Richland County, Illinois is penned in by two rivers—the smaller Fox that feeds into East Fork Lake to the west, and the meandering Embarrass to the north and east. The night is dark where Rafetown Bridge crosses Calfkiller Creek; trees line the bend of murky water, lean in, and twist together, banking black against starlight and water’s pulse.
Maybe it’s warm, September, and you begin an affair on the hood of an old brown pick-up. Stars like grains of salt in cool September air.
Maybe it’s not the first time you sat on the hood of a truck on this very levee. Maybe once upon a time you traveled gravel roads in a conversion van with a boy you knew from Catholic school, a boy who once fastened around your neck your first “diamond” studded “B”. Perhaps there were six of you in that van, even twelve; drinking from slim cans of Shafer’s beer and swaying in the dark to AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells while the van careened careless down the curvy roads that mimic the lay of the water.
It’s not the last time you will visit this place. Much later, you will walk this levee with two small children, the grass a pale green, not deep yet with spring, searching for something other than the mushrooms you claim to be looking for along the mushy and damp land by the river’s edge, the two small children chasing lizards.
But tonight, a Friday in a warm September, the river waning behind, you ride back to town, next to the married man with the cold beer and the riversmarts. He parks his truck at the end of the street where you still live with your parents. The stars blinker in the early morning dusk, that hour between night and morning when a deep gray permeates the air, and let’s say you kiss him under a fading streetlight, open the passenger door, step down to the street, and run, your sockless feet rubbing in your shoes as you make your way home.