flash fiction

We go upstream, against the flow of salmon bodies throwing themselves on the rocks. They are spawning in spite of the ruins. Resilience was something I learned first from my mother and my father, through her table loom and his greenhouse. I learn it again here, in the stench of their bodies. Their striving splashes interrupt the steady rhythm of the rapids and they are too fast, too acrobatic, for me to get a clear view of their scales. I catch only a glint, a sparkle in my peripheral vision. The river grants me cold water on my toes, and I imagine where each drop would fall if I weren’t placed here, moving along these rocks.

We continue upriver to the mountains. The range is split in two by a crevice, carved by a glacier long ago. Now, a half moon rises there.

It’s too early, I say, the sun is up. The sky is still marmalade. I do not like the night.

We go upstream. On the other side of the river flow is a sandy mound where a deer bends down to drink. Do you think she’s going there too? Suri asks me, pointing to the deer with her chin rather than a finger. I don’t know the answer. Perhaps the deer is coming down, perhaps there are crowds ahead where it still snows. Maybe she has been shadowing our journey from the valleys. Maybe she’s running.

It’s easier to breathe here, away from the dust.

The deer looks back at me and I’m struck with vertigo. Suri grasps my elbow and steadies me on the slimy river rocks. Strands of her hair escape her hood and are caught in the November wind as if being pulled back to where we’ve left. Just a bit further, she says, and we can make camp.

There are empty homes and log cabins in these woods, but we do not acknowledge them.

I look back across the waters and the fading light of day muddies the details of the woods; I can’t tell branches from leaves or soil from shadow and the deer has disappeared in the depths. There could be people in there too. People under tarps, people wrapped in Mexican blankets, people trading for iodine. People like us. Suri assures me not to fear other travelers. She says we are all the same, like the salmon going upstream.

A crow swings down from the trees and drags a rotting fish from the edge of granite stone. It’s heavy, but he is persistent. Another one, above, caws at the darkening sky.

Suri takes my hand as our stomachs roar in unison. Somewhere, the cicadas begin to hum.