He stands on the bank of the river, pockets full of stones, heart full of nothing.
The moon looms as the only patron to this sad show. He gazes up at it, thanking it for its white and phosphorescent presence.
How did he get to this point?
“It always starts with ignorance.”
Sitting at the cluttered table, more magazines than food, he sighed.
“There’s nothing here for me,” he said, hands folded on the table.
His mother cleaned each dish with a dirty gray rag. “Tomorrow you’re going to find something worth living for,” she said with her back to him. “Once you find that out, it’ll buy you a few months of happiness, then you’ll be back here.”
Studying at his hands, he ignored her. There’s nothing here for me, he repeated to himself.
His toes dip into the river. The water seeps through the holes in his boots, making his toes numb upon contact. Not even crickets grace him with their monotonous song. Just as he’s always thought, this place holds nothing for him.
Once the world offered something in the form of a girl, God’s most deceptive creature. They wren’t more than kids at the time.
Early in life nothing in this world pleased him longer than an ice cream cone or a program on TV. Even then his mother understood him better than he understood himself. He focused on the fleeting, on the momentary, and this girl was no exception.
“I love you, you know that?” she whispered in his ear.
He smoothed the wrinkles on her sleeve, filling each space between her fingers with his own.
“What is love?” he asked, kissing her. “Is it that?” He ran two finger through her black hair. “Is it this?”
She closed her eyes, growing tired. “Love can either be everything or nothing.” Opening her eyes, she said, “It’s all up to you.”
He didn’t love her in time. She was gone by the time he made up his mind. When he went to her with his answer, she was with another boy. Her silver eyes met his, devoid of emotion, completely without love.
A cold breeze nudges him into the water, but he doesn’t take more than one step. An owl flies overhead and swoops into a tree. Another spectator.
His mother was the only one that could occupy his heart, and it was only ever halfway full at best.
She didn’t leave him. She was consistent, even when he craved chaos. It was at her death that he came to the river every night ready to die.
“Just wait,” his mother told him in their tiny kitchen. “Be patient. Something will come. You’re looking for satisfaction in all the wrong places.”
He couldn’t even find satisfaction in her, the woman who raised him. He asked, “What am I doing wrong?”
She sat across from him, her hands smelling of dish soap and dirty water. “You’re trying too hard.” She took his hand. He looked into her wrinkled face. “Searching is trying too hard.”
“But what if something never comes?”
Something––anything––still has not come. That’s why he keeps coming to the river.
Two rocks weigh him down. He picks one up and rolls it in his hand. Somewhere a toad croaks.
“This world cannot satisfy you,” his mother said, squeezing his hand.
His father snuck out after ten years of barely being around. His mother cried for two days and that was it. She never mentioned him again until her last day alive.
Some kind of cancer was killing her slowly and painfully. In her last month she was half the woman she used to be. He never left her side in those last days, even though he couldn’t stand the sight of her like this. Her embalmed corpse looked healthier after those long and tortuous months were over.
He asked, “What am I going to do without you?”
Looking up at the stars, he asks again, “What can I do without you?”
On her deathbed she smiled, though he interpreted the thinning of her lips and reveal of her yellow teeth as pain.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do when your dad left,” she said. “I thought we were going to starve. But I woke up the next morning and made us breakfast, then lunch, then dinner. I couldn’t rely on anyone anymore.”
She couldn't even rely on her son to pay her medical bills. He bowed his head.
With an icy finger she lifted his chin. “God took care of us,” she said before a wrack of coughs took her. After a drink of water, she continued, “And God is going to take care of you.”
It doesn’t feel like God’s done much of anything in his life. Standing ankle-deep in water, his stomach growls and his head throbs. There’s a stack of bills at home and an empty checkbook on his desk. It’s been that way for months.
He hasn’t forgotten his mother’s words, whether or not he believes in them.
Fifteen years after his father left, he came back into his life. It was at a grocery store on Christmas Eve (his least favorite time of year). Waiting to check out, a man at the register in front of him complained about being overcharged. Persuaded by the season of giving, he paid the difference for the man.
He was missing his front teeth. When he smiled it looked like a small window into his soul. Then he said, “Mark?”
He gave his father a couch that night and woke up to his TV missing. Just like that, his father was out of his life again, just when his heart began filling back up.
The water laps up to his knees. He can’t feel his legs. The water makes his pants heavier. HIs lungs hurt from the cold as he gets neck-deep.
Tonight is the time––right now is the time to die.
“God,” he says, “if you’re listening, I tried…and I failed.”
The water collects over his head as he inhales his last breath, walking deeper into the river. The rocks in his pockets pull him down. He lets go of the rock in his hand and lets the weight carry in down.
Rewind to him standing on the bank. Move back to him stuffing his pockets with rocks. Look back to him walking to the river.
The water swells unlike his heart. It rushes just like blood rushes to that red organ, but the blood passes through.
Underwater, getting lower and lower to the bottom, closer to his death, he decides to keep trying.
Rocks spill from his pockets as he turns them out. Bubbles float up from his gasping mouth. As soon as his feet touch the bottom he pushes upward, air rushing into his lungs as if for the first time in his life.
As long as he’s trying, he’s not failing. Swimming to the sandy bank, the chilly breeze helps him there. God helps him there. Though it’s freezing and convulses, his heart still beats. He’s still alive.
He’s still alive.ns 184.108.40.206da2