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Never the Same River Twice


"Chance is a constant. All is flux... You can never step into the same river twice, for the river has changed and you have changed." -Herakleitos




It was a lie, of course, but not like the other lies I'd been telling all those years.


"You don't love me any more," she was saying. But it was the way the words came out. Without anger. More like a list of some figures she was reading off a bank statement.


"I'm not even sure you loved me in the beginning," Camile went on.


Behind her were my bags she'd packed, lined up in a row. Pointing towards the door.


"Of course I love you," I tried. "Look how long we've been married. And there's Tommy. You don't want to do this to him, do you?" My voice sounded small, caught in my throat.


She never stopped looking at me. "You know why, Rudy," she said in that flat voice, "or maybe you don't. But the reason's not important any more. The past's not important. Not even the future counts. I want to be alone, now. I need to be on my own."


...I stood outside the door for long minutes, thinking of Tommy asleep upstairs in his bed and remembering all the other nights I'd crawled in with the morning light, having forgotten about Tommy altogether. I shut my eyes and saw his straight hair fan out as he slept, falling away from his head in odd angles. I saw his green eyes looking up at me with all that trust little kids collect there, and then his eyes became Camille's eyes that knew me so well. Eyes that were surrounded now by dark circles that no amount of rest seamed to erase.


Why now? I asked myself, driving circles around the house in that old heap of mine. Until, finally, I turned away from the house and headed downtown to a motel. Why now, damn it,why now?


The answer came weeks later when Camille called me at work.


"You'll have to take Tommy for a few days," she said.


"Anything to help out," I said. She sounded distracted, as though she was thinking of a million other things. "Taking a vacation," I joked. "Single woman on the town?"


"No it's not that."


There was a long pause while she thought what to say next. Like the times she had something to tell me and couldn't decide what route to take...straight on or oblique.


"What is it?" I asked, feeling my stomach tighten.


"Chemo," she said finally.




Roaches were reddish brown except on the belly. Spiders were usually black. Only a few were poisonous like the black widow. That had a red spot on it. I never saw one, but I studied them a lot. Grownups didn't like them because they creep around. Mom cried out when she saw one, but then she jumped up and smacked it with her shoe. Or another time, she squished it in tissue paper and then ran fast to flush it with her face all screwed up.


"Tommy," she said, "I'm not so very brave."


...Roaches and spiders had eyes, but I didn't know what color they were. Mom had green eyes like a cat's eyes and like mine, but we lived by ourselves because Dad left. Mom used to feed me in the kitchen, but then we ate mostly in the living room near the TV. She fed me better stuff than that ricey chicken wings and way better than spiders.


Mom stayed in the kitchen cooking for us, even when she was tired. Whenever Mom was home, she hugged me and called me her little man, and cooked. And we watched TV and sometimes she tickled me or pillow-fighted me or cooked in the kitchen by herself and cried.


She hid when she cried. I couldn't see her face. Only the back of her neck because she used to have really long hair and now it was short. Once in a while she reached up to her eyes and rubbed them across the back of her sleeve.


But sometimes when she thought I was watching TV or doing puzzles in my room, I saw her back shake. Her head hung down while the water ran in the sink. Her two arms were straight. And her hands grabbed onto the sink.


She'd turned the water on high so I could hear her, like she did when they used to yell. I heard her anyway. Like cat cries, I thought, all high sounds, and in and out with her back.


"Mom," I called. I went to her and put my arms tight around her middle.