Some Kind Of Meaning

Some Kind Of Meaning by J. Kuzmier --  photo by John B. at

Take a deep breath. The air is cold and crisp here, standing by the river’s edge. Yesterday, when the spill happened upriver, the air was warm. Breathe in again, while you can. There is change in the wind. Breathe out, and maybe now you have cast a prayer upon the heavens. For everything is different now. A new season will be arriving here, in this place.

When paradigms shift, nothing means the same anymore. And so it is, at the river’s edge. The river still looks pretty, though. If you didn’t know anything about the disaster, you would say, isn’t nature so beautiful. The river sparkles as it shows off its dark blue hues and rich brown edges. You can even imagine crawfish probing on its banks, like they did just months ago when the sun rose high in summer’s glory. It’s easy to picture this memory. Because right now, nothing seems to have changed, other than the sands of time dressing for the present season. Everything seems the same. Does a disaster exist if you can’t see it?

If you look to the left, you can watch the river barreling its way towards you. You can watch a piece of the river galloping round the corner, past the trees that hide its previous whereabouts. You can be the audience to its butterfly dance as it flutters on the current, and passes you by. Somewhere way, way beyond your visible range, long before the river bends here, is where the spill took place.

The fire at the chemical plant was put out very quickly, or so it was reported. Everyone congratulated each other on how efficiently they offset a disaster. Yet, they didn’t put out the fires quickly enough to stop the spill. Some have said, it will only be a trace amount in the water. This is supposed to mean, nothing serious. Or so they claim. No one had to evacuate, so how bad can it be? There are others do not agree with this assessment. They say, a silent maelstrom has spawned in these waters, because of the spill. There is no such thing as just a trace amount, they argue, because it’s all serious. This spill has birthed many quarrels, amongst other things, like unknown and unwanted change.

But the spill is invisible. On this point, there is no argument. So maybe it’s here already. Or maybe it isn’t. Who knows? It’s hard to mourn the dead, when no one can find the body. It’s tough to grieve, when nothing appears to be missing. Everything looks the same right now. The oaks, the elms, the ashes. They’re all here standing on the river’s edge. Do they know what’s coming for them? Who can know, for sure?

Scan the river. What is there? Dark water, rich with sediment, flanked on both sides by numerous trees. In the summer, insects dance here, performing their mating rituals. Mammals and birds come here for the feast that the river provides. That season has passed by, but it’s easy to remember all the lust for life that took place, just months ago, if you try. It’s autumn now, late autumn. The glorious spectacle the trees have put on have closed up this year’s show. They’re just as brown as much of the river, as brown as the slushy ground that you stand on by the banks. If you never saw a tree before, their barrenness would convey death. They look like skeletons that have been decaying for years. If you remember what is coming from upriver as you observe them, maybe their carcass-like appearance means something. Maybe it’s an omen. But maybe not. Nothing is certain, now.

In the silence of hibernation, in the iciness of the air, sight appears to be the strongest sense. Everything seems like a silent movie, with just a hint of white noise coming from some far hidden corner. The strange stillness attunes you to the fact that there are no birds here, at all. Most have left for their vacation homes in the south. There should be some here. That’s the way it’s always been. But today, there are none. No geese, no ducks, no chickadees. Nothing. Their absence alerts you to the fact that not only the birds have left. Squirrels and rabbits usually love this time of the year, it seems, because they tend to have exclusive run of the place. Busy beavers are usually putting the last touches on their winter lodges in the mud. But even they have gone.

The only animal hanging around these parts seems to be human. It’s like every other animal on the scene got the memo about some emergency evacuation. Every animal, it appears, but mankind. Well, Homo sapiens always seems to believe itself different from the other animals, for the most part, it’s easy to think with all this going on. Perhaps the other animals have returned the favor, in the endgame of things. Humanity is too different for them to care.

The wind, which had been coming from the west running with the river’s current, now mixes in gusts from the north, becoming stronger than before. No longer silent, the gale seems to hook around, lamenting in your ear an unending wail of “Why why why why why….”. It’s a question you can’t quite understand, nor begin to answer. Everything becomes even colder than before, even as the sun becomes brighter. The despairing air stings your lungs. It feels like knives carving into your trachea.

The change in the wind pattern causes a strange pattern fluttering and crisscrossing the river’s surface. At times, it shoots straight, heading east like a good predictable student who never does anything wrong. Other times, it blows a patch like a rebel coloring outside the lines. This patch billows out towards you, like a kid blowing soap bubbles in a very sloppy manner. It’s nice to see mother nature acting up, rebelling against predictability. She might need that characteristic, to combat the hubris of Homo sapiens and their five-year business plans, with disaster supposedly factored in as a minor asterisk couched as a one-in-a-million chance of ever escaping man’s great designs.

This random dance of wind patterns makes you look at the river more closely. Deadwood waltzes with the breeze, swaying this way and that, camouflaged by the dark water. Yet when the sun spotlights it, nature’s trash wakes from its wallflower hideouts in the crevices of eddies, to splash the glory of its own dance. You can see fading green on some of the branches, as though the leaves decided to hang out and stay alive for this one last dance before they were submerged in the depths of Hades forever. Well, why not. Why not go out with blaze and glory, if you get the chance? Better than waiting around with a dying soul, decaying long before the body claimed its final sleep. Why not wrest some kind of meaning in all of this, if you could?

