“It says here Wallenpaupack means “slow, dead water.”
Part 1: Wilsonville
Eliza knew Theo was waiting for her at their spot; her heart was attached to a string being pulled by her love’s tide, her blond silhouette shone through the dark forest like a moonbeam. The only thing following the ethereal young lady was her lavender scented innocence.
Theo Wilson was perfectly pleated, hemmed, parted & shined. He sat, sharp & straight, on the edge of the ivy twisted, moss-padded, well. Theo was a polished ax: Eliza a valley of wildflowers, beautiful in its unattended lush.
“I didn’t think you would show up,” said Theo, sweet as a honeybee. He stood & wrapped his arms around Eliza’s tiny waist, dusting his face into her hair, pollinating.
“I told you in the store I would meet you. I just had to wait for father to fall asleep…He was up a little late tonight; he seemed troubled. The rest of the farmhands were drunk by the fire as usual. Besides, you know I like to stop by my Momma’s grave on my way here… It’s so quiet at night, just me & Momma.”
“I know, honey. I know. I hate that you’re always around those drunk buffoons on the farm. It’s no place for a lady.”
“Theodore Wilson, my Momma was a lady & she was the heart of soul of our farm!” Eliza tilted her face up toward Theo like a sunflower aching for its solar sustenance.
Theo kissed Eliza on her rose petal lips as he led her to the edge of the well.
Eliza sat on the moss soft stone, the blackness of the unknown behind her.
Theo advanced & fingered the violet fabric of the hem of Eliza’s soft dress. He was a clock tower, his face alarmingly blank.
Eliza could not read him. “Theo, what is the matter?”
He did not move from his towering space.
“Theo,” Eliza’s feminine fingers brushed his houndstooth.
As easily as Theo had fallen in love with the lovely Eliza, was as easily as she fell when he pushed her down the well: a leaf in autumn, a petal in the rain, a pebble turned avalanche.
Theo Wilson cut a direct line through the woods & back to his parent’s home. His boots not muddy, his eyes not foggy & his presence not missed.
Theo went to sleep & dreamt, as he always did, of Eliza’s sweet, static perfection. She would live eternally in the beautiful colors of Theo’s subconscious watercolors.
The well was dry & padded with sharp sticks & slime. Eliza’s fall was not elegant, though like Alice, she had felt like an hourglass being flipped upside down in that terrifying, plunging uncertainty, head smacked, brain blackened, heap of a crunching crash.
Eliza was alive among the worms, though deep in the heart of the well, she was unable to see the stars except the ones flickering in her mind as she passed in & out of waking death & constricted life.
Theo woke & had tea with honey in the garden. He sat at an iron bistro set that looked like an assemblage of ivy. The seats’ pads were gold & pink striped like candy.
The metal gleamed with the sun’s reflection: Eliza’s skin the silken cushions, the way her hair curled the metal’s intricate embellishments.
Eliza could not think. Everything that passed through her mind was smudged, pointy & scary. There were very few possibilities in such a confined space. The sun was up, but shed very little light.
Theo enjoyed how the breeze floated the sweet chamomile’s scent to mingle with that of the garden’s assorted petals: Eliza spinning in his arms, skirts swirling across time.
His mother, Madam Wilson, cast a shadow over his table like a decrepit, unfortunately placed tree. “Theodore! I know you’re thinking about that farm girl. You always get this mooning look over your face whenever she’s on your mind, which is most of the time.” She folded her thick, emerald velveted arms, but did not move from behind her son, empowered in her eclipse.
“Well, you won’t have to worry about her anymore. I guess your Eliza finally got sick of her & her father being the only people left in town & talked her stubborn cow father into selling their so-called farm. So, Theodore, we own all of Wilsonville now. We can sell the godforsaken land & move to Boston so you can attend a proper school & meet a proper girl.”
Theo filled with the industrious emissions of admission. He had destroyed the beautiful land to make room for nothing, had thrown a bucket of cold water on his Pre-Raphaelite portrait of perfection stored in the safe house of his memory.
