Just before sunrise, the soldier got off the train. He climbed the marble stairs into the station and took off his hat. The feel of cigarette butts beneath his feet was good after two days on the train. He smelled the good smell the pizza pies made as they came out of the microwave oven at the far end of the station. He could have stood there longer but this morning he had come for the river.
He lifted his duffle bag and walked onto the street. The green strap of the bag dug into his shoulder. He stepped over a man sleeping on a hot air vent. Below him and to the right he could see the river spreading black and unguent in the valley beyond the railroad yard. His heart quickened in the old way but he made himself think of other things. He crossed the street, not wanting to go to the river at once, saving that for later the way he had saved a pint bottle of Jack Daniels a year in his footlocker until the night he got out of the hospital and then he drank it slow and steady until it was gone. The sky was a bruise.
After a while he stopped to rest. He put his bag on the hood of an abandoned car. All around the pavement was burned black. A sign in red spray paint on a boarded up window said “Free Squalor”. He thought of long ago in another life when he’d been on a three-day pass with the kid Renaldo from San Berdoo and on the last day they found themselves with a big breasted blonde in a bar where the martinis came in big clear glasses and Renaldo said his was as cool and deep as a river. He picked up his bag and walked on.
It was nearly nightfall before he reached the banks of the river. He could see the ripples of the carp and garfish as they cruised below the oily surface, big and dark as submarines. The old excitement was still there. He had known it would be, even during the worst of it. He cleared the broken bottles to make his campsite. Using two abandoned tires he quickly set up his tent and unrolled his bedding. He filled his plastic jug with water and halazone tablets and he set the freeze-dried stroganoff to soak. Only then, after he’d made the camp to his liking, did he unpack the dynamite and go down to the river to fish.
- Jay Duret