Lethe and Love

by Michelle Muenzler
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Rose dipped her toes into the water. “It’s just a little forgetfulness. Enough to make me forget how long I’ve waited.”

“But how do you know he’ll come?” asked the woman sitting beside her. She pushed back the gray hairs from her face; her hands had the crisp edges of the newly dead.

Rose remembered having hands like that once. She watched the Fisherman pole his skiff down the river, his nets dragging behind.

“He promised.”

On the river, the Fisherman pulled in his nets and spilled the tangled souls into his skiff. A good catch. Rose had asked him once what he did with them. He had spared her a taut smile and continued poling down the river.

“Well,” said the woman, “I don’t think I have the patience to wait. Not like you.”

Rose shrugged. “Most don’t.”

The woman clasped and unclasped her wrinkled hands. “I hope he comes for you.”

Rose nodded, and the woman stepped into the river. Water circled her ankles, and the hard lines of her mouth loosened. She took another step, and another, until nothing remained but ripples on the surface.

“He’ll come,” said Rose to nobody in particular. “He promised.”

The woman had not long passed when another of the newly dead wandered down the riverbank.

“Have you seen my wife?” he asked. “She died just last week.”

Rose paused on the white hair drifting from his head, the dull slate of his eyes, and the arch of his worried brow. A blurred memory tugged at her tongue. “Marius?”

He startled, and she knew the memory to be true.

“How is Jon?” she asked.

“Rose?”

“Yes.” A smile ghosted her lips. She had always been fond of Marius; she’d even nursed her father-in-law through sickness before the plague stole her away. She still remembered that much.

“Have you been waiting all this time?”

“Of course. I promised Jon.”

“Oh, Rose, dear Rose. I–”

She watched the words struggle in his throat and wondered if he would choke before they were free. Could the dead die of so simple a thing?

He swallowed the lump. “May I sit?”

“Yes. Of course. We can wait together.”

Rose dipped her toes into the water. “It’s just a little forgetfulness. Enough to make me forget how long I’ve waited.”

The Fisherman poled down the river, his nets dragging behind.

“What if he remarried, grew old?” asked the man sitting beside her. His clenched fingers were white at the knuckles.

“He’d remember me. He promised.”

On the river, the Fisherman pulled in his nets, and the snarled souls spilled into his skiff. A good catch. Rose once asked him what he did with them. He had spared her a taut smile and poled onward.

“I can’t stay any longer,” said the man. “This is too hard.”

She shrugged. “Waiting is easy if you know how.”

He ran his fingers through his thin hair and stood. Water lapped inches from his bare feet. “I’m sorry I forgot, Rose. I really am.”

She paid his words little mind–the newly dead sometimes said strange things. She was sure of this. The man shook his head and trudged into the river. Water circled his ankles, and the trembling of his hands relaxed. He took another step, and another, until nothing remained but ripples on the surface.

“He’ll come,” said Rose to nobody in particular. “He promised.”

3 Responses to “Lethe and Love”

  1. Terry Ervin says:

    Interesting story. The notion of ‘a little forgetfulness’ from the river’s properties used to make the long wait bearable worked well.

  2. K.C. Ball says:

    Very nice, Michelle. Sweet and touching.

  3. Don Bagley says:

    It’s poetic and dreamlike.

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