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Issue II, Winter 2023


Ron Micci

Summer swept down from the hills in a sudden burst of rain, bathing the dry leaves in a hot, dreamy soup, wending its way toward the river as it swooshed in slithering streams, catfish clever, flipping and floundering, a rushing torrent of mud froth, gasping for air as it gurgled into the wide basin, unable to hold itself back.

Unable to pause or get a grip, as it spun in a muddy rush headlong, swelling

the river and forcing it outward toward the cold dark sea.

Face to face and head to head with the wide expanse, the chop of cold

waves, the open air that whisked the gulls flapping and squealing.

The world had opened itself now, split wide from horizon to horizon, a blustery blue tapestry of sea and sky. It was too late for the aged and time worn, the lost and sheltered souls along the banks, perhaps too late for all of us. Those who lived in these parts knew it, knew it only too well -- the mighty Raritan had come down from the hills.

Night broods, and day wakes, and the waters slip quietly and gurgle down the mountainside in a crunch of dry twigs, sweeping the nuzzling leaves, coming quick like crafty little men to surround the jetties, bathing the cracked pilings in a smelly chocolate soup.

In the foul stench of sun and heat, old men draped their feet off the splintered edge of docks, working their bait lines from bent fishing poles, while behind them crouched the timid shanties that they called dwelling places.

Their reveries stretched back, to the old factory voices unable to speak now through the broken doors, machine shops up in the hills, now boarded up, where once they congregated in the lunch rooms, talking men stuff, though they knew full well these were simply waiting rooms for old age and death.

Now one old man in particular felt his aging hopes topple like bait cans in this sudden shudder of rain. His wife lumbered somewhere back there in their clapboard shanty, her gray hair tied up, apron white fluffed and rolled, face blistered by the grimace of too many summers.

He could hear her coming, as she walked outside to check on him, the splintered planks pinching her raw toes, as her swollen fat buttocks shifted from side to side.

But the old man didn't pay notice. His thoughts were turned on the river. The Raritan. "Forked river," or perhaps "stream overflows," whose name had been loosely attributed to a cluster of Indian tribes in the Northeast.

Its murky blood flow, the lost pulse of bead rituals and campfires, the murmurings in the halls of legislatures, gunpowder battles and revolts, the long gone stuff of wars, encampments and settlements. These thoughts, like dim pages from grade school books, momentarily engaged his imagination.

Meantime, in the dark woods the streams continued to gather, whispering among themselves, dancing in circles in the rock pools, sending a rush of leaves and a hot swirling froth of insects into the muddy trough of the brown river basin, forcing the waters against the wide banks, uneasy in the face of the dark Atlantic, like a young girl fearful of experiencing the greater world.

The dark Atlantic, with its vast, cold horizon, wide and bitter and deep, waves chopping, and the tiny freighters far out, whose lights could be seen slowly grazing the rim of the ocean at night, distant and lonely, while the waves chopped and churned, spreading themselves in a cold dark froth, as the vast blue beast shuddered and shook its mane, rearing its neck to cast a frown upon the mortal strand, sending breakers roaring along the beach fronts in a thundering rush of white hissing foam.

The old man had found it for certain, for sure. Yes, this time for sure. Off a bait line in the middle of the mud basin, in the heat. In his rotted little wooden boat with the sagging oars and weakly hinged oarlocks, which he rowed out each afternoon into the middle of the river. He had found what he longed for. The light, the godly hope, a promise of faith he might embrace.

Earlier that morning, he had roamed the woods above the gurgling river, as he had so many summers past.

Familiar, thick and hot. There was a comfort there, a sense of familiarity, yet he couldn't disguise how age had overtaken him -- old, weary, his bones without substance, weak in the knees and legs, his frail feet crunching in the dead leaves. He struggled to breathe the hot thick air.

He had hidden a news clipping in his bureau drawer, stuffed under old socks, and held it to his heart as part of his own secret dream. It spoke of a captured Confederate steamship called the Ella Warley, destined for New Orleans that had sunk off the nearby Jersey coast in 1863. It was carrying an estimated $8,000 in gold coins.


