Bloated :oR: The Body River by f. Simon Grant

My mother used to say, when she met someone from out of town, “Our river is full of the bloated bodies of dead poets.” That's the place I was born into, it was part of my birth. “The last place I lived,” my mother would call it, though she never moved away.
The body river made my father's fishing impossible, poor little fish gasping and squirming out between the bodies, hardly any meat on them worth eating. And always the crow screeching. The closed door, silent dinner table with the too little fish meat had a more sacred silence without that screeching.

That's what I'd have to tell people when I told them about the place I grew up, the river out back was full of the bodies of dead poets.

“Where did the bodies come from?” “Beats me.” “How did they die?” “They're poets. I reckon they killed themselves or drank too much.” “How did so many of them get in your river?” “You don't get what I'm saying. They are the river.”

“Is that some kind of metaphor?” None of them would get it. Why would something like that be a metaphor? It was a river and always only a river, like all rivers, a place in the earth where water flows.

It was only the adults I'd say this to, because my mom taught me to be polite. With the other kids, I'd clam up; they'd call me the mute kid when they were kind, the retard kid when they weren't; at least they let me swim with them and do all those other things that had no need of talking. My mom and dad never had much mind to speak at home, and I preferred it that way. “I knew I was destined to be somebody great,” my dad only ever made these brief speeches. “I never thought I'd be the babysitter. So I'm supposed to get you food, and all the rest of my time's spent looking after you? How is that fair?” I’d lay my head on my momma’s belly, that had harder places than bellies should have. I’d say, “What’s that in your stomach, momma?” “The meaning of these things is hard to come to, sweetie. It’s as though my body were overgrowing in my womb.” “Is it because I was born?” “No, sweetie. Only if you had too much life in you.”

In secret times, I'd go walking out on top of it, the hard parts before the days when it got mostly mushy and gray green. Earlier, when those bodies were still human colors, when the living would stand along the banks and stare like that river had some answer to give them, I'd be out there standing on them, on the hardness of the bodies. I thought of myself as a Jesus walking out over the water and calming the storm so that everyone standing along the banks would know what my love was like and worship my love for them, disbelieving that all that power could reside in one body, healing all bodies. At other times I'd look in that book of myths next to my bible and imagine what kind of creature I could be, maybe a leviathan or a cockatrice, standing above all my conquered dead; so many dead by my hand only a river could contain them.

What I would mostly do is stand there on top of them, letting my toes curl over their skins tightened by bloat, the creak of the mortified bones—looking into the yellowing pleading eyes pleading to no one, listening to the gobble and squawk of hungry black birds—and I'd feel a sort of peace, that all those bodies could find a place to touch and cuddle in the last of it. What gave my heart the most rest was imagining they'd let me lie against my mother's breast—my mother who was dying then, and always so close to dying—when they did bury me at my last, and that would be the way they'd make up for the world they gave me, which was nothing like this river of bodies.

I'm a member of the Collective Exilists. I'm the author of the Seven Origins of Lagomorph maxiseries available on Smashwords. I'm also the creator of the MidNight Serial Twitter story series, available around midnight eastern time every night (#7m212).