This sandy beach is one of many along the course of the river winding through the park. The beaches travel like vacationers in search of perfect refuge, and change size with every storm clot of debris.
This month her favorite beach goes halfway across the river. Water washes out the banks and the shallow rush takes small stones, sand, sunken leaves on watersogged caravans along the bottom.
She always brings her dogs. They pull sticks from the muck. They chase each other; climbing the bank on one side, then leaping back in to swim.
She walks bent over, looking down. She feels the blood rush in her head. She gleans broken glass and crushed cans from sand and water. She has a knack, perhaps a talent, for seeing the particular shade of brown glass from the shoulder of a beer bottle, or for spotting a fragment of a plate amongst the small rocks. She puts fancy bits of china, glass with parts of embossed words, a china doll arm, a bullet, in her pocket.
It is quiet; she mutters “Goddam people, broken glass, so much... .” She feels terrible today. Everything breaks.
When you have a broken bumper on your pickup truck, first you notice that pedestrians look scoldingly at you. Something is your fault. Then, when a Schumann piano etude on the radio comes to an end, you hear metal scraping on pavement. It is yours. You stop.
A large piece of rusted iron has fallen from the grasp of the chrome bumper. It has been dragging on the street.
She wrenches it off, and when she drives away the truck seems lighter, quieter. She has left the piece of iron alongside the road, giving it to a fiefdom of castoff bolts and bottlecaps, shreds of tires, tangled bungies, and bits of forlorn glass.
Today she has driven the truck to the park. As she wades in the river she finds a sparkplug, a tire that is being buried by mud, as if some troll under the river is pulling it to his part of the world.
When you have a broken heart in your chest, especially if you are old, you first notice that this may be, probably will be, the last broken heart of your life. You don’t hear noises, you hear hearts beating and sobs. You hear breaking glass, and the clatter of washed plates that will never again hold meals for two. You aren’t quieter, lighter; you are heavy.
She lets her tears pour as she bends to pick up trash. She observes herself from the shore. She wants to look broken. She wants to look strong. She wants to look lonely. She wants him to be looking.
She realizes that she hasn’t heard the dogs in a while – the while she has been cursing herself and the “goddam people” who let broken glass fall into rivers to be mistaken by minnows for food, so it rips their guts. She feels terrible today. Everything is broken.
She straightens to whistle for the dogs. They do not come. She is one of the goddam irresponsible people. She hears a train whistle, a high-pitched bark, an owl. Have the dogs been crushed to bits of bone and fur by the train? Will she leave the park alone, carrying a bag of smashed cans, plastic string, and a pocketful of wordparts: “oun...” “mad...” “refill...” “..ola” “...psi”? She cries some more. Then, without a sound louder than the river itself, the dogs return and wait for her to take them home.