Theo never wanted, never ached, was always given, except the lush Eliza. She was certainly beautiful enough for his father to approve of, just not manicured enough for his mother. Eliza was not welcome with them in Boston; her father would never approve of society life in a city anyway. Theo’s sneaking heart and imagination wore cement so it wouldn’t reach out too far toward the future he desired. He had grown an entire forest in his mind for her memory to live in… He had taken control of the situation all wrong.
Father will not realize I’m gone until he has no supper. Mother is buried only 100 feet from where I suffer, though her grave is closer to the sun that I am. I cannot move my legs or arms. Dead things are my pillow. Live things are making themselves comfortable on me. There is no single thought or pain – they are all one smear of dirt.
Theo made a mental flip book of the impossible future with Eliza that he had never dared to look at until this moment. It was filled with tender greens & wild blue yonders. He had though he would have been content with velvet wallpaper & a comfortable wife, until that was all that remained of his future. Possibilities were tragedies of his past.
Madam Wilson, with her face contorted like the bark on the shady side of the tree, said, “Thank goodness this terrible town is coming to some use. At least when it’s under water, they can make lake-side attractions.”
Every bit of Theo’s mind was swept under a wave of torrential, iron clad, sadness.
Eliza searched for a square of clean cotton clarity. She was bound by disbelief, but understanding cut through like sharp pain slicing unendingly with a dull knife.
Theo pushed her. Together they could have saved the land; their future would have been abundant. But Theo had pushed her.
Memories of her mother interwoven with the creeping roots of her unconnected mind. Mother’s lovely beauty, Eliza spun between the folds of her mother’s soft skirts, their laughter bouncing off the exuberant faces of the flowers.
Eliza was the joy of the perpetual fields she danced through; she never knew the confinement of paralyzing sorrow, only the dark reality of the stars that helped her not feel pain.
Theo spent the rest of the day packing. Everyone else had already left Wilsonville, including his Father. Theo & his Mother were to meet him in Boston in two days time. The fibers that comprised his garments, cotton pulled from the earth, were the only things that remained from Theo’s pastoral destruction.
Eliza’s mind was starry night. Her Father did not want speed boats over his wife’s grave, or his family’s beautiful land spewing tourists. Waves gushed between thoughts; the stars of Eliza’s mind warmed & then died, bursting into black holes.
“Mother, I will meet you in Boston. I am not running to marry anyone, I swear.”
Theo set a blazing fire to his father’s home, the pink silk cushions kindling; he destroyed the luxurious foundations of his family’s confinement.
Theo cut a direct line through the forest & past the cemetery. He sat on the mossy stones that topped the well & thought, “This is what Eliza’s body felt before she fell to her death.” Theo leaned back &, exhaling, dropped himself into the deep earth, satisfied to become a part of its cavernous fathoms.
He awoke, senseless & dazed. He was wholly unhurt.
Something soft & silky had broken his fall.
His nightmares unhinged, Theo’s mind stopped long before the water gushed in & filled the well, floating the lovers toward the sunny surface & beyond.
Part 2: The Dammed Town
Wilsonville was to be underwater, the town’s graves lost in a watery grave.
A town that had been cobbled as the backdrop in the memories of every life that passed through was to be lost in the deluge of nevermore.
Wallenpaupack Creek is enraged at being damned.
Tributaries feed the small creek until it is full, then they continue, engorge.
Water seeps down the streets, up the steps. The same water clogs gutters, overflows sewers. Outhouses’ septic diluted with water that saturates & erodes deeper than the six feet of soil covering graves, fills the deepest well with its all encompassing, non-compassionate, everything.
Water fills homes that had once been filled with laughter. It washes through the leaves of the unfortunate trees left behind to drown & become drift wood.
Happiness is gelatin, fear is Vaseline; love is silver chloride, regret is diesel: human existence is not water soluble though the vessels & backdrops we create & become are.
