Drowning Machine
by Abbey Carter

On this particular night, the river that will separate them has flooded its banks. Scully navigates the Potomac with her eyes. Even swollen, the ancient stream appears calm. Lights dot the highway terraced above its bank. High up like this, high up, skirt burning on the hood of the car, light jumps over the city, and the river.

Mulder searches the bank. She can't see him, but watches the path he disappeared down. It's late. The whole day has been late. Mulder late to the office because of an accident on the bridge, an emergency fire drill postponing lunch.

Her fury had grown with the afternoon heat, had grown with the water in the air. Mulder's belief that a malevolent druid was responsible for recent drownings on the river had not improved her mood.

Thunder shook the building, pencils he'd stuck in the ceiling clattered to the floor.

She told him there are no ghosts on the Potomac. Driving here, rain beat commuters into quick jogs, glistened on his face.

The rain has evaporated. Fireflies wander through trees, swinging biology lessons in carefree, chemical loops. Tonight, when lights skip together and a river named river rips through rocks, brambles, and human beings, it is hard not to believe in spirits.

There is a pull, a steady pull to the waiting path, the path she has angrily refused to walk down all evening. She remembers the days the city called to her, called on her to know its real truth.

Metro rushing by lecture halls. Drowning out every word her Anatomy Professor said. The Basilica's chimes echoing into every corner of her apartment. Water laughing under manhole covers. The whoosh of Metro as it falls into thousand mile speed, high voltage, blue light, darkness, and secrets.

All conversations she now grows weary of intercepting.

Scully swings off the car, parts the branches blocking the path to the river. Rocks fight her feet, the incline is steep, heart hammering.

"Got sick of the view?"

She should hit Mulder, should fight the casual scare, but stands off, smoothes her skirt.

"Anything suspicious?"

"Nothing yet. Unless we're counting various birth control devices."


The ghosts of history flit across this river, dance across the canal's empty lock. Bathing Presidents evade reporters. Washington hurtles a silver dollar over the water. Shots echo still, from the parked car of a presidential advisor.

Mulder's hand strays over her shoulder blade.

"You agree that the latest drowning was suspicious."

"It's a river. Mulder, this happens every year. Foolhardy kayakers get caught above stream, and even the experienced get lost in the rapids. There's a dam! No way around it!"

"Experienced paddlers. We just lost a coach. A rowing coach, Scully. He'd worked on this river for twenty years. Don't you find that interesting?"

"Interesting, yes, suspicious, no."

Leaves rustle.

"You read the autopsies. The times of death were inconsistent with their places on the river. And they all had similar markings on their sides."


He is silent now. Silent as the water runs to the rocks, forward toward the drop that overwhelms, and pounds, and crushes. She sees a banana kayak, oars spinning; a helicopter on water. Banana spinning, the drowning machine taking a froth of yellow and raspberry red.

She steps back, motions toward him. "I'll drive you home."

He is silent as the car crosses the river. Light bathes his craning face; she knows his slow worship of the unseen Monuments. The bridge clacks, the water below them a silent threat. He sighs, kicks the coffee cup at his feet.

He sleeps as the green tunnel of branches covers the car. He falls sideways as thousands of gravestones glow in front of her, as she wonders just what their fathers could have done differently. As the men who marched this route, who died here, come alive in the dark and the light, and the angry river.

She pulls his head onto her lap, lets the wheel spin in her left hand.

In his parking lot, she waits, listens as an insistent bullfrog bellows out the same refrain. He turns, murmurs into her skirt.


"You fell asleep; we're at your apartment."

He breathes heavily, slides away; her stomach tightens.

"Night, Scully." She backs up, the burn of his hand still around her wrist. In this dark lot, there's no knowledge of who waits for them, who watches him through the night.

On this particular night, the river that separates them has flooded its banks. On the bridge, Scully imagines the stream (Melissa; hands seeking minnows,) the river (trout, tangled lines,) the bay (crabs, beer, spice,) and the ocean (sharks; blood, raspberry red.) Somewhere, Mulder sleeps.

Scully knows that the power of the river is hidden, and consequently greater than any estimate could predict. There is more than one way to drown, more than one way to be thrown through the water, fleet, falling into electricity and inhabitable bone. More than one way to be caught between these rocks, in this drowning machine. The city waits in heat, blows in through her window. Scully drives, water coursing on behind her.


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