The spiny soft shell tortoise is as dappled and rippling as the River and it crumples and smooths like a fist when it slips from the bank. There are quartz arrowheads buried in the shale that cuts up, away from the river, to the sand dirt clearing. There, in shadow and folding chairs, the brown water, too, exists.
This portrait is of the River:
“Well, about two a clock that morn’ I woke up sick as a sour apple. I had it coming out of both ends, and I tole Carol as I went back to bed, I tole her I’d cut the ‘larm off. I ain’t never make it.”
“Well, he call me. I don’t know what time was, I still laying there. It probably sevem, eight a clock. He said, where you at? And I said I’m still in the bed, and I tole him what it was, y’know. He said, well, I’m gonna go for a’little while.”
Then, there, like a screen door swaying at the intake of the afternoon, just a touch, just a lilt of laughter.
“Well I din even try to go, y’know?”
“And, he uh, he went two or three places, he come back, had wu-one”
There’s another laugh here, like a door whistling out before the afternoon thunder, when the hot wind has, swimming like oil above the black tarmac, slowly risen to form violet cloud.
“Wu-one fish, uh huh.”
And as everyone gathers, ‘one, one fish’, the circle of folding chairs pushes back in the river dust. Screen doors swing wide. It is an intimidating ease of laughter.
Then there is silence for a long while.
“Ah well, back a long ways there were covered carts hereabouts…”
This is the old men’s river, hugging banks of noon and age, there is no oxbow which ends without laughter. I am interpreting strange signs, tracing the skimmings of the water spiders. The river is as dark as thick fog, and rocks can only be seen by those who know they’re there. The man who had caught one fish cracks a beer, and its hiss tangles with his sigh, bright and loud in the still air. I have an iPhone in my sleeve, recording. I don’t know what I am trying to catch. There is an ache of cicadas faraway, I find, when I play it back, at home, on my laptop. That was something I did not notice then. So I caught that.
But in the dust there, with the ebb of voices and the hot wet air, I eventually become almost dizzy, and fall asleep.
And I am afraid that is as close to the Broad River ease of voice and movement as I will ever get.
Rose Barnsley is in her second year of a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy at the University of Sydney. You can find her other writing on Berfrois.