Children of the River (Story #14)

Every day began the same way for the people of Fayette.  At sunrise, all the men, women, and children walked down to the river and looked to see if anyone was waiting for them.  Most days, no one was there—just pine trees swaying as the river cascaded past them.  But every once in a while, the townspeople, cold and cranky and not well-slept, would collectively hold their breath when in front of them, standing and shivering on the riverbank, was a naked child.

These children moved silently among the families of Fayette, and there was always a lifeless quality about them, almost as if they were life-sized dolls that had been wound up by whoever sent them.  It wasn’t until they “selected” their families, that they seemed normal.  Their flat facial expressions morphed into joyful peaks and valleys as they hugged each of their new family members.  Though they were strangers, they were never strange, acting as if they belonged to their new family and to the town as a whole.  And as a result, everyone in town accepted them.  This is why “selection,” though that is what the townspeople called it, was really a misnomer.  The children of the river found their families, as if somehow they were always meant to be with them—at least it seemed that way until Jonas Finn appeared.

From the start, people knew something was different about him.  The most obvious thing being gender.  As far back as anyone could remember, the children of the river had always been girls, and they all looked the same: red heads with freckles and blue eyes.  Jonas, on the other hand, was dark-featured with thick black curls and skin the color of milk chocolate.  Even so, the townspeople of Fayette were overjoyed by the fact that Jonas had selected the Finns.  They noticed that Jonas, like the other children of the river, quickly took on some of his parents’ traits—Rachel Finn’s habit of clucking her tongue instead of suffering an awkward silence and Tom Finn’s soundless laugh, which made him turn all shades of purple.

But the joy of the townspeople did not last.   Soon, people began to whisper when the Finns were out of earshot.  The children of the river, apart from looking similar, also had a lightness to them.  They were the model for children in town—always happy and even-tempered.  Jonas, on the other hand, though gentle, often sulked and walked around with sour expression as if he were always sucking on the bitterest of lemons.

If temperament were the only difference, the good people of Fayette would probably have let things go, but there was something else about Jonas that could not be ignored: he had memories from before he appeared.  He sometimes spoke of the old times, though no one knew that meant.  And in his dreams, he would sing little songs that no one had ever heard.  When asked about them, he shrugged his shoulders and said that they were songs his other parents had taught him.  But then he’d get quiet and say nothing more.

These memories of his would soon get him in trouble in school.  He would walk by the other children of the river and say hello, but he didn’t call them by their town names.  Connie James was Caroline.  And Sandy Baskin was Sydney.  Lisa Jenkins was Lelan and Jenny Locke was Joni.  Jonas seemed to go out of his way to rename the other children of the river, which in turn, upset the girls greatly, which then upset their parents.

Tom and Rachel were called into the principal’s office.  They assumed that the boy just had a bad memory or was confused.  “All the names are similar,” Tom Finn argued.  But the principal, a middle-aged woman named Wendy, who herself had been a child of the river and who Jonas had already called Winnie more than a few times, looked on and said nothing, which caused Rachel Finn to double-cluck her tongue as she looked down at her shoes.

When they got home, Rachel and Tom tried to talk to their son.  They wanted to know why he was picking on these girls and making them so upset.  Jonas told them that he was only calling them by their real names from before their time in Fayette, but when Tom turned red and Rachel clucked her tongue a second time, he said nothing more and never repeated his explanation again.

The Finns came to believe their son was mean-spirited, a view that soon came to be shared by all of Fayette.  This is why a year after he appeared, the children of Fayette came to a decision that their parents could only dream of.  After school was over one day, they met as a group and surrounded Jonas as he walked home.  They yelled at him and spit on him.  The older boys who had crushes on the girls of the river, were especially brutal.  They picked Jonas up over their heads and walked down to the river with all the kids of Fayette following closely behind.  The boys called out for rocks.  “Go get us rocks, big heavy rocks,” they yelled.  And when the other kids did as they asked, they pinned Jonas down while all the children helped put their rocks in all of Jonas’ pockets and in his shoes, and anywhere else they could.

“That’ll teach you to call us names,” the red-headed girls of the river cried out in unison.  Jonas, still pinned on the ground, didn’t look scared, which only made the other boys angrier.  In a clear voice,  uncluttered by fear or anger, he called out, “I’m calling you by your names—the names from before you came here.  I don’t want to remember that time, either, but I do.  And you should, as well.”

The red-head girls became red-faced.  “We don’t know what you’re talking about,” they yelled.  “Now throw him into the river,” which is what the boys of Fayette did.  But as they watched Jonas sink beneath the current, weighed down by the rocks they had stuffed into his pockets, they each wondered about the red-head girls with the freckles who they knew as friends and as girlfriends.  They wondered why Jonas had appeared and if they were wrong, and most importantly, they wondered if they had done to Jonas the same kind of thing that had been done to the girls a long time before.  And if that were the case, was there a town downriver that he would appear at soon?

These thoughts, it should be said, were only fleeting and passed from them as quickly as the current they had thrown their classmate into.

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Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categories: fiction

Author:the circular runner

g. martinez cabrera currently lives in San Francisco with his lovely and talented wife. He holds degrees from Columbia and from the Harvard Divinity School where he spent three years thinking about lofty things. Since then, he tries to write some lofty and some not-so-lofty things down so others can see how lofty he sometimes is. When he’s not writing or spending time with said wife, he tortures young people with learning. He blogs at www.circularrunning.wordpress.com and Tumbls at www.circularrunning.tumblr.com

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