Experiences are liquid, filling lives in every empty space. Water moves & life moves with it & because of it.
Water captures life like a fly in amber. It bubbles & cascades like laughter, vibrantly destroys like a spoiled child & capsizes like a vengeful broken heart.
The lake’s surface glistens with the shiny encapsulation of a million remaining memories; it’s body is alive with plankton-sized tears. Movement through the depths is the spirit’s longing for times of great joy, never to be felt again, as well as ache for experiences passed up.
Wallenpaupack Creek became Lake Wallenpaupack, a swollen version of a diluted spirit.
The life that remains in Wilsonville fills The Lake water with long fingers that reach out for life to resurrect the vibrant past.
Lost lovers want to feel the gush of water that is passion.
Souls swim with the lazy tides, pulling people, kicking & swimming, into their slow, dead waters.
Part 3: Slow, Dead Water
“It says here Wallunpaupack means “slow, dead water.” Dean’s voice fluttered behind the Lake Wallunpaupack travel brochure he held that flapped in the windows rolled down, car backseat.
“Shut up, Dean,” said Ashley, from her side of the backseat, her brother’s nerdiness safely quarantined by the armrest. Though Ashley’s hair was pulled up in a bun, her dark tendrils refused to cooperate; her long bangs swing danced across her pretty forehead.
“Ashley, why don’t you try listening to your brother for a change. You might be interested in something he says,” Mom said to her daughter, making eye contact through the rear-view.
“Yeah right,” said Ashley, posture straight.
“Yeah right,” said Dean, refolding the brochure perfectly & tucking it under the armrest.
Dad never took his eyes off the road.
Ashley had been thinking about how all her friends had shore houses & boardwalk adventures; she had to go to stupid Lake Wallunpaufuck where she had to wear white socks & sneakers so she didn’t get Lymes Disease & how she wouldn’t be able to see a tick in all her dark hair anyway & that there was no one to hang out with or meet when Dean’s brochure’s fact interrupted her thoughts.
“It says here Wallunpaupack means “slow, dead water,” her nerdy brother said.
Ashley didn’t want slow, dead water; she wanted crashing waves & riptides.
Ashley sat near the door because Dean was cuddled up on the armrest. His long, silky hair hung over the armrest onto her side, a shining halo in the summer sun.
She wanted to touch his hair softly, like she used to when he was a baby, just as badly as she wanted to viciously push his head off the armrest & make him cry.
Ashley grabbed the brochure, making sure it flicked his bare knee with the corner real hard.
“Ooooow,” said Dean, lazing awake.
“Sorry,” said Ashley, crisply opening the brochure to look at the foldout map.
“Hey!” said Dean, awake, long hair falling straight blond, “That’s mine!”
“I’m allowed to look at it,” said Ashley, immersed.
“You could’ve gotten your own at the rest stop, but you said it was stupid. So give it back!” Dean reached over the armrest to grab his brochure; his waist still belted in, Dean grabbed & gripped the edge before Ashley ripped the map away.
Ashley pushed him away: bigger, stronger, mad.
“Dean, share with your sister,” said Mom.
“Yeah, Dean. What’s the big deal,” retorted the astonished acting Ashley.
“Well, look, it’s all wrinkled now because of you,” said Dean softly.
“You’re the one who got all grabby,” said Ashley, accomplished.
“You woke me up,” said Dean, doe eyed.
The road climbed & curved all the way up the mountain. The family saw the scenery as it slid by on the last leg of their journey, edging around the largest man-made lake in Pennsylvania. They watched the water intermittently between the trees, like a slide show; all except Dad, who never took his eyes off the road, & saw everything head on.
“I was really hoping the cabin would’ve fallen over in the winter,” said Ashley, standing still & deadpan as a dry rotted tree.
“That is a terrible thing to say about the cabin. It’s been in the family for 50 years, the land for almost 100. Your father’s father built it with his own two hands,” Mom said, unpacking the car.
