a small, quiet, slow-moving, placid, shallow stream of water
The creek: I am a small, quiet, slow-moving, placid, shallow stream of water. I am home to minnows and chubs, to frogs and turtles, to snakes and ferrets, to kingfishers and herons and the red-winged blackbird. I’ve meandered untroubled through this land for more than twenty thousand years, along a path first carved by glaciers.
Once or twice during each of those thousands of years, I overflow the banks that confine me. My waters return nutrients to the land, making the earth fertile and allowing new life to grow. I sweep away whatever has accumulated on the banks, cleansing the land, purging it, leaving behind a rich deposit of soil and silt. This is what I do, what I’ve always done, what I’ll always do.
The toy: Some child loved me. I was a gift—a plaything created solely to bring smiles, to be an object of affection. I was made small to fit in a child’s small arms, to be carried in a child’s small hand, to fit in a child’s small heart. I was a soft thing, made to be loved.
And I was. I was carried everywhere, I was hugged and kissed, I was slobbered on and chewed on, spilled on and washed, patched when necessary. I was soft and coddled and much-loved.
Now I hang from a tree branch, a length of wire wrapped round my neck, filthy, stinking of mud and muck and rot. There’s nothing soft about me. I am dry and stiff and foul.
The trailer: I was somebody’s home. A new home, once. Purchased by a retired couple, moved to a friendly community near a creek, settled under a few modest trees that would, in time, become something spectacular. The old couple grilled out in the summer and hunkered down in the winter, were liked by their neighbors, were content with their lives until he died. She sold the mobile home and moved to an assisted care facility, where she grew silent and dreamed at night that she was still young and walking beneath willows beside a creek.
Seven other couples moved in over the years, six moved out. The last—a young man, a welder by training, employed by a small business repairing semi-trailers. His wife, a young woman who worked part-time as a waitress in a Tex-Mex restaurant, always looking for more hours, always feeling guilty about not being a full-time mother for their child. Their child, well-loved, chubby, rarely cranky but always cranky at the worst possible times, attached to his bear though increasingly showing a preference to a red plush bunny.
Two years they lived there. They’d seen the nearby creek flood before. But not like it did the last time. Nothing at all like the last time.
The toy: There was plenty of warning, but so little time. The news said there would be flooding, but they always said that. The water came slowly and people watched, and it still came and people watched and got concerned, and it didn’t stop coming and the police came during the night with sirens and told people they had to evacuate.
They packed what they needed in case they had to stay with friends and family for a day or two. Take the dog; the dog needs to be fed, but cat will be okay on its own for a couple of days. You want your bear or your bunny rabbit? You can only take one. Hurry up, we’ve got to go.
So they left. And the water came, seeping in, all brown and smelly, deep enough to cover even a toy abandoned on the sofa. And it stayed. For eight days.
The land: The water came, the water receded. The leaves fell, the snow covered everything then melted. The water came again and receded again. Men came with bulldozers; they knocked down houses and filled trucks with the rubble and carted it all away. Given time, the water would have done the same thing—but people live short lives and so are always in a hurry.
They left the roads, but in time they’ll crumble too. Seeds carried downstream and lodged in stone and cement will grow, send out root systems, break up the concrete. Seeds dropped from trees or transported in the fur of a feral cat or born by the wind will take root in the rich soil left behind by the floodwaters. More roots, more small cracks in the road surface, and soon—a decade, three decades, seven, soon by earth time—soon the roads will be gone. Everything will be fine again.
The toy: They allowed people to return a couple of weeks after the water receded. Not to stay, but to gather what little they could salvage. Layers of brown dried mud and muck covered the floors. Mold grew on everything. Snakes nested under sinks, Feral cats took up residence in closets and under stairs. Recluse spiders hid in the corners behind the ruined flat screen televisions.
Vandals had been there, taking little but destroying much. People cried. People were angry. People were in despair. The police escorts were sympathetic, but still made sure everybody was gone by sundown. The welder and his waitress wife left with a box of dishes and their microwave.
The boy who found me later was too old to play with stuffed bears. He had no interest in toys, in soft things. He had only rage and anger and hurt. He wrapped a piece of wire around my neck, hung me from a tree, and felt no better for having done it.
Here I’ll stay, hanging like some ugly dead fruit until rot and gravity have their way.