There’s a swishing sound that interrupts this piece of wisdom, landing right at your feet. It’s the edges of the river swaying towards you. The water seems to be imagining bigger things for itself, like becoming part of an ocean. You want to say, little river, you’re good enough just as you are, but this quaint wisdom seems hypocritical. For when has Homo sapiens ever wanted to remain small, to stay still in one place? So you shut up and choose to listen, instead of dispensing advice you’re not sure of. It’s then you notice that the river seems to speak, coming alive in its own way. With each rush of waves, it seems to say, run. Run. RUN. What does that mean, to hear that? Where are you are supposed to run to? Besides, is the river even speaking to you? Maybe it doesn’t even see you. Maybe it speaks only to encourage itself. Survival of the fittest, after all. Should the river care if you perish, while it escapes for its life?

There’s a distraction in the far northwest corner, tripping the mind out of the river’s trance. Something is traveling down the river. Something, dark and small. This new entity resembles a kid bouncing on a ball, the way it’s moving, up and down. At least something in this world is making a stab at play today, it appears. The light shimmering in between the current seems to make the object dance like a chimera, making it shine like a star on stage one second, and hide in the shadows the next, back and forth. This hide-and-seek play game has become the highlight of the river, at least for now. Whatever this object is, it’s not alone. Like ducks following one another, a trail of similar small dark objects is floating down the river, providing a film of unexpected surprise. With this new act, the river seems to have dressed up in another disguise. What is it unfolding now?

As the row of imaginary birds comes closer, it becomes easier to make some observations. The floating objects seem to be traveling on the outside edge of the main current, on the side closer to you. The metaphor of birds to define them transforms to similes of the plant kingdom, when it becomes obvious that the heads you see are too submerged by water to be birds, and too small to be a family of beavers making their way to their version of a cozy ski lodge by the water. What are they? What is happening?

Look! The leader is approaching, with the school of followers trudging obediently behind it. They’re teasing, nosing their way so they are close enough to meet, but too far away to grab without getting wet. It is as though the black bobbing heads are there to observe, without being caught themselves.

It takes a moment to register what is going on, watching the procession parade past. Each member of the regalia is the same, it seems. And so, as they pass by, they become more recognizable. Strangely enough, each and every one of them appear to be roses. But they are not red with undying love. They are not purple with passion. Every single one that sails by is black. Black as night, darker than the murky water it swims in. Black roses do not exist in nature, supposedly. They are nothing more than manmade contraptions.

Yet somehow this comparison seems fitting, to see the morphed roses floating by. Black like death. Black like a funeral. An absence of color, like an absence of life. Someone, somewhere, has cast these roses into the water. Were they eulogizing the river? Were they mourning a lost love? Does it matter? Watching the roses, it’s somehow comforting that someone else is grieving, somewhere.

The black roses float past, one by one, each of them still perfectly formed like some gothic bouquet of greeting. They are evenly spaced from one another, about two feet, and their symmetry is soothing. Count them as they float past. One, two, three… The number climbs to eleven, and then suddenly halt. It’s a puzzling number to end on. Yet the flowers stop there. Somehow, being cut off from a perfect dozen number of roses is disconcerting. Why? Who knows. Looking up the river, will there be something to balance this disorientation? Is it strange, to be waiting for signs from a river?

Something else coming downriver, bobbing in the water like the black roses that are now disappearing. From its shape, this new entity seems like another flower, just like its friends that preceded it. But this one is not the same as the others, it seems. Instead of being drenched in black, this one is pure white. Not expecting a spectacle of white, it’s easy to think that it’s just a mental projection that it is completing some psychological need for symmetry and completion. Maybe it’s a piece of garbage, or just some hallucination.

But no, as it approaches, a flower is exactly what the floating object is, a white rose. The wind growls from the north before letting out a howl, pushing the rose even closer to the edge of the river, closer to the bank. The flower seems to slip into a mini-whirlpool before it surfaces again, washing up just to very boundary of the river, somehow still as perfect as before. It is so close to the bank that it could pick it up without your getting wet. It has found its way, directly to you. Why? No answer comes, because the whole situation seems to defy the law of logic. Regardless of the reason, a white rose now waits. The river, and the wind are silent once again. Are they watching?

Watching the rose, another flash of white appears in the periphery, across the other side of the river. If one was unattuned to the surroundings, it would have been easy to miss. But today isn’t one of those cluttered days. Everything seems heightened, perhaps because of the spill. So it’s easy to notice even this small speck and turn to meet it. It’s easy to expect some other flower to be magically growing out of the ground, like you are a character in some strange fairy tale. But it isn’t. It’s a cat, a snow white cat. Strange to see another animal after so much isolation. But no. Even after blinking a few times to clear the mind of illusion, the cat still stands there.

The cat is peering over the edge of the river, like it’s searching for something. Intent on its mission, it seems not to notice the human for a moment. Motionless, the cat almost seems frozen. Taking a couple of steps towards the cat, it stares back, like it has been aware of you the whole time. This causes a shock of surprise, but why? Why be startled? Was it that strange that life could still exist when everything seemed to have stopped?

The cat stares back for a moment or two, then yawns as though the whole game has gotten oh so old. It lays down at the river’s edge, lying as still as death. No matter how much you will the cat to get up, move, do something, it remains frozen on the ground. You are left here alone once again, with your thoughts, with nothing but a white rose waits on the river’s edge, to deliver you some kind of meaning. What does it all mean?

4 Responses to “Some Kind Of Meaning”

  1. A beautifully written piece. I could almost picture the river and feel the crisp air.

  2. Daron Henson says:

    This is a very well-written short story. I appreciate the fact that you choose to write fiction for the pure enjoyment of your readers instead of focuses on issues that effect writers as do many of the blogs. Thank you,

    Daron Henson