These thoughts flickered in the old man's mind -- like a crackling black and white image from an 8mm projector, of uniformed men doing battle, and the hidden gleaming contents of a leather-strapped chest.

Hardly a night had passed when he hadn't read and reread that clipping as he prepared for bed, and wondered. He longed to escape, he had to escape, with old age and death encroaching, coagulating in his limbs. He knew there came a time when even the soul itself began to coagulate with a sense of its imminent departure.

He ventured out day after day in that little wood rowboat, in the heat and stench of the steamy river. The thought of the gold aboard that sunken ship, gold that might be his only salvation, haunted him.

One fine morning in August, after supplicating himself in prayer at the foot of his rickety old bed the night before, his wife throwing suspicious glances his way, something of a miracle seemed bestowed upon him.

He went out into the muddy river basin that August day, brown lunch bag beside him on the seat of his worn and weathered boat, and what hung there in the hot, empty air, what dangled before him from his line as he yanked it out of the water, insects buzzing, was something that gave off hints of reflected light.

It appeared to be a necklace of some sort, and something on the end of it seemed to dance and glow. As he gathered it in, he realized there was a small locket attached to the necklace. He freed necklace and locket from his bait hook and held them in his palm. This surely wasn't something he'd expect to find in the murky depths of the Raritan River.

Curiously he observed that there was something stamped on the back of the locket. It was the number twenty-four. The locket itself was in the shape of a heart. With a little effort he was able to work it open, but sadly he found it to be empty.

That twenty-four could mean only one thing -- twenty-four karat gold!

He imagined a beautiful young woman wearing it around her neck, how it graced her loveliness, her youth, her innocence. And in his old, frail hand he held that loveliness, that treasure, and harked back in his mind to his own youth, and the first stirrings of love, and the holding of hands, the soft hands of innocence.

He yearned to reclaim the promise of that youth, and somehow he would search for it. Yes, he would find it somewhere, as a little plan formed in his head.

He leant his fishing pole on the seat and heaved a breath of stifling hot air, and shifted his old shoulders. With weary arms he labored, rowing himself back to the landing. His muscles ached tugging at the oars, with what was left of the glue of thin, weakened bones.

How many years had he rowed through the stew, how many years did he have left?

He must embrace the Atlantic, in a last chance, a last hope of reaching for the promise that gold locket once held.

"Hot," he said, wiping his brow, after he had tethered the rowboat and returned to the house.

"Rain made it muggier," she said.

He was distracted, absent. He rested his fishing pole in a corner, made his way upstairs to his room.

"Walter?" she called from below.

Walter had thrown himself down on the bed, elbows bent behind his head in contemplation, gazing at the ceiling.

That night at dinner he picked at his food.

"I'm thinking," he said, thoughts that stretched back more than seventy- five years. "What if the river were to dry up?"

"Walter, the river is not going to dry up. What is wrong with you?"


"I don't know. My knees throb at times, back aches, and more and more I think about things. The good things, the bad things. I'm filled with the mystery of it all."

"Eat your meal," she said.

All he could think of in his dreams that night was going down river. Last hopes. Perhaps one last embrace of his own mortality. If anything should happen and his boat should go over, his life insurance would care for Martha.

In his sleep, the dark waters were whipping and howling, whipping and howling, and he could feel the house rattling wildly, the dock buckling in splinters, and the ocean swarming him. Bitter cold and icy. And then, he could envision the mighty Atlantic rearing up and literally forcing the Raritan back on itself, with huge waves heaving closer and closer to his little house, which would go under at any minute.

The ocean seemed to be howling, "we will consume you. You will be our nourishment. Your hopes will nourish us, your prayers will fulfill us, all of the dim memories, the friends, the getaways, and all of the warm welcomes of a lifetime will drown with us. Your flimsy skin and bones will be our marrow. As you remember the birth of your only child, a son, and fond gatherings with in-laws on your wife's birthday, and handshakes with friends, and gifts shared on the holidays -- all of these cherished memories which flash before you now, will be ours, taken with you forever, when you come to us."

