Jack walked down the bank’s mild slope and stepped right up to the water’s edge. Small eddies swirled around his shoe soles and leaked through, soaking his toes. The water was a frosted iron and it branded him with blazing cold. He lept back instinctively. Still, he stayed a few moments longer, lingering in that thin border between earth and water. The river’s icy rebuff faded and a gentle wind cooed soft warm wisps about his face and neck. It rustled dry oak leaves scattered about the bank, and these danced and crackled like frying bacon. He gazed out. An upside-down world shivered in the water’s frail reflection, wrapped in a thick blanket of gray mist that lay heavy on the horizon. Cold and warmth blended effortlessly in this liminal space where ink-black pools mixed with red clay. He knew he didn’t belong here, but felt sure that he did anyhow.
After a short time had passed, he withdrew, and walked to his right where a few short piers fingered out into the river. Most of these had been constructed recently. They were made of some sort of composite material and the engineering was excellent. Broad, flat and level, they were perfect docks to serve the needs of weekend visitors hauling their skiffs to and from the river bank. Situated obliquely relative to these, and a short distance away from them, was a much older looking pier. It was narrower and shorter than the others, and its platform was made of dark brown wooden planks that had grown weathered and uneven over the years. It was clearly not serviceable for any practical purpose, and none of the passersby seemed to pay it any mind. Jack wondered whether its removal had been spared, or just flat-out forgotten.
He stepped out onto this dock. The rickety boards creaked loudly under his weight. He wasn’t sure whether this was in protest or in welcoming of his presence. The whole structure swayed in slow hypnotic rhythm to his footsteps. Large beams were placed periodically along the sides for stability. Ripples pulsated across the river surface from these timbers in great expanding orbs until they vanished in the distance. He ran a hand over one of the beams. It was smooth and cool to the touch, and overgrown with a sheen of bright green algae that gave it a nearly phosphorescent aura.
He reached the edge and looked about. A few boaters were docked at the other piers, carousing loudly and carelessly. One of them said something. The others erupted in buck-toothed laughter, throwing their heads back and howling like jackals, slapping their knees and stomping on the platform. The commotion startled a large heron, who promptly spread great blue wings and soared over to the bank just opposite Jack. None of the boaters seemed to notice.
The evening mist was marching in quickly now as the sun set. This signaled quitting time to the crowd of merrymakers, who quickly hitched their boats to their trucks and drove off. Houses in the distance lit up, coming to life in dusk. Only their windows could be seen in the misty dark, and these floated mysteriously in the gathering gray haze like smokey orange portals. Jack was left alone, perched on the pier like a gargoyle, with the heron stooped silently and majestically opposite him.
Anthony M. DeGennaro is a scientist working in Long Island, NY. He has previously published poetry with Vita Brevis.