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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: River (08/31/06)

TITLE: A River of Change
By Marita Vandertogt



Clarissa’s bare foot lifts off the slime covered rock. The green stuff is slippery and threatens her balance, squeezing green between her toes. Bill tells her to be careful. That she’s not that young anymore. But Clarissa wanted to come here one last time. The place she grew up, the place where she spent so many hours at the river out behind the house. It looks the same. She would come here when the yelling started, moving along the rocks to find a place to get away. Clarissa was young then, and lived where life wasn’t fair.

The water still glistens like a shiny silver knife in the hot sky, slicing through the terrain. She makes her way across the stones to the opposite side, to where the house used to be, and smells the familiar lush green safety of the foliage. Here she did her own yelling, lying on her back in the sun. At God. Questions. Mostly why questions. And then listened to the water, in case He decided to answer. “You can talk to me through the water,” she used to whisper her permission, and let the wind carry her words upward. But all she ever heard was the sound of running water over the stones, and the buzz of flies.

Back then, a river of discontent flowed from her mother’s lips, constant anger, in the kitchen, the living room, at her back as she tried to run away. Her mother screamed at her father too. Sometimes for no reason, just because he was there. But mostly because he didn’t work much. Then she’d turn the anger toward Clarissa, as though she’d already messed up her life, as though it was already too late. But that was back then. The house is an empty shell now, just a hollow cement structure sitting out of the ground. She closes her eyes and listens for her mother’s voice.

Clarissa grabs for a tree branch to steady herself, and sees the small blue gemstone shine in the light. She still wears the ring her father gave her for her sixteenth birthday. “It was your grandma’s,” he’d told her. “Don’t go showin your mom or she’ll wonder why I never gave it to her.” Clarissa wondered too, but never asked. She wondered about her dad, and why he was the way he was. She smiles now thinking that she used to be afraid some of him would rub off on her, but she wasn’t sure why that was bad. Her mother’s words sometimes still sit strong in her head.

Clarissa sits down on a rock. Off in the distance she hears singing, faint, like a choir of voices, together in the afternoon sun. Sheilding her eyes, she looks as far down as she can to where a small group of people stand in a circle. She gets up from the rock and makes her way through the shallow water, closer to the voices. One man in a white robe is being held down by two others. The man yells ‘Hallalejah” just as he goes under. And when he came up, the people all join in with the same word. She was close enough now to see their faces, radiant in the afternoon sun. As the white robed man wiped the water from his eyes, he saw her off in the distance, and with a big wave of his hand called, “hey, come on over, come join us.”

“It’s okay,” she called back. “I’m just visiting. Actually, been there myself a lot of years ago, in this very river, because of such a gathering as yours. They took me in, and brought me to the Lord.”

She turns around now, and heads back toward Bill, toward a new life she made for herself once she found her way through the river to Him. The river will always be a place a memories for Clarissa. Memories of searching, and of eventual finding, her whispers to God answered in the power of the water.

She makes her way back to the shore, to where Bill is still standing, keeping watch in case she slips on the rocks. She takes one final look at where the house used to be, and one more look at the river. “It’s okay now,” she takes his hand, and together they walk past the ruins.

The river, cool and clear and clean, holds life, all kinds of life. Changing life.
Changing her life.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Donna Haug09/09/06
This is a good story. I find that stories told in the present tense are harder to write and read than those told in the past tense. It was neat to walk with her down memory lane by the river.
Rhonda Clark09/10/06
This was a very nice memory, even if all the memories weren't pleasant.
david grant09/11/06
Like this line best and thot maybe you could have centered a story just around it. " “You can talk to me through the water,” she used to whisper her permission, and let the wind carry her words upward." Not the perfect sentence but there is a personal intimacy in it that I would have like to read more of.