A Gentle Flow

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Walter learns the meaning of water.

Submitted: July 14, 2018

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Submitted: July 14, 2018



A Gentle Flow

On the day Martha revealed the secret of water to her son, they strolled under wilted branches and beside curled flowers. Walter thrust his toes into clear puddles. All the sediment lay at rest until he stirred with his big toe, a tan haze enveloping the remainder of his small foot.

Walter always hopped barefooted through the first rain. Smooth pebbles tickled sensitive skin between his toes until the velvet streams of run-off numbed them to sleep. Martha always asked her son if he got cold, but he’d never relinquish the truth; though young and ignorant, he’d learned sometimes one had to sacrifice the virtue of honesty for the indecency of pleasure. Martha was a simple woman anyway, the kind to lean on a shoulder only when necessary, to keep a house neat but not clean; a woman who always armed herself with a smile large, but never one too telling. She’d sacrificed much honesty for selfishness in her younger years, and understood well the attraction.

On their walks, she watched her son as she watched the rain: full of admiration, envy, and shivers up her spine. The droplets were ignorant and free like children, and therefore easily victimized by the tugs of the wind. That wasn’t the droplets fault, she concluded, nor the winds’: it was simply the way of the earth.

Walter didn’t yet know the chemical formula of water. He didn’t know about hydrogen bonds or what water-soluble meant, and the last time he was in biology he’d dropped a dissected cow eye into his teacher’s coffee; a mistake, he cried. He was sent to the principal anyway. Walter would always remember that day, particularly in his forties when he stood in front of his own class and they snickered behind his back or tossed wads of spitballs on top of the projector. He’d remember the innocence of mischief, he’d remember the eyeball and the raspberry face of his teacher. For a moment, it would quell his anger. Then he’d remember what his mother said about water this day.

This day his mother told him the secrets of water, Walter knew some wild berries were red and some were green and some were black and he appreciated their differences. He knew when the clouds grew dark and the wind whistled rough, when it disturbed the tender silence on purpose, more rain would come; a much more accurate source than a meteorologist, his mother told him.

Walter also knew—or felt, he couldn’t quite discern the difference between the two yet—that there was something special about water. He’d yet to see another force so gentle and rugged at once, that could lick his skin lovingly like a slow, old dog, and yet stupefy his nerves like the venom of a snake. He watched the streams race down the hills, though the gutters, and form puddles in the dips of the roads. His mother always told him the best way to learn something worth learning was to shut his mouth, open his mind, and observe. So he did.

Martha knew her son had questions, he always did, and she crouched beside him as he stared at a current beside a curb. He dipped the tip of his index until it too grew numb and wrinkled.

“Have you figured it out yet?” Martha asked.

“Figured out what?”

“Whatever it is your little brain is thinking about.” She patted the top of his head affectionately, the way he hated, and the way she did when she sent him off to school in the morning. Walter would never know, but his mother held as many reservations about his schooling as he did. The pat was always more of a nervous farewell.


“You’ll do great things if you can learn to appreciate water.”

“I do appreciate it. I just don’t understand it.”

Martha sat on the wet concrete. Her thigh muscles gave way beneath her age. “Sometimes too much understanding gets in the way of appreciation.”

“I know that.”

“Carry yourself like water,” she said. “Flow like water but make yourself known like a storm. You have to in this world.”

Walter again twirled his finger in the stream. Sometimes he felt his mother told him things he could only ever appreciate and never understand.

“How am I supposed to do that?” he asked.

“Watch. Look.” She placed her index to her lips then submerged his hand in the water until his palm touched the murky bottom. The chill soothed his bruises from the night before and he watched the way the stream hugged his wrist but flowed swiftly around it as if his wrist had always been there. Martha waited until a pained look crossed her son’s face. She pulled his hand from the cold and rubbed it between her hands. “Did you see?”

“I think.”

“It molds. And when trapped, water fills and fills until it overflows.” She created a wall with her hand and trapped the stream. It gushed over her fingers.

“What if it can’t overflow?” Walter smiled, thinking he’d outsmarted his mother. But Martha smiled too, that was how he knew he hadn’t, and she dried her hands on her sweater.

“Then it bursts. It fills and fills and nothing man-made can hold it. It will crack concrete, wood, and your bones if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Then its gentleness is a lie.”

“No. Water is gentle when it needs to be, and rough when it needs to be. No energy is wasted.”

Walter stood and stretched his legs. The water he watched never stopped and never would from what his mother said. At the feet of such a powerful force, he grew frightened, a kind of fright so sudden it almost knocked him from his feet. Martha caught his wrist still slippery and wet, and he clung to her for support like a zipliner did to his harness.

“Water is rough when it needs to be,” Martha repeated softly, “and only when it needs to be.”

Only when it needs to be: the mantra circled within Walter the day after his thirty fifth birthday, when his seven-year-old stomped his feet in denial, and Walter raised his belt to his son again like his father had raised his belt to him. The young boy quivered and dropped his glass of water. It puddled around his shoes, gently. Walter knew his mother watched him from wherever she was now. The belt had never felt gentle when it needed to be, it always seemed rough because it was supposed to be rough. Water whispered, but this belt, this damned thing, all it did was scream, scream, scream. Those screams had deafened Walter.

He hung the belt on the back of the bathroom door as his son cleaned up his spill. Maybe the presence of water, the shower, the sink, even the toilet, could give a hard old belt a gentle cleansing.

© Copyright 2018 A.D. Ware. All rights reserved.

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