The ghost is under the burning wedding ferry, where the ceremony took place. The ghost is under the burning wedding ferry, where the ceremony just now took place. The ghost is hiding under the burning wedding ferry, holding its breath. The bride and groom are pyres of flame, taken up by the explosion. The water is gouged with shards and splinters that burn faint orange and red, hissing out their heat, spearing the river bottom. The figurehead has pitched forward, sagged to kiss the rippling surface as water bugs glide by.
The river turns red, but you’re not afraid even though you’re the only one left. Once, boats turned the river white with wake. Once, storks nested in the trees on either side. Once, fishermen stood silent, patient, in the weeds, theo children jumping off tire swings into the swirl invisible to them. Once the water ran true, free of silt, and fed the fields and hills beyond. But now most of that belongs to old photographs like the ones in your bag. But now what’s left has no sense of permanence. But now there is just you in your scuba gear and red mask, resting at the bottom of the river amid cool gray-blue rocks split by green algae…letting the current take you…letting the current take you…drifting like a dead thing as you try to understand all the other dead things that tumble by or bump into you. A rusty gasoline can wiped clean of brand sits half-buried in the silt in front of you. A tiny golden bottom-feeding fish lives inside, slides half-out to stare at you. The water pulls at you and pushes at you and you plunge your gloves deeper into the silt. Hovering there, staring at the fish. You are a bottom feeder, too. You’ve reached the bottom, and you’re still breathing. You can do this because you can pretend no one watches, no one judges. Anyone who matters is miles away, safe across a border. This is a remote part of the country. This is a place untouched by anything but war for decades, and, for now, the war has moved beyond the hills and left behind the red river. Still, this place is full of secret identities, the effect stark because you meet so few people. You can never tell if a person is who they say. You can never tell if the mask they wear is too old and in place to take off. Militias used these waters, hid in shadowed inlets using canoes with outboard motors. Some of them stayed behind when the war moved, took up disguises. You have a gun in your knapsack because you’re not a fool or perhaps because you are a fool. But it can’t help you down here. Every time you dive, you expect to come back up to a world where they stand wordless, have already judged you. After a while the annoying fish wins your staring contest and you grow restless in your drifting, feel cramped within your second skin, need to surface and clamber back onto the river bank. No one waits for you. No one puts a bullet in your head. You take off the tanks, and then the flippers and mask, and then the sky is blue again…and yet somehow everything is still red. It’s dusk now and the birds make such delicate, ravenous sounds, but you can’t see them. It’s dusk now, and the trees have become silhouettes; you can hear their quiet creaking but when you stare at them, they are completely still. You’re standing there alone in the mud and thinking about your grandparents, how they could ever live in a place so stunning and yet so empty. A terrible crime happened here, and you still don’t know what it was. They would never tell you. The ferry has been holed and abandoned for years.
The ghost is under the burning ferry, holding its breath.
End of dream #4.