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Down in the River


Last night I dreamt I was at the beach, but I couldn't go in the water. Standing on the shore were hundreds of people waiting for the signal that it was once again safe to swim, all staring at a long line of boats, ships, and floating houses. They marched in a line, all dark and gray and bobbing, stretching across the horizon, an unending chain from west to east.


On the beach were docks, and there were boats and crews scrambling to complete the work on the houses, boats, and ships so they could move on. Long hoses extended from makeshift docks through the water and to the crews floating around the line. They were busily working, though what they were doing, I'm not sure. Fueling? Cleaning? Both.


I could see it all through windows.


My goal was singular: I was staying in a massive hotel on the beach, and I was searching for one man in particular. I kept getting distracted - by another resident, by an offer from a friend, by some kind of nefarious plot involving elevators and an old man in a suit - but eventually I made my way to the beach. It was crowded, with close-docked ships waiting to go out on the waves again, by dozens of people in old-time bathing suits and floating rings with swimming caps, and by spectators watching the floating line and sitting among a complex series of wooden holding tanks. In the tanks were fish, saved out of the water from the engines and rigmarole.


I spotted the man I searched for in the crowd, and he saw me see him. He immediately began to make his way as fast as he could away from me. I ran after him, chasing him through waiters and children and pissed off women yelling at me to slow down. I cornered him near the spectator area. Ahead of him were the wooden tanks holding fish. On the other side of those were bleachers full of families. Beyond that, the ocean. On the other side was a maze of a concrete and stone structure, hazardous.


Before my eyes, the man I sought turned into a fish and dove into the water in the holding tanks. I ran to the side, trying to catch him between my fingers, and he slipped away.


"Catch that fish!" I yelled at a woman in yellow nearby. She reached in calmly and plucked him out, handing him to me.


"Thank you," I said, and I dashed into the concrete maze. I didn't go far. I knelt, instead, holding the fish and watching him gasp for air. "Oh no you don't," I said. "You'll not get water until you turn back. We need to talk."


But he didn't turn back, and he shrank. He grew smaller and smaller until he was just barely the size of my palm, and, panicked that he wasn't changing back and therefore couldn't or wouldn't breathe, I ran back to the holding tanks. I dropped him in the first I saw, but there was no change.


"That there's fresh water," someone said. "He needs salt."


I scooped him up again and ran to the salt water holding tanks. They were right on the edge of the ocean, and ahead of me, the line of boats, homes, and ships was moving off to the right. The crews were done, and the line was moving on. Everyone on the beach was thrilled - they could return to their water games soon enough - but I had more urgent matters on my mind.


I dropped the fish into the salt water tank. He immediately grew back to his original and glorious size.

And then he swam out into the ocean, chasing after the line of mobile water homes disappearing into the distance. I stood in the water, watching, ignoring everyone's revelry around me.


I'd lost the man and didn't get to speak to him before he went.


***




You were gone too young. You probably felt older than your years. I hope you didn't feel alone, in the end, and I hope you find peace, were you searching for it; release if you need it; and your loved ones waiting.


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