Carlton Mellick III

G iant catfish like horses pull the water carriage up No Leg's River, huffing and squishing through the sickly wet, root-tied to strongropes and my steering wheel, toward the old rum house for a quick water-bread sandwich and nog.

The hornet-wood carriage was built by my father's priest, back when the river was invented. And it's been mine for the last two years, drinking me up and down the river, to the pacemaker factory on workdays and to the rum house on weekends with my friends: Chico and the Miracle Man.

Today is a weekday, but we need our drinks. "A little holiday," Chico says, and the Miracle Man has only one eyebrow but two beards. So we need a break from our sobriety, our work, our wives -- especially our wives.

I take my wedding hat off and hide it under the seat of the carriage, making my sweaty head feel awkward and incomplete. It is such a nice and perfect hat, very attractive for its simple and undecorated design, but I just cannot wear it when I want to relax at the rum house. It squeezes around my head all day long until I go dizzy and can't stand up straight anymore. My mind needs to concentrate on work.

The black river has a strong meaty smell that boils up underneath the splashes and all of your clothes always contain the same meat-river smell, but we've grown used to it, and we mix the river water with vodka to make a strange, yet satisfying, drink when we can't afford the bar.

The water gets its thick taste from our cemetery underneath the river bed, where all the dead town people reside, buried under the river rocks with large water-proof head stones, and that's where my father is.

"There is spirituality in combining the river and the dead," Chico says, but the Miracle Man is missing half a thumb and never eats meat on Thursdays.


Once we get to the rum house, we tie up the horse-sized catfish and go inside, our table facing the window to watch the horse-fish bob up and around in the blue wobbling, eating our food and drinking reality into the dark corners of our minds where it can stay hidden until morning.

After the sun sinks down to a blood-eyed twilight, we travel downstream to a small island on the calm side of the river where an apartment building lives, eating cashews and staplers. Inside, we sleep with cheap women until our energy retires from us, the scent from their armpit hairs driving me back to the carriage coughing.

I leave my work-friends at the island:
"Until tomorrow," Chico says to me, but the Miracle Man hates waking up early in the morning and hates eggs even more.

And go home to dock.


My wife is sitting on the rooftop again.

Looking down at me and my riverboat again.

I don't go inside to her just yet, turn my head to the river and stare deep into the moon liquid.

And she ignores me too, gazing into the great river street, letting the only words be told by the fish, by bubbles in the water.

I close my eyes, granting the river to rock me in which ever way it feels comfortable, and the rum warms the inside of my gut, rocking me in haze-spins as I consume the thick river air.

I can hear her wishing the cancer would spread more quickly through her flesh, go from her breast deep into her insides, to her heart, squeeze the beats right out of it. At least she doesn't cry anymore, cried it all out of her. She spends her time waiting, watching my riverboat leave in the mornings and waiting for it to come back in the evenings, waiting for me to let her go, let us separate in peace.

When I open my eyes, she is gone to bed, letting the sleep heal her of her thoughts. I give the woman a few more minutes, just in case she is lying awake in bed for me, and the riverboat rocks me so gently, comfortably.


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