KURT NEWTON

★ ★ ★ ★

FICTION

Image by Todd Trapani

‘The Nature Photographer’

 The cold water grabs me like an iron claw.

It was silly of me to think that I could leap across this river, my camera held high, my balance mismanaged like a drunken fool, now wet up to my waist.

The river banks are steep, the rocks my shoes attempt to stand upon more slick than ice.  The autumn sun cuts a skein of shadows across the water’s surface. And, still, I hold my camera aloft, protecting the pictures I’ve taken, and those I presume to take once removed from this embarrassment.

But try as I might to steady myself, arms out like a tightrope walker, my shoes slide; one slips from my foot and bobs to the surface and floats downstream.

I curse my stupidity, trying my best to chase the brown leather loafer now twisting lazily like a dead fish.

The riverbanks narrow and I sink deeper, soaking my flannel shirt up to the pockets. The water is so cold my breath momentarily seizes in my lungs. The muscles in my chest push outward to try and counter the weight of the water pressing in. The current tugs at my feet, pulling me further and further away from my entry point.

Surely I am not the first to have landed here like this, as helpless as an insect caught in a spider’s web? Surely there are ways to defend oneself against mere water, albeit rushing, albeit cold as winter rain? Surely there is something I can do to stop what has been set in motion?

But the river quickens as it moves steadily downhill, carrying me along, and I am struck by the picturesque landscape before me¾a breathtaking chasm created over centuries, beginning perhaps as a modest creak, back when men knew better than to try and forge a rushing body of water without knowledge of its depth, its temperature, its uncompromising will to move forward no matter what, or whom, happens to be swept along on its relentless journey.

And still, I hold my camera high, numbed heels knocking against smooth stones, my arms now weakening, muscles burning beneath the weight of this meaningless task. So many beautiful images, so many of nature’s portraits missed as I float by.

My second loafer dislodges and falls behind in this slow motion race forward, the water now up to my neck. The banks grow steeper still and I can only hope the river will eventually level out and let me off along a sandbar battered and bruised, body and ego intact.

But the beautiful images turn a hideous shade of black, as if opening a darkroom door mid-exposure. The sun slips behind a mountain ridge and the river descends toward a rocky cascade.

My throat issues its first and only shout for help¾as much as my lungs will allow¾and I attempt a feeble toss of my camera onto the river bank; I watch it land on a clot of leaves nesting in a tangle of tree roots, where no one will likely find it; its curved lens aimed in my direction like a reprimanding eye. Like the invisible eye of nature. A nature that has been here long before man and his arrogant, naive thoughts; long before the first creature crawled up from the sea; and will be here long after man has come and gone.

Numb with cold and numb to my fate, I finally bring my arms down and fold them across my chest. It feels good, the burning doused by this simple relaxation. The water rises to my chin then quickly claims my mouth, my nostrils, my head with a ruthless indifference. At last, I am swept under.

And then miracle of miracles. My heels hit bottom and my body rises up and breaks the surface. I gasp for air and my leaden arms find purchase on a moss-covered rock the size of a giant turtle’s back. And I cling there, the water still tugging at my clothes, trying to finish the job it intended. Or perhaps I intended.

I sob, tears mixing with iron-flavored water, thanking the randomness of events, of stones sitting at just the right juncture; thanking god, thanking all the powers that be that might have assisted in my recovery.

After some time, I pull myself up, wet stocking feet slipping on the woodland undergrowth as I make my way back to the car, my camera left on the river bank as an offering, all the while a thought swirling endlessly in my brain that it was silly of me to think that I could leap across that river, my camera held high, my balance mismanaged like a drunken fool. A drunken fool I am.

Kurt Newton’s flash fiction has can be found in the archives of The Wild Word, Daily Science Fiction, Cafe Irreal, Flash Fiction Online, Fudoki and The Arcanist.

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