The Better Reflection – a short story by William R. Stoddart

The Better Reflection

I looked over the rusted railing to the dark water swirling around the bridge pylons–my hands began to tremble. I had a passing urge to do a sailor dive into the river. I wanted a Xanax and a beer or two to level me off. “This was a mistake coming here. I should have come alone, not burden you.”

The state highway bled tar like ribbons of black licorice. The oily smell was gone once my girlfriend Liz and I got to the dirt road that snaked along the river. We passed through mayfly swarms that moved like mist from the water. The insects were like a prickly gauze over our eyes. We came to a sharp bend in the road and heard the sound of singing and clapping hands off in the distance. As we walked further the singing got louder and we could finally see people along

the riverbank in white robes. In a clearing there was a flat area with parked cars. Some from the group were wet from the immersions, their white robes stained by the swirling mud and grit. The newly minted baptized carried the smell of the river like a halo.
“How many washed souls today?” I asked the man with a clerical collar.
“Six souls, washed in the water of the Jordan. Hallelujah, Brother!” The preacher dabbed his forehead with a red handkerchief — an earthy, mineral smell rose from his drying clothes.
“I used to come here as a kid. The town had a concession stand, lifeguards and there were two wooden rafts anchored in the river,” I said to the preacher.
“You actually swam in this?” Liz asked, shielding her blue eyes from the July sun. She walked to the edge of the river and reached her hand into the water. “Cold as cucumbers. I wouldn’t go in there on a bet.” She pulled a flat stone from the water and skipped it over the smooth dark surface. She counted three skips. “Not on a bet! If this was such a great place to swim, why was the beach closed?” Liz asked.
“The town ran out of money to keep it going. The liability insurance got too expensive. A place like this could fix alot of kids. A place to hangout, that’s what they need. This cold water could fix anything,” I said.

My hands trembled as the preacher spoke about redemption and forgiveness. We talked about my older brother who died twenty-five years ago. He drowned here in the river and I stood in the shallow water and watched. My mother said I was a coward. She never let me forget it.

The preacher says the water’s just a symbol, but it heals like nothing else if we let it. He lifted me out of the water into the calm light of day. The darkness rolled off me like soft rain from a child’s face. It seemed like an eternity before I opened my eyes. I focused on the shimmering light as it danced around the broken surface of water, slowly revealing the better reflection of a new day.

William R. Stoddart
is a poet and short fiction writer who lives in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Neologism Poetry Journal, Adirondack Review, Ruminate Magazine, Pedestal Magazine, Every Day Fiction and other publications.


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