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EVERY FEW WEEKS he calls and says hey, like we’re just friends, because now we are.

Because he’s an every-once-in-a-while voice on the phone instead of a daily conversation. And because anything other than measured, sweet words would be another rock in his too-heavy sack.


He tells me once again how his wife left after promising for months that she would. He goes on and on about their last time together, fishing in the alligator-prone lake, how he taught his son to train a gun on any moving gator, how they’d caught so many bream and had a feast that night. But that now when he calls her, she responds with terse, one-word answers, lives in a walkup flat two miles away and he’s not even allowed to see his grandchildren. Doesn’t think she’s ever coming back and how could she do this to him. Thirty-six years he says. Thirty-six.

His voice is gray with black spots, like unpolished granite. Twice, he rode the ambulance with shocking violet-red lights flashing, flashing—turning on top of the thing that whisked him away to a hospital that did no good. All because of his plan with the safety rope.

I tell him never have a handgun. You’re more likely to die just because it’s in your house.

I don’t have a house, he says.

We laugh at this. Our love is deep like an ocean, but he can’t swim—at all. Our laughter is a pair of maracas, their insides barely the color of anything. Shale, maybe. Little bits of broken pieces of centuries-old mud shaking around inside a dried fruit.


Tonight, my balcony door rattles. I can’t tell if it’s the search helicopter or the air-conditioning.

Every time I hear that helicopter, I think, he’s gone.

I put my hand on the glass to silence the rattle and listen again. It’s far and away downriver. But it’ll be back. It will turn and snake the Chattahoochee in relentless pursuit until it finds the thing bobbing.


Now I hear the drag of the air against propellers, closer, maybe right above my house. I picture the balance of its long, dragonfly tail and burning-magnesium-white spotlight—how it makes the dark black riverbank into an unnatural daytime, the water into a mirror, the ellipsis of floating shoes and shirt that he surely must’ve divested himself of. I imagine the fear he felt and the heartbreak, already calcified, as he crawled over two sets of metal bars. Then one foot off the railing and down, down without any grace at all. He plunged into more and different living beings beneath the river’s surface, also uncaring. Almost-blind fishes swimming between reeds, above rusted cans and keys and teeth and bones. They might have darted, swum unperturbed—river-water-green fish, sand white, with unblinking, black, round eyes and rainbow scales, fins like razorblades.

He broke, just like that shale, all along his weakest parts, places where things burrowed and became one with him but nevertheless took their toll. I know he curled into a ball and cried, even as he sank, not caring that there’s already too much water.


But then again, maybe he held his breath, stretched out like Jesus in a dead man’s float, and let the river carry him toward Eufaula. Maybe headfirst, with feet pointing toward Atlanta. Maybe he hung up in the elbow of the river, in that washed-out cottonwood tree root, nearby the boat launch.

Maybe he grabbed ahold and pulled himself up one more time.

Maybe he’s walking home right now.



Mamie Pound is a writer living in Columbus, Georgia. Her stories have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, James Dickey Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in fiction from Spalding University.




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