“Well, I think it’s time for an update,” said Ashley, jumping at the loud thump the screen door made when Dean let it slam shut, running excited into the cabin.
“Ashley!” Dean’s voice bellowed through the quiet mountain air, “squirrels got into your bed!”
“Oh no! That’s your bed!” screeched Ashley as she ran inside the small cabin; the door slammed behind her, shaking the scant foundation. She pounded through the kitchen into her & Dean’s room.
The cabin was small & succinct. The mattresses were wrapped in plastic & the one covering the bed next to the window had been chewed on.
“I’m not sleeping in the bed next to the window! I told you that in the car.”
“Fine. I know. Fine. I’ll sleep in the bed by the window,” Dean fairly agreed.
“Good,” said Ashley. “Mom brought new bed covers. We can change yours.”
Dean smiled, “O.K.”
Ashley hesitated, “I’m sorry I wrinkled your map.”
“I did it. I grabbed it,” Dean replied.
Ashley said, “Yeah,” & walked out of the room, her long dark hair trailed like smoke from burning plastic.
Dad got the canoe off of the top of the car & roped it to the dock, chopped wood from the fallen trees for the fire & BBQ’d up a feast.
There weren’t too many mosquitoes, & Ashley enjoyed the night sitting in front of the fire, heat bouncing off the large slate pieces surrounding the pit. She stared at the fire & watched it consume the dead wood. Ashley wanted to be consumed.
The fire’s light danced on the edges where the water lapped against the shore. The tips of the ripples glowed sensuously, while hot color spread. The still, dark water was becoming enlightened.
“Why don’t you take your brother out in the canoe?” said Mom.
“Why would I? Why don’t you or Dad?” said Ashley, lazing on the sunny dock.
“Come on. Your Dad & I have to go to the store, so the way I see it, you have two options: the four of us can go to Walmart together, or you can stay here with Dean.”
Ashley pulled off her pink aviator sunglasses, the lake’s reflection rippled in their mirrored lenses, “Fine, I’ll stay here with Dean, but why do I have to take him out on the water? Why can’t he chill on the dock with me & read a book? He’s such a nerd he brought like ten books.” Ashley’s temper heated with the solar panel of her black hair.
Mom walked the wooden planks toward Ashley & stood over her daughter, overshadowing. “Your father & I are going to the store; Dean is staying here with you. Just so you know, Ashley, I’m never going to stop asking you to be a part of this family.”
Ashley’s response was a large exhale, which deflated her into the repose of relax.
Dean wore his topsiders & trunks down to the dock as Dad drove away. He had his beach chair & Lake Wallenpaupack tourism brochure. His head was down & he didn’t say ‘hi’ as he set up his stuff & sat away from his sister, sad & bit too many times.
“Hi buddy,” said Ashley, sad she made him sad.
“Hi,” said Dean, not looking away from his map.
“Why are you reading that brochure again?” asked Ashley, friendly.
“Because it’s interesting… I’m trying to figure out how to paddle to the dam from here,” said Dean, loosening up.
“Is it far?” asked Ashley, engaging.
Dean leaned over to show Ashley the map; she scooted over toward him, “I don’t think it’s too far. Dad & I went fishing right over here yesterday.”
“How long did it take you & Dad to get to the fishing place?”
“Only like 15 minutes, so according to the map’s distance chart, it should only take another 30 to get to the dam.”
“Good map skills, little brother.”
“Thanks I learned them last year.”
“I know. I remember when you had maps everywhere.”
Dean smiled, so did Ashley.
“Wanna go for a canoe ride? Mom said we’re allowed & told me you’re really good at paddling,” said Ashley to her freshly energized brother.
Dean prepped the canoe; Ashley left a note.
They paddled away from the deck, out into the slow water.
Dean paddled & they moved across the large lake like youth passing without effort. Ashley sunned & fanned herself with the brochure, bikini strings waved breezily.
“It’s not a fan, it’s an informational brochure & the map to where we’re going,” said Dean assertively, parroting his sister’s tone.
