KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Flash Fiction: 859 words

Midnight Drift

by Jim Gish

This old boat sits low in the water but the star-strewn sky looks like lanterns from on high. I know every quick turn at every abandoned ferry slip on this river. Know even the echoes of the loon and what slough he is roosting in and the wild flowers adjacent in the random meadow land. It is what people mean when they say “my country” which it is so clear and true for me. Born, raised, baptized, and grown old here. Seventy-eight is maybe not all that old now, they tell me. But when you have been slammed sideways by all of God’s sorrows and watched the world turn sour and angry like it is now, maybe it still feels old. Does to me, anyways.

I caulked this boat three summers ago with Wila Dean, where we dwelt in that little white house on a bluff, and looked down at the river for fifteen years together. She was a sweet, kind, lovable human being. I guess most people just thought that we were two old fools living together, and that would have accounted for eighty percent of it most of the time. Never mind those times when we nestled in each other’s arms looking for some shelter from the storms and the next hard wave. If anyone who reads this is surprised that I loved Wila Dean and she loved me, two women in a small house watching the river, well, I have got to say that you never knew much about love.

I was married sixteen years back a century ago. Eldon and I were like broken egg shells around each other most of the time. We were smart enough not to have children and we just lived together out of habit until the habit wore off. He sat down one Saturday night and said, “Hannah, you want to call this thing off?”

I glanced up and nodded.

“Sure, you go on to that Carter girl. She will be good for you.”

I could see the relief in his eyes, and I was right. Annie Carter was what he needed all along. I kept up with them and we sometimes met at the Dairy Queen and talked about the weather and our families. Then they moved off to Florida and he rolled that golf cart into a lagoon. I grieved with her at the funeral.

“Stupid son of a bitch,” I told her. “He don’t play golf anyway.”

She eyed me a second and then laughed.

“He was trying to learn,” she said. “He was piss poor at it, but I went with him a few times. Gave him what encouragement I knew how to give.”

Then I hugged her.

“Sorry, Annie. I was out of place,” I said.

“No, no,” she said with a little smile. “You knew him right enough.”

Then we buried him, and she went back to Florida. Wila Dean and I put flowers on his grave for her and sent her pictures. It was the summer after that, Wila Dean came down with the lung cancer. We prayed and sweated and got her through the radiation and chemo. Then two years later it came back, and I didn’t have to ask what was going to happen. We came out here on the boat one night after she drank some wine and took some pills, and she kissed me good bye.

“Going for a swim, old darling,” she said.

Then she rolled over the side of the boat and swam off toward the dam.

I told everyone she drowned, and it wasn’t any lie. They did not have to know the other part, although I am sure some of them did know. But they did not ask, and it wasn’t their business to ask.

So these midnight drifts where I come alone onto the river and watch the fireflies and hear the moccasins slide off branches and make lines in the water. Maybe it is just all practice runs. One night I will be ready for the same thing. Not just now yet, though. I have got two cats named Priscilla and Sugar Boy who need a friend, and I have got two or three people along the river who like to sit out at night and drink a beer and listen to the Cardinals on the radio.

When things tidy all up, I will be ready. The midnight drift is a ritual and a remembrance of love. Like that poem says, “I ended up with a broken fiddle and not a single regret.” That would be a good thing to put on a tombstone, and I might do it when I need one someday.

Now I anchor the oars into the locks and start to pull against the current. An hour from now, I will see that front porch light. Then I will tie it up to the raft Wila Dean and I built. Life is just a sweet dream, and we are all floating. Everybody on a midnight drift except most of them don’t know it. All of us practicing for the end, leaving prayers and hopes in our wake.



Publisher’s Note:

The quotation “I ended up with a broken fiddle / ...and not a single regret” is from the poem “Fiddler Jones” by Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950), in Spoon River Anthology (William Marion Reedy, publisher, 1915).

Jim Gish
Issue 6, Fall 2016

is a teacher, writer and counselor. His writing heroes are William Faulkner and Joyce Carol Oates. He has published in such magazines as Phoebe, The Litchfield Literary Review, and Eclectica, among others. Gish writes mostly about his Kentucky background and the American South. He is currently working on a novel entitled At The Edge of Hymns.

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