Coos River Rising

By Suzan Andrist

            That summer Mom and I had gathered buckets of blackberries from the field next door and Whinny, the horse that called the field home, would gently eat out of our hands, and follow us around. Our trailer was between the large field and the Coos River. I had spent most of my summer on its bank. When I wasn’t there I was up on the Sixes River at my Dad’s gold claim. It was warmer up there and I got to keep all the gold I could find, but I never found much. Still I liked being on the river, any river, and either was fine with me.

            Winter came and the rain hadn’t stopped in days. With nothing better to do, Mom and Dad had been fighting a lot. Although it was more often than usual, it wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, nothing had been broken and Mom didn’t appear to have any serious bruising. The weather was wearing them down. They had been giving up and going to bed early enough for me to get some sleep before school.

            The next day I slogged my way home from the bus down the muddy gravel road. Luckily I was wearing rubber boots, my favorite winter shoe. I loved walking in puddles, feeling the coldness of the water while my feet stayed dry, it was a special magic. Puddles were deceptive. More than once I had stepped in too deep. The cold water found its way around my barrier spell and flooded over the top of my boot leaving my foot soaked. Today did not look like a good day to risk it. The puddles were huge and dark, muddy brown. I chose my path carefully and arrived at our trailer relatively dry. The river roared by with such authority that it compelled me to stop and listen.

            It had been expanding closer to the trailer every day this week, and I wondered how long the trailer would float if we were suddenly carried away in the night. Probably not long given the shape the trailer was in. There were places it was safest not to step and the mushrooms growing out of my bedroom carpet attested to the state of the roof. I hesitated at the door taking a long look around at my waterlogged world. I took a deep breath and went inside. It was warm, and something smelled good.

            “Hi, I’m home,” I said to the emptiness.

            “How was your day Boo?” Mom called from the kitchen.

            Mom and Dad both called me Boo, it was short for Boo-Boo, after the little cartoon bear that was Yogi Bear’s sidekick. Dad said we were just like Yogi and Boo-Boo. Yogi always had some scheme going on usually involving hassling the ranger, avoiding work, and stealing picnic baskets. Boo-Boo was the voice of reason and he was known for saying, “I don’t think that’s a good idea Yogi.”  Of course this advice was never followed and Yogi always managed to get himself in trouble. It made for a funny cartoon, but our live version lacked much of the humor.

            “Fine,” I said. I threw down my backpack and stepped into the kitchen.

            “Whatcha makin’?”

            “Ham and beans and cornbread, but we’ll have to wait for your dad. He should be home about an hour after sunset.”

            “Where is he?”

            “Billy picked him up. They’re at the Coyote.”

            “Oh,” I said with a frown.

            It didn’t really seem fair that I had to go to school when Dad got to be at the gold claim all day. The Crystal Coyote was my dad’s favorite claim, he said we were sitting on the motherlode and I wanted to be there when they found it. Plus I liked my dad’s mining partner, Billy, even though he did have a glass eye that he would occasionally pop out and chase me with.  But he also told me funny stories and he was one of the only people my dad would listen to when he was angry. I think it was Billy’s direct logic that caught him off guard. Dad was smart enough to know that the only excuses for his rage sounded crazy, and Billy would call him on it, so he would usually calm down and just cuss under his breath and throw things around. It probably didn’t hurt that even though my dad was 6’4, Billy outweighed him by at least fifty pounds.

            “Don’t worry Boo,” Mom said, “They are just doing some highbanking. They won’t be finding the vein with the river this high.”

            That cheered me up. Of course, I thought, the Sixes must be about the same as here. I had been picturing it as I had last seen it, but that was last month before the rain had really set in.

            “Where’s Sunshine?” I asked.

            “He went out this morning, I haven’t heard him come back.”

            Mom stirred the cornmeal into the mixing bowl.

            “I’m going to go look for him,” I told her.

            “Ok, wear your coat.”

            I put on my coat and pulled my boots back on. The roar of the river met me at the door. I walked along the edge of the field, Whinny wandered over to see what I was doing.

            “Hi Whinny,” I said reaching up to pet her soft nose. I grabbed a handful of grass and held it up for her. She accepted it politely even though it was the same grass that was growing on her side of the fence.

