Sunday Snippet, Many Waters by Bill Chance

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”

― Anais Nin

The land of lakes, volcanoes, and sun. A painting I bought on my last trip to Nicaragua.

Many Waters

(Twenty Minute Writing Exercise)

A thousand little streams screamed down the steep jungle mountainside and joined together into a quickflowing rocky river before leaving the coastal valley and dumping into a gravel delta formed since the last eruption. Here the river broke up again into rivulets dumping their sediment and spreading out until they reached the sea. The short stretch where the water all took the same course was called Zahouetek – a corruption of the native’s ancient language – a combined phrase that meant “Many Waters.” At least that is what Marvin had been told.

“I wrote in to the Guinness Book of Records People and told them to list the Zahoutek as the shortest river on earth,” Marvin said.

“Is that so,” replied Cynthia. She answered it as a disinterested statement, not as a question. Marvin answered anyway.

“Yes, it’s true. But there are these two rivers… the D River in Oregon and the Roe River in Montana. They were fighting it out for the shortest river until Guinness gave up and didn’t list the shortest anymore.”

“So, this isn’t the shortest? “

“No, I guess not. Still, it’s pretty short, isn’t it?”

Cynthia didn’t answer. She dipped a toe and then turned to walk back up to the house. For a second, she was silhouetted against the mist that rose from the cold river into the warm air above. Marvin thought she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. As she turned toward the house, she caught Marvin looking at her and her face clouded with anger as she spun away from his eager gaze.

She had not walked more than ten feet when the thumping sound of a helicopter started echoing down the valley.

“Oh! Oh! He’s coming back,” squealed Cynthia, her languid laziness suddenly dispelled by the sound. She started hopping and walking fast towards the little flat landing pad next to the house on.

“Shit! He’s coming back,” Marvin muttered as he followed, with a little less speed and a lot less enthusiasm. “I wish the damn thing would crash.”

“What? Marvin? What?” Cynthia asked without turning her head. “I can’t understand you when you talk and you’re behind me like that.”

“Sorry dear, nothing, nothing at all.”

The chopper was descending quickly down the center of the valley. It would land at the house before they could reach it. It was a small two-man craft piloted by Ralph McKenzie – a geologist that was on the island studying the volcano. At first, Marvin had welcomed Ralph’s presence. It was nice to have some new company on the island. Marvin had bought the property for its isolation and its natural beauty. He and Cynthia were the only people on the island – everything had to be brought by launch from Port du Monde. Even the servants commuted across the straight. Marvin thought that being alone with Cynthia would bring them together… but it seemed to get on her nerves.

When Ralph first showed and talked about the work he wanted to do Marvin gladly had the landing pad constructed. The trouble started right from the start, though. He didn’t like the way that Cynthia, his wife, stared at the work crew as they graded and finished the oval patch of gravel that the chopper would use. She seemed impatient, chewing her nails as the men slaved and sweated in the heat.

As the days went by and Ralph spent more and more time at the house, Cynthia’s interest in the geologist and the work he was doing up on the mountain grew. The little helicopter was the only way to reach the upper reaches of the volcano and, of course it could only carry Cynthia and Ralph alone.

One time Marvin insisted on taking a ride and visiting Ralph’s observation station, but he wasn’t impressed. The smell of sulfur and the roar of the gas down in the crater made for an uncomfortable atmosphere. Marvin couldn’t understand the attraction and never went back. Marvin was considering forbidding his wife from making the trip, feigning concern for her health, when, a month ago, Ralph banned it himself.

“The volcano is gathering power. I’m afraid it may erupt any day now. I don’t want to put you at risk, Cynthia.”

Marvin’s wife fluttered her eyes. “If it isn’t safe for me… how can it be safe for you?”

“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Ralph said. “I’ve been doing this all my life. I know when the getting is good.”

By the time Marvin had reached the house, Ralph had already landed and entered the building. Cynthia went in after him and when Marvin strode up to the door, they both came out, pushing past him.

“Ralph says we have to go, have to go now!” Cynthia shouted at him.

“Yes, I’m afraid so, old boy,” Ralph said calmly. “The volcano is going to go any minute. The lava dome has cracked, I’m afraid it’s going to happen.”

Marvin was suspicious, but there wasn’t much he could do. “Well, I guess we better radio for a launch.” The servants had taken the day off, at Cynthia’s request, and had crossed the straight in the boat. “There’s no way off the island right now.”

“Well, that’s what I just now checked on, chap,” said Ralph in that awful cloying tone he used sometimes. “The radio is out, just came from there.”

“Out?” asked Marvin.

“Completely out,” nodded Cynthia.

“So you see, old chap, I’ll take the chopper and Cynthia across the straight and we’ll send a boat back for you. Simple as that.”

“Simple as that,” repeated Marvin. He didn’t like it at all. There had been plenty of time for Ralph to sabotage the radio.

So this is they would do it. Abandon him there, waiting for an eruption, no radio. He knew that launch would never come. And then Cynthia would be rid of him, and she would be with Ralph, her beautiful geologist. And they would have his money.

But what could he do? Marvin thought and thought. He couldn’t suggest that Cynthia stay behind, that wouldn’t look right. Ralph had to pilot and there was only room for one more.

“Simple as that,” was all he could say.

Cynthia looked way too happy and eager as she climbed into the chopper. Ralph didn’t even look at him as he spun up the rotors and took off. The tiny craft dipped through a bit of mist and then sped off over the sea.

“Simple as that,” Marvin muttered as it disappeared. “So that’s it,” he added. As an answer, the mountain grumbled and the earth shook. A large piece of the slope tumbled off and crashed into the river, throwing up a wall of water and foam.

“Well, I guess ol’ Ralph wasn’t kidding, was he?” Marvin said to nobody in particular. “Well, he thinks he knows everything, but he doesn’t know it all.”

Marvin walked quickly down to the edge of the water, where there was a little shed. He dialed the combination and pried open the door. Inside, hidden under a dark tarp, was a small, plastic kayak, with a paddle bungied to the seat. Working quickly because the mountain was shuddering again, this time more violently , Marvin hauled the craft down to the river. He slid it in from the shallow bank, undid the paddle, and set off as quickly as he could.

“They think they know everything, but they don’t know it all!” Marvin sang as the little boat shot through the shallow gravel bar at the end of the river and coursed out into the sea. He had kept his little kayak a secret – it had come over on the launch and he had stuck it in the shed while Ralph had Cynthia up on the mountain in his little helicopter. Marvin grinned as he paddled. The straight would be a long trip, paddling by hand, but he knew he could make it. The two of them, they would have their story already, how Marvin couldn’t make it, how he had sacrificed himself so they could live. But he would fool them, he would show up, very much alive, and asking why they hadn’t sent the launch when there was still time.

At first, the little craft skimmed across the waves, but Marvin noticed it getting slower and slower. At first he thought it was only fatigue, but he realized the boat was suddenly riding a lot lower in the water. He twisted around and saw a quickly flowing leak filling the inner floatation cell of the kayak with water. Running his had back he found a hole, a big hole. It had been plugged with some red putty or something, and it had dissolved in the water. He was sinking. He was going to drown.

“I guess they did know it all, in the end,” he said, as the red plastic boat slipped beneath the waves. The mountain behind him let out a roar of agreement.

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