“The river keeps rising. We should go,” I tell him. We sit on the porch and watch it ebb closer to its banks, to our front yard.
I have already packed. It will take Mike longer. He never throws anything away. Everything will seem valuable, full of memories, mostly bad, but it won’t matter.
“You can, Jo. I’m not leaving,” he replies without looking at me.
“We can start over in Jacksonville,” I whisper to the river, giving it permission to come closer.
The grass becomes part of the river flora, swaying in the direction of the current. A red geranium dumped from its pot and thrown in the compost pile floats by us and into the massive swirls of water folding in on themselves, free. The river is the color of weak coffee. It will stay this way until all the sediment sinks to the bottom.
I leave Mike on the porch and walk quickly down the dark hall to the bedroom. It’s always damp because of the river. The walls, the sheets, the carpet. The humidity makes the air thick and syrupy. I gather his clothes, a few books, his journals, a shoebox full of old photographs. He hasn’t moved all afternoon except to take a piss, a chore that he managed by standing up and walking to the edge of the porch.
In high school Mike chased me until I gave in. I ignored him at first. Lanky and timid, he spoke too softly, his words and movements were tentative, unsure, and his hair was shellacked to his head to keep it from bursting out into careless, unruly waves. But he sent endless amounts of flowers and chocolates. He visited the diner where I worked until the manager threatened to call the police and charge him with loitering. He wrote love notes in dark bold letters spelling out our future, our home, the children we would have.
I waited for him while he was gone. I sent letters he never received. I watched his eyes light up in surprise when he stepped from the plane, his dog tags catching the sun and cutting the small crowd with flashes of bright light. I held his hand on the way home. It shook uncontrollably despite the warmth.
Mike stares into the water. A shadow darkens his face, and he closes his eyes. He is contemplating something we’ve never talked about.
I load the bags and start the engine. The water laps at his boots. It creeps across the dirt road that leads away from the house toward dry land.