My father took me down to the stream and tore my denim dress. The sun tinkled on the water while I tasted it, all fish scales and mud. He stepped along the downy bank, between high scarlet grasses, broken from the wind. Eyes veined. His neck contorted with the strain of watching me float, tendons rigid.
Clouds lumbered white over blue, racing my body with the stream, ginger hair wrapping over my cheeks and around my neck. I kept picturing my Game Boy, zipped into the back pocket of my dress, flooded with clear water, already corroding the internal metallics, swamping the batteries.
His kneecaps pumped yellow in his stomps over the flat claggy mudbank, the grasslands disappearing as we moved along the stream. More darkness on the opposite side, thick with underbrush and twisting brambles dunking new leaves into the water with a nod.
Sports shorts, navy, darker as they wetted, brand name I can’t recall. He tried to reach me. He really did.
The water shallowed and I rolled onto squidgy leaves, pushing palms into slimy places, breathing in midges. When I stood my trainers squealed the water out in one compression, then squelched slick footprints along the sodden bank. Father bellowed from the stream and I knew to run between the thorny trunks and into the grey diminishing light.
Orange lanterns swung from black hooks, attached to old wood archways. I slowed down and walked underneath and through, lamplight on my skin, holding my dress up on one side, so that it wouldn’t hang down and expose me, so that no one would see that I was ripped.
The caravans were dark and the air smelled of meat. I wanted to crawl underneath something, to lower myself. Instead, I knocked at the first door.
Hands took me and eyes looked me over. I was guided this way and that. Couldn’t have any words, thinking he was on his way behind me. His hands in place of theirs.
I pointed to the archway, to the lanterns, to the thicket, the trunks, and the watery edge. To my father somewhere, to his voice and his strides. And the tall man with stooped shoulders and wonky teeth held my hand and took it back into the overgrown tussle of weeds, among the silent trees, where the misty breath of night rose.
We travelled under the branches, deep into the sticks. Ivy vines constricted everywhere, the distant flutter of night wings among the shivery gloaming. The man’s keys rattled on his belt and it felt like his breath was impatient.
The sun was a red bulb flash on the horizon through the dense trees, and we tumbled out of the plants just in time to see its light infect the stream glowing ruby, babbling rich luminance, burnt rays saturating, water churning with cool fire.
The red light lathered in the foamy ripples up to a large rock attached to the opposite bank, the surface of it shining like moonstone, pinky hit by the sun, covered in handprints, smeared mostly—desperation left painted in dark crimson. My father had been taken downstream a little, his neck skewered awkwardly on a sharp and unusual broken root, head lifted to twist unnaturally, so that his eyes stared at the sun, never to go blind, just fade out.
I step on the stream bottom sometimes, feel pebbles and silt move on my toes, the sharp prickles of slender edges slicing the thin skin on the soles of my feet. I walk into the water again and tumble into the cold freshness. When I can I gasp. Always at dusk, that’s how I remember it now. Pink light glows under the trees.