He tried to reach back along the ridge line of memories, the twists and turns, the joys and confusions, how vast and complex the paths of our lives were, he thought, and he knew all of this long journey and mystery would go down with him, be taken with him into the dark bowels of the sea.

Morning shook him into consciousness. The air growing warm and thick in the room, and the Sun blaring through the screened windows, with Martha still asleep beside him. She was a good woman -- rotund and reasonable, and she had never demanded more than he could give.

This was the day, the hour, he thought to himself.  But Martha must not know. As she stirred in bed, he softly rose, pushing aside the sheets, and gathered himself.

Yes, this was the time and he knew it. That locket, it had been a sort of omen, that this must be the time when he would bundle all of the memories, and move forth toward the sea.

He was quiet over breakfast, and puttered around the small living room, but he could not shake the sense that this must be the time.

It was another scorcher of a mid-August day, and he was dressed in cargo shorts and an old T-shirt. In his hand he had slyly pocketed the gold locket and tucked it in his pants pocket. It must go with him, and the beautiful angel who must once have worn it would come with him, the angelic forces of his youth.

As usual, around noon he would pack a sandwich and bottle of spring water, grab his trusty fishing pole from its place in the corner, don his fishing hat and pat Martha on the back. This time he kissed her on the cheek. It startled her. It might be the last time he would ever kiss her.


"Don't overdo, Walter," she said.  "An hour, tops.  It's too much Sun."

"I love you, Martha.  You know that." "Oh shush."

And just like that, he had vanished.

It was quiet on the river, and he decided to work his way down river in what little shade was available along the fringes. But the current was weak, and he would have to row, and stretch his old, aching arms.

The oars creaked in their flimsy oarlocks, as he worked his way toward the great expanse of the wider ocean. He would pause and take a breather from time to time, and reach within his pocket and bring out the gold locket, and it gave him strength and hope.

It took more than an hour, and many gulps from his water bottle, before he could spy the dark waves of the Atlantic, but now his flimsy wooden boat was on the doorstep of the mighty sea.

He crossed himself -- Father, Son, Holy Ghost -- although he had been a a Presbyterian all of his life. He needed some gesture, and felt this was the best way to express himself, as though standing in the face of God.

His heart beat more rapidly, and sweat drenched his face, arms and shirt. He was exhausted, but he must call forth whatever reserves his weakened body possessed, to confront the ungodly force of the breakers in his flimsy boat.

The ocean was beginning to howl now, as river met sea, and the jaws of the mighty Atlantic were more than a match for the weak offerings of the Raritan, and the offerings of an old man summoning whatever strength he could from weakened arms.

Choppy waves met the brown muddy river water, doing battle and they were growing choppier and more insistent by the minute.

I can't, he thought to himself, I can't, it will consume me. I am no match for this, what am I doing?  I shall perish, I must perish.

There was no turning back, to the bright, sunlit afternoons, the sweeter moments in time, the thanks you's and see you again soons. The banks of calmer rivers, the birth of a son, so much like his mother, a kind and gentle boy and fit man now.

But the days of gifts of all kinds at holidays, and sweet echoes of calls in the woods, and nature's own grace and sense of gentility, those days had passed. So too the peaceful evenings, and all of the good things he could remember.

The ocean was choppier now, too choppy, he knew it, and it seemed to begin to scowl and wear an angrier mask. It was deep, so deep, and so desperately possessive, and what it wanted now was his flimsy boat, to shatter and chop the prow into pieces, and rip away the sides, as though tearing the flesh from some helpless animal, some poor, lost creature.

Yes, he was now that lost animal, but in recognizing his mortality, he could finally be found, here with the sea breezes whipping his face, and the boat tilting and rocking, tilting and rocking, weakening against the dark forces.

You must go under, you will go under, don't you realize, this is your salvation, to surrender, to depart the many long years because you are weak and useless to your wife, your family and your son, but not useless to us. We are your salvation, our depths are a soft resting place for your soul, for what is left of a your weakened, makeshift frame.

