The Second Confrontation
He saw the shopping cart lying in the thick, wet mud that coated the river bank.
It was a game among the local 13-15 year old kids. Groups of them raided parking lots of supermarkets, the clatter of loose wheels on asphalt, laughter and heavy breathing at the thrill of stealing something so large and difficult to hide. They would run to the river, then follow the dirt road that meandered along the east bank (a favorite place for a casual bike ride, a hand in hand walk). The brave ones sat inside the cart on the metal grids (making red tic-tac-toe marks on their bare legs), while friends pushed as fast as they could manage, then turning the cart towards the river, they allowed momentum to do the rest. Some carts made the water, sinking to the bottom, while thrilled and slightly scraped riders floated to the surface. Others ended up wheels deep in the mud, stuck fast, passengers tossed unceremoniously outward and down, face first in the muck.
This cart had landed on it’s side, at least three inches deep, a few feet from a now abandoned duck nest (shell fragments littering the outer edges, one undeveloped egg rotting among piles of straw and feathers). His first attempt had been fruitless. The cart had barely budged, and the effort of his pull strained a muscle in his forearm. Of course the river had fought him as she often did. Standing back, shaking his arm, he cursed his own foolishness and the parentage of the children he assumed responsible for this situation.
He heard the voice again-This one is mine. It was an offering, a sacrifice. I have claimed it- But he didn’t care. The river had no dominion over him, and the cart was unnatural. She had no right to it. He would take it from her. She could devour all the sand and stone, plants and animals that dared cross her path. She was even welcome to try and take him in his attempt to remove the shopping cart, but he could not allow her something she did not deserve, had not earned. He stepped forward again, grabbing the handle with both hands this time. Water is a slow, powerful predator. He was faster, stronger in this moment. He righted the cart, but the river grabbed tight to the four wheels. She was angry he had freed the metal from her. The mud near his feet softened, and he slipped ankles deep.
He had underestimated her control of the earth around the water. He felt the pull under his feet, along with a strange and sudden desire to lie down. Someone less in tune would have given in, been dragged slowly along the ground until the water claimed them. He was grateful for his knowledge, even if everyone around him called him Crazy Carl (or spray painted that along with other obscenities across his fence or garage door). None of them would survive this moment, he was certain of that. He grabbed the cart handle tighter, and summoned all his strength for one more pull.
As the last wheel gave way, almost throwing him to the ground, and the earth folded over, hiding the indentation the cart had once rested in, the river gave out a defeated sigh, a rush of air, one final gasp. He waited for the voice to return, but she would not give him the satisfaction. A woman walking by shook her head, and turned up her nose at the sight and smell of him. They never understood.
Picking up a flat stone, he casually tossed it into the water. He hoped the river would accept his offering.