|r.kv.r.y quarterly literary journal summer 06 fiction
|MULTICOLORED TUNNELED LIFE by Mary Akers
For Lois Gibbs, Love Canal survivor and activist
Sylvie weighs a warm river stone in the palm of each hand like a balance, deciding which to
keep and which to toss. She looks up as Hank casts a long fly that drops weightless into a
silver pool; water swirls and eddies all around him.
Hank loves to fish.
Sylvie loves to set her rhythms to the warble of the water’s ceaseless song. She loves the
inevitable search for the perfect marbled river rock to cup its sacred smoothness and nestle
the shape of eons in her hand.
Sylvie sits up and waves to Hank, then scoots her rear from side to side, scrunching the
pebbles at the water’s edge into a customized seat. She closes her eyes and leans back
against a boulder, tilting her face towards a shaft of sunlight that burns pink through her
eyelids and falls full and warm upon her forehead, cheeks, and neck. She concentrates on the
music of the river: the mellow, liquid plink-plunks of water flowing over rocks, the nasal whine
of late summer cicadas, and the background harmony of a wood thrush’s lonely call, ee-o-lay.
This is their eighth summer returning to the river, and Sylvie never tires of it. Little River
reminds her of the rivers of her childhood and although it’s aptly named—especially for this
end of the county—it has a presence nonetheless, and like Hank, has more than held her
interest through the years.
This has been the driest summer in her memory, though, and the river is down at least three
feet from last year. It feels diminished—dirtier, and rockier, and Hank has fewer pools in which
to fish but lots of rocks to walk upon, which he does, since he opted not to bring his waders
She hears a shout of triumph and opens her eyes to see Hank about 300 yards down the
riverbed with a thrashing fish at the end of his line. Even from this distance she sees that he’s
smiling. She places the shapelier of the two stones in her pocket and begins stepping rock to
rock to join him in his victory.
Sylvie loves her husband, has loved him ever since she met him. Mister Popular, athletic,
sandy-haired, happy-go-lucky Hank—Big Man On Campus, as the brothers of Psi Epsilon used
to say. Hank was captain of the soccer team at UVA, back when soccer was barely heard of in
the southern states, and Pele was at the height of popularity in South America. Sylvie and
Hank met at a game actually, his senior year at UVA, her junior year at Virginia Tech, arch
rivals, culture vs. agriculture he used to tease. They could hardly wait to get married and start
By the time Sylvie makes it across the slippery rocks to Hank he already has the fish on a
stringer and back in the water, where it flails about in frustration. “Be right back,” he says.
“Saw another jump down river.”
Sylvie squats to watch the captive fish. It alternately rests and curves its body in an attempt
to rid itself of the metal rod running down its mouth and out past the gill. With a sudden
sinking urge, Sylvie wants to set it free. She can picture the grateful swish of its tail as the
fish takes a giant pain-free breath and escapes, weary, but wiser. The fish turns its eye
upward to study Sylvie and she feels its wordless pleading. She’s got to help it. She’ll figure
out what to tell Hank later. The fish can’t wait. It’s dying before her eyes. She feels it dying
with a stabbing pain in her jaw and she has to save it. She squats lower on her haunches
and reaches down into the water with both hands, circling them around the fish’s slender
The fish flips as if to chase its tail and a dorsal spine catches in her thumb. She cries out and
jumps back in surprise nearly upsetting her precarious perch on the rock.