River Street

720 words

River Street’s never hard to find; in fact, you’re likely to stumble into it while looking for somewhere else entirely. Once you’re in, though, it’ll seem like a good idea to stay. It’s so easy to keep walking down this pleasant lane, with your face turned toward the sun. And, in any case, this street has a clear case of meandering and will probably take you where you’re going sooner or later if you let it.

Really, it’s such a lovely place to walk! Look at that limpid sky: pale blue, building up into layers of increasingly intense azure and cobalt toward the zenith. And how refreshing these breezes are, how crisp! And here are charming yellow lilies, bobbing in the yards, and there the neat little houses with their pitched roofs, each perched at the peak of its tidy, rippling lawn.

The landscape undulates gently; the street’s always changing. You’ll crest and descend little hills as you go. Now and then, on the downslope, you may be overtaken by a local. They move fast, but they never fail to toss the traveler a gleaming smile over the shoulder—an affable familiarity that seems to say: friend, we’re all in the same boat, all heading to the same place, after all.

What will you first notice, when things start to change? Smells, maybe. Below the bouquet of grass and innocuous flowers, other notes are stirring deeper: damp moss, rushes, something trembling between salt and fresh and sweet. The light’s greening and brightening, as if you were approaching a reflective mirror as you go downhill. (And you’re definitely descending; in fact, the decline’s getting steeper. This is probably the last possible moment to turn around … But, of course, when it comes to it, you don’t want to; at least not quite enough. You’ve been breathing the air here long enough to feel that you can no longer step into the same outside world you left. And that, whatever your destination, the street itself will best determine when you will get there, and how.)

You’re moving faster now. The distance makes noises: a faint clamor of birdcall, voices moving. The flower-bed lilies shiver more violently in the breeze. Even the air is sharpening, heightening, luminous—the opposite of stagnant, here where everything’s in motion, changing moment by moment and no spot the same as when you last turned your head …

Now the scenery’s really whizzing by, flickering so fast you can’t catch what you’re seeing—jungle? farmland? pine-spiked mountainside? The neighbors have reappeared again, too, darting and swarming, holding high … are those conch shells? Beach balls? Farming implements? They zoom past, trailing laughter, long incomprehensible names, instructions or requests, flashing grins of surprisingly sharp teeth. You can’t catch a word, but it doesn’t bother you, since, after all, you’ll all be seeing each other soon. Aren’t you all heading to the same place now?

The end of the street heaves into view, glittering in the distance. Your adrenaline is rising, your heart speeding up. It’s like being on the slide in the water park in summer, whooshing down toward some thrilling conclusion, only better, much better, because when you were hurtling down that giant’s causeway, all that waited at the bottom was a swimming pool, whereas now, here, you’re sliding toward something different and wonderful, if difficult to name—

But here it is now, streaking up with the swiftness of thought.

And at this moment, the last vestiges of anything you might have believed about your destination, about where you thought you were going or needed to be, are swallowed up in the promise of that horizon; for whatever you had in mind when you set out, it’s obvious that where you are headed right now is exactly where you need to wind up. So, it is with a sense of great relief, of giving up, of letting go—even, as your body tightens in muscle and blood, bracing for the imminent crash of arrival, of relinquishing what once might have seemed most important—that you let the current fold you in as you go cascading down with it, washed clean and cradled by everything around you, into the waiting arms of the sea.

 

S.R. (Susannah) Mandel is from San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia, in that order. She has worked in northern France, central Japan, and the Middle East, and her writing has appeared in Shimmer, Strange Horizons, The Massachusetts Review, The Future FirePhantom Drift, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, among others. She is very interested in things that manage to be one thing and also another thing at the same time. Find her at srmandel.com and on Twitter at @susannah_speaks.

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