Jose del Valle
The two Mrs. Flecks lived each on either side of a fast-moving river. Every day, as the sun climbed the tops of the tallest pines, it was their habit to meet, the river between them, each with her pile of things to wash, as both had many children.
“Day!” called one Mrs. Fleck to the other – shouting, for the river was roaring there, and the distance across the water was about as far as either woman could throw a rock.
“Halloo!” shouted back the other.
As each spent most of the day at her work, pounding the wash, clanging pots and pans, clacking plates and spoons – and as the river thundered so loudly – they barely spoke a word. How could they?
Though wave, occasionally, they did. They made symbols and signs, the river rumbling between them. One might make like she’s yanking out her hair, jumping up and down – or hold up her hosiery knowingly. The other might relate the most rambling family drama, using just a few polished stones.
Words, though, bawled across the clamor, they pinched to the plainest shorthand.
“Goa!” one would shout, referring to the other’s runaway daughter.
“Aiee!” would come the reply.
Or, like one day:
“Aargh!” cried an aggrieved Mrs. Fleck – and how she hurled it over the din of the water! Then immediately from the other:
The next day, only one Mrs. Fleck came down to the river to wash. The same was true the following day, and the day after that.
Then one time, in the middle of the day, as the lone woman toiled silently, all to herself, laying wet shirts out like the dead, she was thinking, with the arms splayed, on the warm stones to dry – she happened to cast her eye across the water.
Where what did she spy – how strange to see! – it’s Mister Fleck – wearing a towel only, and a pair of old boots, unstrung, their tongues flapping – plunging down the hill to the riverbank, a mountain of dirty wash tumbling from his arms.
Close behind were his children.
It amazed Mrs. Fleck – at that moment – how brightly the sun shone, and the jewels that danced along the surface of the water.
Oh, my, she thought then. The man did not know what he was doing! Mr. Fleck, from the opposite bank of the river, appeared full-size and white and agitated. He’s gotten in where the mud is, thought Mrs. Fleck, and she dropped her wash and stood.
The man had fallen, a big fall, face forward, the wash strewn to the edge of the water. His children ran in circles screaming.
“God damn the whole thing!” cried Mr. Fleck, though too faint for Mrs. Fleck to hear. For now the wind was gusting up, a breeze blew, and suddenly it appeared as if all the wash – all together – hose and underpants, bras and blouses – had sprung to dear life and rushed toward the water.
“Ayyyy!” she could hear, as Mr. Fleck lunged, mud-spattered, and the wind blew, and the shirts and dresses and underclothes, piece by piece of the Fleck’s dirty wash, tumbled into the river and sped away. . . .
The river roared.
. . . Probably down to Dunedin, thought Mrs. Fleck, where the dam was – past the little shops with all the colors, where she saw that beautiful what was it? – past the dock with the boats and the fishermen ogling, eating their lunch off their laps, their feet dangling over the water – or over the dam altogether and through the city, all the way down to the sea.
his favorite shirt