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Karen Herman

I call it a river because the man living there would not have minded at all.   He would have adjusted himself. That’s the sort of person he was, a self-adjuster. A highly-prized attribute among the inflexible of this world. 
Roots Clark lived in a little shack by the sea along a tiny, salty inlet I like to call a river.  He lived there with his girlfriend Eunice.  Eunice had white teeth and dark skin.  Her head wound in colourful rags.  The colourful rags became a turban, a skyscraper on her head.  She bent low and the building touched the sea foam rushing towards her.   She bent low to catch the little pink-faced crabs that scuttled over rocks.  She put the crabs in a Hessian sack.  But first she peed on the little crabs. The crabs hung around in patches, along the rock and sand that was her toilet:  a beautiful open-air facility with marine life.  She gathered her cotton skirt in her arms, squatted low over the crab population, and peed on them.  Their tiny black eyes blinked on the end of their long stalks. They were funny-looking crabs, too, and busy. They kept busy racing all over wet sand trying to hide from Eunice, squeezing in sideways, those crabs did, between rocks. She plucked as many as she could into the darkness of her sack.  I liked Eunice.  I know she didn’t wear underwear. She pulled-up her old long cotton skirt for the whole wide world to see, and then she pissed all over the marine life.
‘The water is blue and dark,’ she said. She didn’t say a whole lot, Eunice, not what I’d call a big talker, but she did say that.  I asked her if there were sharks in the sea. 
‘The sharks are a problem,’ she said, ‘but not always, things aren’t always so.’
Eunice lived beautiful and free by her shack near the salty inlet I like to call a river.  She and Roots Clark lived together in the shack.  Inside it smelt like salt and dried fish and marijuana.  A single iron bed pulled up close to one wall.  A mix of old lightweight cotton sheets brightened the steel-frame little bed.  There was one pillow for two heads. Outside a pile of driftwood.  Roots Clark is a piece of driftwood.  His dreadlocks reached his waist bleached by the strong West Indian sunlight.  His bleached skin, his bleached hair, and his black eyes -- an obsidian night time sky – sat behind little round wire glasses, pushed up tight and no-nonsense.  He squinted and faced the sea on an old wooden chair, blowing smoke rings from a rolled-up fat stick of dope, he gazed upon the world through those pair of glasses. He blinked his eyes, focusing on the sea foam and the horizon beyond, and a blood orange sun, disappearing. 
‘What do you need to wear those glasses for?’ I asked, ‘because they don’t have any glass in them.’
He had been whittling down a large piece of driftwood into the shape of a pelican.  I thought about my grandfather who lived along the Schuylkill River. He loved pelicans. They were his favourite bird.
‘You don’t have any glass in your glasses,’ I said watching him squint.   Tall and thin with his waist-length dreadlocks, a good-looking Rastafarian Jamaican, he leaned back on his chair against the corrugated iron of his hut.  His knees akimbo, on his feet a pair of old deck shoes. 
‘I can’t see without them,’ he said, and I had to think about this one for a moment. 
‘But it’s a mystery,’ I said.
‘No,’ he said, ‘it is no mystery.’
‘But it’s problematic,’ I said.
‘It is not problematic.’
‘What can’t you see?’ I asked him.
‘The whole world,’ he said, ‘it’s all twisted-up.’
‘What’s all twisted-up?’ I asked.
‘The truth,’ he said. If there’s glass in my glasses, it would keep me from seeing the truth.’
He paused for a moment to look at the truth, through his glasses. He pushed them against his eyes, bent his head into the dying light of the day, and he strained for a moment to adjust his vision.
‘If you look for the truth you will never be sorry,’ he said.
He whittled his piece of wood into the shape of a bird and it flew away.

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