There is News Along the Ohio River XVIII-XX


There is news along the Ohio River: a woman has planted fuchsia coneflower in the four by six patch of earth outside a hundred-year-old home she’s borrowing for now. She has no idea if the separation will stick, if he’ll stay sober, if she’ll ever raise enough tomatoes in pots or native flowers to unmeek her heart, to unsee her traumas, or at least lay them to rest and let the roots do their root magic. In the geraniums she’s hung in yellow pots all along the back fence, s-hooks remind her of a boy named Reed and the chain which did him in but the annuals themselves are Italian nonnas going about their business hoisting ceramic water pitchers, beating out fine, fine rugs which show their age, but they like patina, they like lemons and butter, fingers threaded with dough. There’s not a gaunt one among them, not like the lady next door who takes care of the bedridden matriarch, grandkids who say they prefer foster care, ‘cause at least they could eat what they want there, and an elder brother who wears goggles to walk his baby dolls up the street every day in a stroller. Her faded heart tattoo is still a heart despite its condition, threshed by circumstance, and she still mows her yard patch on summer Fridays just in case someone comes, just in case someone comes to help.


There is news along the Ohio River: rains and snowmelt to the east have brought the detritus of winter, intact evergreens, Mountain Dew bottles, and a cormorant drying her wings atop a tire floating by at a good click like an old god on his way home to New Orleans. But it’s the fridge that gets you, the fridge just like one Mee-Maw had out back of the house you used to play in when folks didn’t much throw things away because they’d survived a depression in the south and had all them babies to feed and if something could be reused damn if they wouldn’t find a way. Busted bathtubs grow damn fine tomatoes and sage she’d pick down to nubs, apron pockets bulging, to dry in open windows over late summer days. Don’t it smell good, the old ones said. One day you’ll do the same. But kids never think so when they’re dreaming up babies and households that don’t need herbal remedies. Fine silks and polished new everything. But babies were rampant in those days and they didn’t have to fill out forms for exploratory tests, the babies, they just kept coming moonlike in cycles, swathed in handmade quilts, enwrapped in folklore, sadness always banging its way in the side, the crack of the screen door tricking Mee-maw’s nerves while she was washing black dye out of Aunt Joe’s hair in the kitchen sink, and when she had her wet head knotted up good, she rose, bringing the cigarette she never put down, to her lips and said, well, look here if that grandbaby of yours ain’t obliterated her dress.


There is news along the Ohio River: these are extraordinary days here when the late summer light shifts Faulknerian and monarchs alight on the spans of the Big Four Bridge. The woman likes to think they help the drowned men from the 1897 disaster rise up from the depths just to catch a glimpse of the work they did still standing, but now instead of steam trains carrying passengers and coal to Chicago and St. Louis, she comes to toss rose petals in the water while a man drops pistachio shells behind him like he’s trying to find his way home to a place that no longer exists. At the full moon, witches draw circles, light candles, incense, and leave offerings, defiant and unafraid. And the children puff up their chests with bravery to let their mamas hold them high so they can wave at the barges headed north. Amid all this wonder, this awe she can’t touch, a butterfly is clipped by a pigeon. How it falls reminds her of a married photographer who once told her on the road to St. Augustine how he hated to see them on the highway. It tears me up—the resemblance to falling angels when they get hit. She follows its descent and float. After it’s no longer visible, she looks at her feet. The right shoe has begun opening up from the miles and she keeps on wondering about the photographer, sacred insects, how time usually plods along, exalted in its season, but sometimes a crane breaks and time swallows.

BETH GILSTRAP is the author of Deadheading & Other Stories (2021), winner of the Red Hen Press Women's Prose Prize, short-listed for the Stanford Libraries William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and finalist for the 2021 Foreword Reviews Awards in Short Fiction. She's also the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (Twelve Winters Press, 2015), and No Man's Wild Laura (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2016). Born and raised near Charlotte, she recently relocated to the Charleston area. She lives with c-PTSD and is quite vocal about ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.