Sunday, June 4, 2017


Friday night, at dusk, my seven-year-old son and I put my chair, his fishing pole, a box of night crawlers, and my insulated wine cup in our orange wagon. I pulled the our simple treasures to the "Little Beach" in our tiny neighborhood on Litter River in Sunshine, Unincorporated, six miles from a quiet entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I bounced the worn wagon all the way down the steep riverbank onto sand before I heard her.

She saw me first and said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I hope it's okay that I'm here."

I laughed and said, "Oh, I don't own this place. I live up the road."

Likely half my age, she appeared twice as old. Her marbled teeth and Appalachian tongue offered immediate friendship. She has a son—a toddler. And an "old man"—a husband.

"Well, you seem nice. I'm never off work on Fridays, but I am today. So, I thought I'd come to the river. I hope it don't trouble nobody."

"It's fine. The lady who owns this lot lets locals use it. She says it's too pretty not to share."

"I just wanted to come to the river. It's really hot in Maryville. Have you ever been to Maryville?"

"Yes, I work there. These mountains are better, huh?" I asked.

"Yeah. I grew up on the river. My high school sweetheart drowned at The Sinks in '07."

"That's tragic," I said. "I'm so sorry you had to go through that."

"The current there settles in July. Did you know that?"

"No. I don't really understand how all that works."

"He died June 4th. I come up 'round this time every year and go to The Sinks. I throw roses over the rocks into the rapids."

I said, "That's a sweet tribute. I'm sure you miss your boyfriend."

"Yeah. We didn't know about the current not settling 'til July. He died instantly. Slipped. There's a sign up there now that warns everybody. It says people have died there."

"I saw that sign two weeks ago."

My son cast his rod and caught her attention. She looked at him, then quickly at me, and said, "Oh! Sorry. I shouldn't be sayin' all this in front of your boy."

"It's okay. He lives here. He needs to learn to respect the river."

She made her way across the sand toward the bank and her car above it. "Well, it was nice meeting you all. Maybe my son and your son can play together sometime."

"Absolutely. Nice to meet you, too."

As she climbed rooted, muddy steps, she said "Thank you again for letting me barge in on your place."

I laughed and repeated, "It's okay. We are all trespassing, really."

~ ~ ~

When I first stepped on the sand that night, heard her greet me, and looked up, I saw that she had just come out of the water. She wore clothes, not a bathing suit. She was completely wet from hair to shoelaces.


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