We had gone to the river to test the sound. Nina brought her violin. The idea was to go to the place where the river was the widest and smoothest. It was hard to pinpoint the exact spot that would work best. The first spot we chose the river ran too fast, the second place was too full of joggers and families, the third spot was perfect but difficult to reach. The path hadn’t been tended to, and the trees and brush grew thick and wild. We had to crawl over and under. Neither one of us made it without drawing blood. Eventually we came to the bank. It was exactly what we were looking for.
“Third time’s a charm,” Nina said as she moved closer to the water. “I hate clichés,” I grumbled, even though the cliché was appropriate. It was the perfect spot. Nina had already taken out her violin. She hugged it between her shoulder and her chin, the bow in her right hand, her right arm bent and elegant. Her whole body was caught in the sun as it danced off the river. Everything glistened. She was waiting for me. I went to her and bent my knees, crouching right at the edge. The water leaped up and brushed my toes, soaking the tips of my sneakers.
I straightened my back as best as I could while maintaining that position, trying to keep my balance. The trick was to be as close to the water as possible, to see if the sound would skirt or skim or spread across the water. If it would dance or sink or be swallowed up. I looked up at Nina, our eyes holding each other’s for a moment, waiting. Then, she pulled her bow across the strings, a high bright song opening up. My mouth opened with it. I breathed deep, everything expanding, and when I couldn’t take in any more, the long note of Nina’s violin moving up and down along the water, I let out my scream. It scraped against the back of my throat as it tumbled up from my lungs, swelling against my tongue before exiting my lips out into the air. We spread across the river, us as sound: Nina’s violin and my scream, like melted tar or oil in a hot pan. We crossed over the water without sinking, echoing across to the other side, and then scattered to the trees. A flock of starlings rushed out of the dense forest, speckling a new color over the sky.
Afterward, we stood there for a long time. We waited for it to become quiet again. We waited for our sound to dissipate, and for the forest to return to the wind, the birds, the rustle of leaves as small animals moved underneath. Eventually, Nina and I turned away from the bank and crawled our way back to the path and towards home. There, our mother would be in the kitchen, our father elsewhere. They would both be sitting in a heavy silence, a suffocating kind of stillness. Mother had taken up smoking again. Neither would speak to the other. It was hard to hear anything in that house. Our brother’s absence was amplified over everything else.
All we could hear was the sound of his drowning in that river, at the widest and smoothest part, the sound of his dying flooding our ears.
Jessica Denzer is a writer and educator. She received her BA in English Literature from Fordham University and her MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She is a researcher in residence at the New York Public Library and writes fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Number Magazine, the Unpublishable Anthology, and she is a contributing editor and writer for Four Way Review. She lives in New York, NY.