- The Story, and: Daughter
for Jim, who had to read it
I was nineteen, maybe twenty, walkingacross Triphammer Bridge, new manuscriptin hand, when I tripped—and a sudden gustcarried the Corrasable Bond betweenthe guardrails, into the open air. I got upjust in time to watch those pages fluttera hundred feet, to decorate Fall Creek.No other copy, and no staircase down.
What would Ernest Hemingway do now?
I asked myself. Once on the other sidemy sneakers backed me down from stone to slipperystone, moist autumn shale, shellacked with leaves,through a semivertical scrub forestuntil I saw that metal bridge, now fromthe bottom of the gorge. Amazinglythe pages lay like giant handkerchiefsscattered on either bank, six on a side,none in the rheum shed by the waterfall.All legible. I put them back in order,then looked up for the way.
I couldn't findthe almost-path I'd taken, so I chosethe easiest from where I stood. Halfway,it turned into something harder, almost sheer,next to impossible. I thought of turning [End Page 252] around, looked back with just my eyes—and feltmy feet give way.
Then I saw everything,two things: a solid sapling on my leftand a spindlier one, off to my right,with half its roots exposed above the rocks.But those pages were cradled in my left arm.
I didn't think, I didn't hesitate,I grabbed that naked, unsuspecting twigwith only my right hand. By God, it heldand so did I. Rebalanced, on a ledge,hands shaking with what could have been the cold,I slid those pages underneath my shirtnext to my undershirt, to keep them safer.
These days, of course, it never could've happened.We back up everything. That story would've beensafely on a hard drive, CD-ROM,the manuscript disposable confetti.I'd've cursed, then laughed, and then consoled myself.At least paper's biodegradable.
Yet forty years later, it amazes methat I could've thought—no, felt—withinmy deepest being, that those words (my words!)were worth my present and my future life.The story? I can't recall even its title,try as I might, or a single character.It was twelve pages, pitifully unique,I probably destroyed in shame or griefa few years later. At best, I tossed them outwith reams of others, when I moved to whereI'm living now—a mountain where words matterbut not so much. [End Page 253]
I carried you downstairs, into the car,and drove your mother to the hospital—your would-be mother, holding you inside her—who would've died if you'd have lived a little
longer. We'd have named you for our mothers,Cecilia and Marie, now vanished too.What's in a name? Nothing, like a rosewhose scent of absence fills the coming snow.
What I remember: From the seventh floorI stared at that white desert—till two driversoblivious to me and to each otherominously approaching in reverse
crashed midaisle. Got out. What could they say?They shook their heads, their hands. Drove on their way. [End Page 254]
Gilbert Allen, the Bennette E. Geer Professor of Literature at Furman University, has lived in upstate South Carolina since 1977. Some of his newest poems and stories have appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Shenandoah, and Tampa Review.