Read The Banks of Certain Rivers Online

Authors: Jon Harrison

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Drama & Plays, #United States, #Nonfiction

The Banks of Certain Rivers (43 page)

“How are you, Grandma?” he asks.

“Oh….” It takes a moment for her to work up a
reply, and her voice has the weak rasp of a dry leaf blown over
pavement. “I’m not so bad today, Christopher.”

“That’s good.”

“How do you like that little brother of yours? He’s got…a
strong cry. Have you changed a diaper yet?”

“I changed him just before we came over,” Chris says, and
I laugh.

“He was scared of that more than anything,” I say. “But
he did a good job.”

“I imagine you might have been a little rusty yourself, Neil.
I’d like to see the baby, when you’re ready to bring him

Lauren buttons herself up and wipes Theo’s contented little
face with a cloth, and she rises to bring him over to the bed. She
holds him over Carol so she can see.

“Bring him here, Lauren. Bring him close to me. Oh, what a fine
baby boy. What a good boy. I wish Dick were here to see this baby.
You’ll show him things, won’t you Chris? You help him
grow up the right way, like you have.”

“I will, Grandma.”

“Show him the orchard. All the good places to run and hide.
Take him to the beach. He can play in the sand. You keep a good eye
on him when you’re with him on the beach. That river in the
woods. Your mom played there. You did too, when you were a little
guy. Keep a close watch on him there.”

“Yes, Grandma.”

“You’re such a good boy, Christopher. Bring this baby a
little closer.” Carol lifts her wavering hand, and her fingers
brush over Theo’s head on the way to her own face. She tugs at
the oxygen line with her crooked fingers.

“Help me with this, Christopher. Bring him closer.” Chris
helps pull the clear tubes up and out of the way as Lauren holds the
sleeping baby up next to Carol’s face. She closes her eyes and
presses her wrinkled cheek to his head.

“So sweet,” she says. “So sweet. Oh, Lauren, I’m
so happy for you. What a perfect little boy.”

“We’re going to see Wendy,” I say. “Carol,
would you like me to get a nurse so we can bring you over with us?”

Carol is quiet, her eyes closed, as she breathes in the closeness of
my infant son.

“No,” she finally says. “No, that’s okay. I
have my memories of my little girl. And that’s good. That’s
how I’d like to keep it now.”

The orchard is staying
with our family. I told Leland last fall I wasn’t sure I was
ready to make a decision on selling, and as months passed, he became
less interested. I think things have slowed at the resort. People
aren’t buying; he’s given me hints the couple times we’ve
gone out together. We’ve met up here and there: Leland has a
beer, I stay with water, and we catch up on things. He tells me
people haven’t been able to commit, but he’s pretty sure
things will pick up someday. Absent his interest, I’ve looked
into having our property protected from development in the future by
a conservation easement.

As it is, we aren’t so worried about finances. We rented out
Lauren’s condominium at the beginning of the year, and we’ve
still got my paycheck. Lauren will finish up her studies at the
beginning of the summer when I can watch Theo full-time, and she’s
planning to go back to her job eventually. Most of farmers working
the orchard have renewed their leases too, so we’ve got some
income there. We’re doing okay.

On top of all that, the Tate family, possibly overestimating my
appetite for litigation, worked out a preemptive settlement with me
over the whole mess with their son. Alan thought I could have got
more, but I didn’t really care. They wrote me a check, and I
put it straight into Christopher’s college fund.

He’ll be going to culinary school in the fall.

Theo is a great
with Shanice and the other nurses over in Long Term, who crowd around
Lauren as she brings the infant carrier up to the main desk. I am
planning to run home after this visit, and a bag with my things hangs
from my shoulder.

“Look at that baby!” Shanice gasps. “That is the
most gorgeous little baby I’ve ever seen!”

It’s Saturday, visiting day, and a handful of family members
hear the commotion and come from their rooms to see what’s
going on. Everyone smiles, tired, wistful smiles, reminded perhaps
that the ones they’ve come to visit here were once perfect
babies too. Undamaged, and ready for the world. Theo is that. He is
perfect, and he carries our hopes.

A man I don’t know pats me on the back and shakes his head in a

“Wow,” the man says. “Wow.”

The attention gets Theo worked up again, and when his little mouth
puckers and trembles and finally erupts with an outsized wail, the
spell over the gathered group is broken and we emit a collective
“Aww!” Everyone laughs after that. Everyone but Chris,
that is. My son has fervently embraced his position as elder brother,
and he holds out his hands to Lauren.

“Let me take him,” Chris says. “I know how to calm
him down.”

“He can’t be hungry again,” Lauren says.

“Here.” Lauren lifts Theo to Christopher’s hands,
and, cradled there, the baby’s crying stops.

“He likes pressure under his feet,” Chris tells me as the
observers return to whatever they were doing before we interrupted.
“I figured it out yesterday. He likes to be held like this.”
Chris brings Theo close to his chest, and I raise my eyebrows.

“When did you learn so much about babies?” I ask.

“It’s not that hard, Dad. You just try whatever and go
with what works.”

Inside Wendy’s darkened
, Chris holds his little brother close to his mother’s
face. He leans down close to her.

“Mom,” he whispers. “This is Theo. He’s just
a little baby. I never really even held a baby this small before Theo
was born. He’s so awesome, Mom. He’s incredible.”

I have to turn away as he says it, and Lauren presses her hand to the
small of my back.

“He’s like…I can’t even believe it, Mom.
He’s my little brother. I love this little guy. Can you believe

This is too much for me, and I go to the restroom to change into my
running things. My phone drops out of a pocket as I fold my pants,
and when I pick it up and cradle it in my hand I feel the reflexive
urge to tap out a message to my former wife. If Wendy really was
somewhere on the other end of the wire, waiting to read and waiting
to reply, what would I tell her?

I think I’d just write: We’re okay. And I’d mean

Everything is okay.

But there will never be a reader, never a reply. I know this now. The
phone is stowed in with the rest of my clothes, and Lauren meets me
in the hall and takes my bag.

“You all right?” she says. I nod, and she gives me a
quick kiss. “Have a good run. I’ll see you back home.”

I wave goodbye to Shanice and head out into the spring air. A light
drizzle has started, but it’s warm outside, almost humid.
Summer is not far away. I start to run, and my nose fills with the
smell of rain and wet earth. I run along the shoulder of the highway
in an easy rhythm, and the rain gathers up on my forehead and
eyebrows; it flows down my face, it drips from the tip of my nose.
There is wet dirt, a puddle in the gravel, new grass pushing through
old in the ditch. Violets grow along the edge of the road. To my
right, the Little Jib River flows brown and swollen to the lake. The
water moves ceaselessly, and I move along with it. To my left, across
the road, the rain strips wilted cherry blossoms from the rows and
rows of trees, and drops them to the ground. I see all of this. The
smell of rain and earth, the smell of growing things, my feet on the
pavement, they’re the only things I know.

How many times have I known these things?

I know these things. I remember them all.

And able to remember, I know that I’m alive.


A native of the Midwest,
currently lives and writes in the Northern Rockies.

To learn more, visit

Copyright © 2013 by Jon Harrison

All rights reserved. This book or any portion
thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner
whatsoever without the express written permission of the
publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of
the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any
resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is
purely coincidental.

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