by Lisa N. Jones
(1st place in the NOWW Summer Flash Fiction Contest)
“There’s a reservoir in New Mexico,” she says, her eyes searching the harbour, watching the waves as they wrinkle under a heavy sky. “They flooded the area a hundred years ago. I think they were trying to irrigate the desert. Anyways, it was there a long time, and people forgot how it came to be there in the first place. Because really, why would it matter? It was just there.”
I nod absently. We are sitting on a bench at the Marina, watching sailboats tack gracefully out of the breakwater and into the open lake. Against the slate blue of Superior, the sails are stark wings drifting effortlessly. There’s no sense that they are struggling against the chop, even as they pass the lighthouse at the end of the breakwall. It all seems too easy, I think. I shift on the bench, uncomfortable on the hard seat.
”A few years ago,” she continues after a pause, “there was a drought. Not sure why, but it happened. All this water, gone. Must have terrified the locals.”
She pauses again; I wait. I know there’s a reason for this story. The best I can do for her is wait and listen. I am helpless to do otherwise.
“And you know what?” she asks, turning to me suddenly. Her voice is choked with trapped emotion suddenly released, the edges raw and sharp. “When the fucking thing dried up, guess what they found?”
I shake my head; I still don’t understand where this is going. My throat is tight and sore. I will not cry, I think. I cannot cry.
“They found a fucking town!” Her volume rises, her voice almost frantic. “A whole bloody town! No one knew it was there, not for a hundred years. Who forgets a fucking town? It even had a fucking church!”
I shift to face her, trying hard to meet her eyes. All I see are tiny cells, moving slowly but relentlessly, shape-shifting, gathering, splitting, attaching themselves to any available surface. For her, it is her pancreas. Terminal, they said. Treatment will prolong life, but not give any quality. Time to make decisions.
The tears fall freely down her cheeks: she who remained calm in the doctor’s office, thanked the oncology team, walked with quiet poise as we left the hospital. Now comes the wave of despair, and her words are gasps between sobs that grow louder.
“It’s not dying that scares me – I get that. I just don’t want to be forgotten. Promise you’ll never forget me.”
What can I say? I will always remember her voice? Her face will stay fresh in my mind? As long as I live, I will tell her story? It’s not enough. In this moment, I can promise nothing, so I nod, my own tears uncontrollable. Her head sinks as the sobs come harder, and I hold her, shaking with my grief, as we watch the water begin to rise slowly, steadily.
Lisa N. Jones: Born and raised in Dorion, Lisa has been a teacher for 30 years. She currently teaches International Baccalaureate English and Philosophy at Churchill High School. Along with four cats, three deer, and at least five raccoons, Lisa lives in Shuniah with her husband and daughter. Reservoir is the first piece of writing she has ever entered in a writing contest.