© Joshua Michael Johnson
I paddle one stroke, then another, each deciding my direction as I guide my canoe down the whispering creek. A toothed rock facing, crowned by tall trees lines the left side of the creek, stretching on for a mile or so, while a sloping collection of mud and broken, rotting docks crowds the right. I listen to each quiet ripple as the governing current pulls me through scenes of giant trees, and fleeting fish, and lazy ducks, and abandoned cabins, but not too quickly, or too slowly, or too perfectly either. It just pulls, and pulls, and pulls the canoe along its flowing path, pulling me away from the city, and the traffic, and the noise, and the faces that I am.
As the bow of my canoe glides down the creek, I watch a wobbling v stretch through the quiet water, widening out until its shape is lost into the erratic lines of the current. My canoe –this isn't my canoe. It belongs to a guy who a couple of days ago was one of my best friends. Three days ago I was at his house into the early morning hours, hanging out with him and his X Box 360. He cussed at me when I won a game of MLB 2009 and I was excited because I had never beaten him before. We played co-op Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and obliterated the terrorists like always. We talked about work, and the direction of the store, told crazy customer stories, and laughed. We talked about going canoeing on a shared off day during the week. We store the canoe at my house since he lives in an apartment.
He was late to work the next morning, and I laughed at him for over sleeping. He responded with a shrug, and an annoyed grunt. Later I saw him sitting in the store director's office as I walked by, he was hunched over and dejected and I walked to my car knowing something was wrong. That night I received a frantic, crying phone call from an employee, who told the sobbing story, with the police, and the handcuffs, and it kept me awake. I remember my ceiling fan at 2 o'clock, and 3 o'clock, and 4 o'clock, and 5.
$40,000. I don't understand how he could've stolen that much money. I didn't want to believe it at first. I didn't want to believe that he hadn't really been my friend, that he'd just manipulated my trust, but the black and white security footage showed everything. He'd gotten away with it for a while, but he slipped up and now he's going to jail. And I didn't really feel sorry for him either.
I took the canoe out alone today, knowing that he probably won't come to get it in the short time between his arraignment and trial. Then it won't matter because he'll be gone for a long time. I tried to forget all those things as I put the canoe in the water, and stepped in. The current pulled the canoe into its grasp. I paddled on one side, then on the other, guiding the canoe down the creek –the dock slipped away and I wished my thoughts could slip away too.
Today I'm happy to be on the water –away, just away. I wonder if there's a lesson in nature, if it's a lesson of simple respect, or repose or perhaps there is no lesson and nature just is. I've a tendency of either infusing meaning into everything, or depleting everything of all meaning until it's just life-less lump of textbook ink. But I'd like to think that nature is somewhere between these.
I duck as I float under a tree fallen across the creek, its roots poking skyward in all directions. Ahead, a crane flies low along the water, its long crooked legs held out behind –its wings flecking droplets of water with each beat. Alongside the canoe, a turtle swims, flipping its little feet behind its clunky shell, cruising in the flowing water. The creek narrows along this stretch, as the trees grow close to the banks, and the current grows stronger. And as I feel the current pulling, and pulling me along its whispering path, I realize this canoe was probably stolen too.
Joshua Michael Johnson lives in Tennessee where he is finishing his work in the undergraduate writing program at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. His work has appeared in the Sequoya Review as well as Mad Swirl.