Winter River


“Land 2” Watercolor

by T Smith Knowles

What do you think the stars are made of?” Lilly asked me as we lay in the snow on the bank of the river that ran behind the houses we had lived in for most of our young lives.

“Your eyes,” I replied.

Her giggles were crystalline snowflakes on the eyelashes of angels.  “No, they’re made of hydrogen and helium undergoing nuclear reactions so violent it’s like if earth were undergoing a nuclear war.”

“My heart undergoes a nuclear reaction every time you kiss me.”

“Oh shut up.”

We kissed.

We let the silence relish the moment.  “What do you think is out there?” she asked me.  “We’re so small, even this earth is just a speck of dust in the vast expanse of universe.”

“You’re thinking in physical terms,” I replied.  “The impact of your laughter cannot be measured by all the scientific instruments in the world.  Just one of your tears is deeper than this river, than all the oceans in the world.”

She rolled her eyes upward, in the direction of her frosty breath.  “Where do you come up with this stuff?”

My eyes zeroed in on hers and held them captive.  “I don’t ‘come up’ with anything.  It’s already there.  Your very being gives birth to the words and then they just wait for me to reach out and pluck them from the air.”

I had just turned eighteen.  She was about to turn sixteen.  It may seem scandalous, but we were in love.  We fooled around with each other, but no sex.  Neither one of us had parents that gave a damn about us.  In fact the whole town would rather not even acknowledge our existence.  Well, not the whole town.

I immediately went on the alert when I saw a group of figures emerge from the woods.  “Come on, let’s go,” I said.

But it was too late.  The raucous laughter of the hunters stopped as they noticed us.  “Well, well, well,” one of them said.  The hair on the back of my neck rose as I recognized the voice.  Billy Morgan.  He harbored an irrational hatred for me.  “Two starstruck lovers out on a winter stroll, huh?”

“W-we were just heading back,” Lilly stammered.

“Oh were you?”  My heart dropped as he lowered his rifle and pointed it at us.

“Billy, what are you doing?” one of his fellow hunters asked.

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