            “I will see if Mom will give me a carrot after I find Sunny.” I told her.

            I continued along the fence calling out “Sunny” every so often. Whinny kept pace with me. Finally an orange cat burst out of the blackberry bushes at the far end of the field heading straight for me.

            “There you are Sunshine.”

            He looked small, damp, and rather proud of himself.

            “What have you been up to?” I asked him. He purred as I bent down and scooped him up.

            “C’mon let’s go inside, Dad’s on his way home.” I turned to Whinny, “I will be back soon,” I told her.

            A bit later we heard Billy’s old pickup rattle up the driveway. Mom met them at the door. They were wet and dirty.

            “Take your boots off boys,” Mom told them.

            “Hey foxy, whatcha cookin’?” Billy asked her with a wink.

            “I’ve got a pot of ham and beans going, and I’m just about to throw the cornbread in. There’s plenty if you want to stay.”

            “Nah, I better get on home or May will have my hide.”

            “Did you guys find anything today?’ I asked them.

            “Nothing to speak of,” Billy said smiling at me.

            “No nothin’ yet, but we’re close Boo, I can smell the gold,” Dad said.

            He turned to Billy.

            “Same time tomorrow partner? I would really like to get down to bedrock by the end of the week.”

            “Sure thing. Goodnight ladies.” Billy said. He took off his weathered Stetson hat with a flourish and bowed slightly. I giggled.

            “Have a good one Bill, tell May I said hi,” Mom said.

            “Tell her hi for me too,” I said.

            “Will do, will do. See ya in the morning.”

            Dad followed him to the door.

            “Get some rest man, we’ll hit it hard tomorrow,” he yelled after him.

            Dad turned from the door and sank heavily down on the couch.      

           “Hop up and bring me a beer Boo,” he said reaching for the TV remote.

            That night I lay listening to the sound of the rain. It was coming down so hard that the rage of the river was reduced to background noise. But it couldn’t drown out the sound of screaming coming from the other room, eventually they fell quiet and I was left alone with the rain. The rain and a faint scratching noise, maybe a tree branch. I drifted to sleep. I woke up a couple of hours later to the same sounds, only the scratching seemed to be coming from inside the wall. I lay there listening as the rustling seemed to rise in volume and intensity. The rain hadn’t slowed but the wind had died down, and still the sounds grew louder. Parental involvement was necessary and I went to wake them.

            “Mom, there’s a really strange noise in my room.”

            “It’s just the storm, go back to bed Hon.”

            I found my way back to bed. Nothing had changed, but eventually I fell back asleep.

            “Get up Boo,” Mom said urgently.

            I blinked in the bright light.

            “Is it morning?” I felt like I had only been asleep a few minutes.

            “No, but we have to go, get dressed.”

            I got up and began putting my clothes on. Mom was hastily throwing my stuff into grocery bags.

            “Here’s your coat.”

            She put it on me and zipped my two favorite stuffed animals up inside. She handed me a bag.

            “Grab anything you don’t want left behind,” she said.

            I took the bag and put a few more of my stuffed animals in it. I grabbed my favorite books and the small porcelain unicorn family my aunt had given me. Mom rounded up the bags she had filled and gently pushed me out of the room.

            “I’ve got most everything loaded up,” Dad bellowed from their bedroom.

            “Get Sunny and go wait in the car Boo,” Mom said.

            I peeked behind the couch in his favorite hiding spot and two wide eyes stared back at me. I reached in and grabbed him. Dad burst out of the bedroom.

            “They’ve chewed through the wall, we have to go now!”

            I rushed to the door with Sunny in my arms. Mom and Dad frantically grabbed a few last things as the rats began to flood in from the back room.

            I crammed into the car next to the majority of our belongings. Sunny quickly ran around inspecting things, then returned to settle on my lap. Dad fired up the car and we started down the driveway. Mom and Dad were talking excitedly.

            “They must’ve been trying to escape the flooding,” Dad said.

            Mom agreed. I snuggled Sunny up close to me. Where will we live now? I wondered as the bumpy road lulled me to sleep.