“Well, what’s it say that’s so informational?” asked Ashley lazily.
Dean returned to his usual inquisitive self, “It says the lake used to be a small creek that the Lenape Indians used as an outpost. Then William Penn owned it. Then in the 20’s the power company bought 60 miles of land surrounding the creek, built a dam & flooded the land for the 60 miles the lake covers… The town of Wilsonville was right on the creek, right where they built the dam. They flooded the town over.”
Ashley stopped fanning, “Did the people move?”
“The people moved, & so did the telephone poles, but the houses didn’t. Neither did the cemetery.”
“What!” Ashely’s stomach muscles got tight, “There is a town in the lake!? … By the dam!? That’s where we’re going!”
“I know!” Dean was excited, “They say on clear days, you can see the steeple of the church at the cemetery.”
“I’m not going to see any damned town! Take me back to the cabin!” Ashley reached for the oars.
“But we’re here! Look, there’s the damn.”
The cement structure stretched across the panoramic vista. Its cement façade & long stretching cement walls made the dam look like a jail; it was a jail for water.
“Stop paddling closer,” said Ashley, sitting up.
“But we’ll be at the dam in like 10 minutes! We’re probably at the outer edges of Wilsonville right now!” said Dean, super excited.
Ashley could have overpowered her little brother & took the paddles, but she didn’t. She listened to the pounding of the water behind the dam & felt the same way she felt at the zoo looking at a lion; Ashley identified with the pity of the caged beast. She was still & quiet; the damp air gave her long hair waves like a mermaid.
Dean’s fairness was phosphorescent in the afternoon heat.
The smooth icing of the water was sliced by the crisp, slapping lop of the oars. Ashley looked over the side of the canoe; there was nothing visible in the water’s depth. Hesitantly, she stuck her fingers in, swirling the surface, making it dance. Unabashed, she felt, for the first time, something besides sadness, jealousy or shame. Her heart danced alongside the water’s swirls.
“I don’t see the cemetery’s steeple,” said Dean, pausing paddling to look over the edge. The canoe was unmoved in the middle of the huge lake.
Ashley saw a glimmer in the turbid deep. She gasped like a fish spotting a lure.
“What is it?” Dean bit.
“I think it’s the steeple,” said Ashley, breathless, excited; she grabbed the goggles, dunked them in the water & slid them on.
“Yeah, right, let me see,” demanded Dean, scuttling like a crab to her side.
“I’m going down to touch it,” Ashley said standing, rocking the boat.
“What? No,” said Dean. “The cemetery’s right there. Don’t go down here.”
Ashley jumped into the lake. It was a very nice temperature & gave no resistance.
Lake water is alive, from microscopic to large mouth, roots, reeds & weeds. Ashley, primitive as a single cell, felt water completely surrounding & filling her with its vitality. The pressure pushed, tried to keep her suspended in the glory of the momentary happiness of being consumed by life; Ashley pushed back. Her dark hair streamed behind her as she swam deeper & deeper, closer to the glory of the immersed star.
Ashley’s oxygen bubbles, that had appeared to propel her into the depths, slowed to a rolling boil.
Ashley reached out her hand & held onto the star. It was slimy. She was on the top of the church, a bird looking down on the subterranean ghost town abandoned when the fish walked ashore. The street signs were draped with seaweed, rubbish from lake littered the middle of the immersed Main Street, gravestones eroded smooth & shapeless, ornate with barnacles. Seaweed swayed on the lake’s ground, surrounding houses & reclaiming property.
Ashley held onto the star, though she no longer kicked her feet. Her body wanted to float to the surface, but she would not let go of the steeple, suspended between the wonder of living death & immaculate, ecstatic, awakening.
Ashley’s fingers slid from the slimy star & the water forced her body from its sanctuary, though her soul remained.
Dean’s sister bobbed to the surface, clunking bloatedly against the canoe. She was face down, her hair spread out like sea grass.
Dean screamed, & reached for his sister in the slow, dead water.