as they fell. Weeks later, preparing for the plunge, he’d first taken the precaution of slipping them off, setting them on a rock ledge, before streamlining his body, pointing his toes and touching his fingers overhead. But even then he failed to touch bottom and so never truly ascertained the pool’s depth.

  And the depth of the pool haunted his dreams, none of which ever allowed him to find the bottom. But maybe it was just as well that he didn’t, for to find the bottom might have been no different than dreaming of falling and hitting the ground, a circumstance that he had been told by his mother portended certain death.

  Eventually one day he related all these events—all except the part about removing his glasses, and dying—to an anonymous young woman he met at the pool; in return she told him a breathless story of being similarly plunged into another pool in another place a few years before, and nearly drowning.

  Elgin had managed to photograph the young woman from below the pool while she stepped gingerly along the edge of the falls above him. He’d tucked the photo away in a book of Chekhov stories back home and sometimes he still looked at it. But because he’d misjudged the exposure, she seemed in distant retrospect less a real person than a ghostly presence backlit by the perfectly captured, shimmering falls.

  So the thought of her came as a fleeting memory, one easily displaced by his more immediate worry. Now more than before, he valued his glasses and so feared losing them—perhaps more than he did losing his life. He still couldn’t quite believe he would ever actually die, and so his primary concern remained for his glasses. He tried to hold them in place with a hand, but in the very attempt to secure them managed only to knock them loose from his head. His mind pictured them again tumbling beneath, swept down in the circling, tunneling torrent where, he knew as well as he knew anything at all, they would continue to swirl at the sinkhole’s very bottom, catching and reflecting the remnant light of the day until dark.

  The power of his imagination thus stirred, he saw how he might next be irrecoverably drawn into this place; he flailed upwards, struggling against the perpetual cascade that pushed down, like a bullying persistent hand, on the top of his head. Finally he screamed, feeling a sudden constricting spasm in his stronger left leg. But the water absorbed and silenced his anguish, transforming it into a mute cone of climbing bubbles.

  His head followed them until it broke clear of the frothy surface, transmitting the sound of his still emergent scream into the falls-pummeled air. For a second or two he remembered the twelve year old boy, drowned and lovingly missed. He experienced a brief awareness of the eternal verities of earth, wind, and water, of the ever circling cycle of things. He felt a sudden acceptance concerning whatever Fate might bestow. But then as suddenly as he had fallen into this state of affairs, the current pushed him clear. He tried initially to stand on the smooth rock but his feet washed out from beneath him and he slid sitting on the continuing creek bed until the force and depth of the water’s flow dissipated enough that the simple lack of buoyancy at last stopped him. He sat stunned for a few seconds more, then slowly turned and climbed on his hands and knees towards the lowest of three rock shelves projecting like steps at the calm edge of the water. He came at the steps at an angle, careful to avoid a second pitfall represented by the large kettle hole into which, from the ledge projecting outwards above it, boys and girls jumped to play.

  Now, this late in the year, there was no one about, either to laugh at or help him as he crawled out from the water onto the low rock terrace edging the swim hole. On his hands and knees he climbed up the tiered ledges to the higher flat area where he lay, almost precisely where the Indian girl Kayla of his dreams, in his dreams, sometimes still bent extending a hand to the ground. Elgin felt, entering a dream state, her reaching hand as it touched him where he lay.

  When he opened his eyes he turned to look up and saw in a watery blur the dog standing at the side of the high falls looking down at him. For a long minute they looked at each other and then Elgin cocked his head to match the tilt of the dog’s; he struggled to his knees and then, even more slowly, holding onto a bleached dead tree branch for support, rose to stand on his feet.

  He approached the dry face of the falls stepping tentatively, unsure of the way now absent clear sight. He felt a little betrayed and more than a little angry at the falls for his tumble. Alternately gripping and releasing the dry rock face, he climbed alongside the relentless falling water. Determined to get back where he’d started, he propelled his body upwards with his feet while his groping hands directed the thrusts and helped pull his weight.

  In this way he felt out each useful ledge and crevice and sharp-edged exposed layer of stone. Every inch of progress came with the help of fingers, toes, nails, knees and, occasionally, elbows. And with that help and all the determination he could muster, he eventually made it to the top. Rounding the last arc of stone, pushing upward in a final defiant repudiation of the retrograde motion of water which had so remorselessly tumbled and churned him some minutes before, he raised his head and looked skyward. Now but a distant blur of dim blue above the dam, hemmed between cliff shadows of shear rock enclosing both sides, the air above the reservoir remained somehow still reassuringly vast and uncontainable.

  Suddenly he couldn’t be sure the dam would still hold. In his mind he saw again a recurrent vision of the old concrete edifice giving way, succumbing to the insistent desire of pent water wanting release. He imagined the flood engulfing and taking him along on its long-delayed raging purpose, hell-bent to destroy the remaining entirety of the old mill town, completing the destruction commenced in the flood of ‘02, just as he had always known one day it would. If he let it, the thought—or rather, the fear attending the thought—would overcome him. And so while still on his hands and knees, he concentrated instead on the immediate available moment, and looked down instead of up, steadying not on a swaying tightrope but on the precipice of solid rock and the smooth watery face of the falls just below.

 

  How long had he been here? Asking the question revealed he did not really know. How long would he stay? Having gotten past the challenge of climbing, he had lain down for a brief rest. Now again he felt a pain growing in his thigh. And so he wondered how he would continue upon the last half of his journey and return home, where suddenly he yearned to be.

  But instead of going home, he determined it somehow just as important to get to the rock bed one more time. On another day he might have undressed there and swum in the deep channel running beside it. As a younger man, he had so often done just that, it seemed now part of a dream pleasantly recalled; perhaps it was, after all, only a dream, one he hadn’t actually participated in at all. But no, that wasn’t quite right, either; for he distinctly remembered removing his clothes and swimming bare-naked with a dog he had not thought of in years—a mottled brown and white spaniel he’d named Springer.

  Or maybe this too was in actuality only the memory of a dream, a dream of a place he would choose to revisit again, in order to sit in the little alcove he had long ago discovered cleft in the rock; there he would perch below the uppermost of a succession of falls and watch the dog swim, first going with and then against, or even—if he threw out a stick—sometimes directly across the channeled flow of the current. He closed his eyes to
suppress a sudden flood of desire and tears at the remembrance, and tottered uncertainly where he stood, until, opening his eyes, he discovered himself alone and shivering.

  He touched his fingers together then held his battered and tumescent hands, one in the other. Meanwhile the sensation of cold overall spurred him to move and continue. He wanted nothing more than to lie again on the dry bed rock and feel the retained heat of the sun warming his body. And so it came as a supreme and miraculous relief when he finally reached the rock and sat down. A moment later, easing back, lying down, he closed his eyes and began listening to the falls, eventually detecting inside the sound of the water a benediction that seemed to originate from a time and place immemorial. He imagined again, now without fear, the dam bursting, and waited for the onrushing torrent to engulf and carry him back to a beginning he could as yet only dimly recall. Meanwhile, a leaf fell from a tree, one of the very last to drop all that year.

  It landed on his face, settling to the side of his nose as he continued to listen and wait. Roused from his reverie by the light sensation brushing his cheek, remembering
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