He clutched the gold locket in his hand now and prayed, but water had begun splashing in his face, the boat was creaking and buckling, and he was petrified as the chill of the Atlantic ran through him. As the waves grew choppier and choppier, he felt himself weakening, no match for them, and they seemed to feed on his frailty and helplessness, deriving a sadistic power from a sense of his fading strength.

"Oh dear God no, no!" he cried. But his cries went unheard in the whipping breeze, and were drowned out by a cold spray of water drenching him.  "No, please!"

"Yes, yes," the voice of the ocean replied. "We have you now, we have you where we want you.  You are ours!"

With a sudden wrenching snap, the sides of the boat ruptured and now the water was flooding in. As the old man tried to push himself upright with the aid of one of the oars, the wooden planks beneath him buckled and gave way, split apart, and he slipped into a vortex of brutally cold water.

He floundered against the chopping waves, clinging to the last scrap of boat as it disappeared from sight. Splashed and floundered, fighting the hungry waves, but his weak limbs were no match for the clutches of the water, as he sank deeper and deeper into the depths.

He caught a brief glimpse of last light above the surface before he was pulled downward into a strange world of alien darkness. The endless cradle of eternity that shifts with the pulse of the sea.

Dear God, dear Almighty God, he thought, Martha, Martha, please save me!  I love you, Martha, I don't want to die.  It was the locket, the hope it promised against my weakness, but now I don't want to die. I want to feel your softness and your kindness, and I can't bear to go away like this.

It was a mistake, a terrible mistake, and now the sea has me, and I am going further and further down, and I cannot breathe, I cannot call out or scream, the ocean has me.  I am drawn into its strange, dark depths.

With a last gasp, the old man felt water flowing into his mouth, and it was choking him, and he knew that he couldn't hold out much longer. Into the sullen depths of the ocean he sank deeper and deeper, and he could feel its throbbing beat and pulse, even as his lungs filled with water and he could feel himself slipping from consciousness.

Oh no, no, no -- please!


And just as he blacked out, convinced he had drowned, his head swirling dizzily and his limbs stiffening, indeed convinced his soul was leaving his body and there was nothing he could do to stop it -- he felt something. There was something shaking him. Could it be the hand of God? Surely it must be the hand of God.

It shook him and shook him, and he was frightened, he was afraid to open his eyes. To look, to see. Had he gone to heaven? Was he now dead.

"Walter?" a voice echoed.

I am dead, Martha, and I'm so sorry.  I love you and my boat went over and now I am gone, a figment of the sea, and I am dead. If only you could save me.

"Walter, wake up!" the voice said. "Walter, you're shaking and crying, what is the matter with you?"

"Martha? Martha, am I in heaven?" "You overslept, Walter."

"Can I hold you, Martha, can I hold you in my arms as though we were young again?"

"Well, if you can get yourself together, I suppose you can. In fact, I suppose you should.  Have you forgotten?" 

Walter was too shaken to understand.

 "It's our anniversary."

"Our anniversary?"

"Fifty years, Walter, fifty years. Had you forgotten. Our marriage? Now wipe the sweat off your face and I'll get breakfast."

It was a long time before he could gather his wits, and force himself up from bed, and look around.

He went to the dresser drawer and found the gold locket and held it tightly for several long moments in his hand.

"Thank you," he said. There in the palm of his hand the locket gleamed knowingly back at him, and he had a momentary tender glimpse of his youth.

It's a long journey if you are fortunate enough to survive it, he thought.

And I am fortunate enough.

"You coming?" Martha asked, in the doorway to the bedroom. 

So fortunate

A native New Yorker, Ron Micci is a prolific author of plays, novels, screenplays and stories.  His one-act plays have been staged in Manhattan as well as elsewhere in the country.  Two have been published by Brooklyn/Heuer Publishers, and three self-published novels appear on  Many of his writings can be freely sampled on the Booksie website.  Fleas on the Dog magazine website recently published his humorous piece "My Redacted Life" (Issue No. 13), and "Your Bra Is Blocking My View" in issue No. 14.