Saturday, February 1, 2014

Flash Fiction by Susan Dale

Waiting On the Riverbank 
Framed in sunset, the father seemed an Asian portrait. Behind him, sundown colors illuminated him. In front of him, the dark river was gilded gold with the brightness of the sun sinking in the skies. Tonight, the father sat atop a bag of sandbags, while tipping a coconut half into his mouth to drink from it sweet watery milk. He laid the shell down, and with his hand shielding the sun’s glare, he again took up his watch. Through the grey before sunrise, he sat. Through bright mornings that baked into long, afternoons, he watched. Waiting yet when the first stars of night hung onto the curtain of twilight.
‘And so,’ he thought, ‘another day without my son.’
The father’s face was etched with the furrows of the many years, of which his eyes had given over their color. His face reflected his sad longings: both for his son, and for the hut that he and his boy left behind when they were herded up and drug into what was called a hamlet by these round-eyes from across oceans and seas. Mixed-up in his thoughts were his forsaken hut and his lost son. One intertwined with the other: both wrestling with his creature-struggle for survival. His time on earth too lonely and sad to go on: versus an indomitable need to live.
On the days of futility when despair blackened into clouds hanging heavy in his heart, the father told himself that by now his hut would have been taken overtaken by the rapacious growth of mountain jungles. ‘There will be sappers behind the trees, and My-My (American) bombs overhead. I have no one to go back to, or with; so what would be the use of returning?’
But on the days when his need to exist was strong and vibrant, the father’s being filled with longings that took him back to the hut: free and beautiful under wide skies. He loved most the bygone hut’s mossy roof studded with wildflowers. When he thought of it, involuntarily his hands wavered in the air. They were stroking the velvety moss of the hut’s roof. On those bright days of wildflowers, and his son’s spontaneous laughter ringing clear and true, the father took despair and processed it into faith. Those were the days that he saw his hut just as it was when he and his son left … on a beaten path and protected by the long shadows of the Sip Sang Mountain. And the  most joyful moment in the father’s dreams? Inside the hut, under the roof of moss was his son: no longer lost, as he was on the days of his father’s despair: those agonizing days when he saw quite clearly that his son and his hut were forever gone.
Sometimes hope and despair merged to become one overwhelming emotion: a vital need for the father to sit by the riverbank and wait. Wait with his gaze stretched across the horizon, and down the river of time.
Gently, he called out to the boys at the river’s edge. He saw them beating schools of catfish into hand-held nets. “Have you seen my boy?”
They called back, “In a dugout canoe rowing round a bend in the river.”
“Many days ago.”
‘Yes, that could be my son,’ thought the father. ‘But I can’t be certain. Yesterday, a fisherman on a sampan told me he saw a young man being captured my Kurilian Pirates, and taken downstream to work the rubber plantations recently overtaken by the Viet Cong.’
So many false sightings, so many conflicting stories: the father grew more confused every day. But his fierce and inexplicable, his infinite patience kept him to the riverbank where he watched the boys with their nets. He was still on the riverbank at dusk when the boys headed for their nearby village. On the riverbank searching and waiting when drifts of monsoon clouds dusted the moon. And while waiting, the father fell asleep and dreamed into the night. In his dreams, the river churned into a spunky water child that skipped over rocks and swirled with foamy shoals of fish,  then widened into currents too wild for him to overcome,
Wakened by his own sobbing, the father knew before he could bring himself to say it, either silently or aloud; yes, his son was gone. 
Susan Dale’s poems and fiction are on Eastown Fiction, Ken *Again, Penman Review, Inner Art Journal, Feathered Flounder, and Hurricane Press. In 2007, she won the grand prize for poetry from Oneswan. 

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