I watch the river swell where the current rushes over something submerged, a car tire or fridge or whatever’s down there. People throw everything into the Susquehanna. It’s not very deep, but it’s muddy enough to keep secrets.
I sip my Mickey’s 40 and imagine what the riverbed would look like if the water disappeared and that hidden landscape of discarded things was suddenly exposed, staring back at you. The gray clouds make the autumn leaves look bright, like hot embers falling from an ashy sky. I watch one drift down and land in its own reflection, almost expecting a hiss.
I take out my cell phone and call Kelli. It’s the last thing I want to do, but I’m helpless.
I know where she is, but I ask her anyway when she answers.
“The Flats!” She says.
“Who’re you with?” I ask.
“Everyone,” she yells above the noise. “Who’re you with?”
“Ray,” I lie.
“Why aren’t you guys here?”
“We’re on our way,” I say. “We’ll be there soon.”
Somebody in the background says something to her, a guy. She laughs.
“Who’s that?” I ask.
“What?” she shouts.
“Kelli?” I say. “Can you hear me?”
“Hurry up,” she says, and hangs up.
I was right. I feel sick, like I’d willingly eaten poison, again. I sit there listening to the electric hum of the wastewater treatment plant upstream. The dump valves are open. Shredded toilet paper and condoms and diapers float by in the current. I’d still rather be here than at a Flats party.
My cell phone starts vibrating. It’s Brick.
“Dude,” he says. “Where are you?”
“On my way,” I lie.
I hear a loud metallic clanging, Brick hitting the side of the keg with a rock, or with another empty keg.
“Hear that?” he says.
“Yeah,” I say.
“That’s my dick,” he says, then he burps into the phone. “Are you really coming or are you gonna show up late again?”
“I’m on my way,” I say.
He hangs up on me before I can ask him who Kelli’s talking to.
When my first 40’s gone I screw the cap back on and throw it into the water. It splashes and bobs away. If Brick and the other guys were here we’d throw rocks until we hit it, frantically trying to keep it from getting away. Now I just watch the 40 bob out there in the current, moving away. I hope the river carries it far away from this rusty upstate New York town, down through Pennsylvania, out through the Chesapeake Bay and into the Atlantic. I know it couldn’t happen, but I don’t care. I hope anyway.
There must be so much shattered glass at the bottom of this river. I picture it sparkling down there in the darkness among the corpses of car parts and broken furniture as I open my second 40, put the cap in my pocket and take a sip, pursing my lips like little bumpers so I don’t chip another tooth. The things you learn in high school.
I’m thinking about how the river never stops moving. That’s why I like it here, to watch the water simply move away. Then a branch snaps behind me, startling me so bad I almost drop my 40. Ray steps through the green tubers laughing.
“Why can’t you jump that high on the basketball court?” he says.
“Holy shit!” I say. “You suck!”
He eyes my 40.
“No, this is my first beer,” I lie.
“You’re the only person I know who calls a 40 a beer,” he says. “Remember we got practice tomorrow morning.”
“Yeah I know,” I say. “Want to go to the Flats?”
“Can’t,” he says. “Driving around with Hassan. He’s waiting up in the car.”
“Hassan stole my Nautica t-shirt off my back in 7th grade,” I say. “I had to walk home with no shirt and a black eye.”
Ray lights a joint.
“I know,” Ray says. “You told me that like a hundred times.”