Singing "The River" This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I sat alone on the bed in the back of our family van, surrounded by the sleeping bundles of my brother and sisters. Their round faces protruded from fuzzy blankets, but sleep evaded my weary body as the long drive to South Dakota continued into the dense night. Two orbs of light penetrated the stiff darkness enough to illuminate the narrow, never-ending road ahead. The engine purred beneath me; the van rocked softly on its frame while the vents expelled an encasing breath of warm air. Steam condensed in small billows on the long rectangular windows lining the interior.

They perfectly showcased the weaving ebony palate of the sky. Intermittent raindrops splattered across the window, but the thunder was strangely silent. Tumultuous lightning raged to the earth, screaming white rays of light piercing the darkness. In awe I watched while my mind reeled back to July ...

The air outside had been sticky as the sun beat down. Flies danced drunkenly around the neatly clipped lawn. Inside the nursing home, gleaming linoleum floors slapped unforgivingly against my Keds. In front of me, Great-grandma Agnes hunched over her walker. Blue veins rose across arthritic, age-spotted knuckles and gnarled hands tightly gripped the plastic handles of her support. Hair swept in snowy wisps about her deeply wrinkled face. Her swollen ankles dragged heavily as she inched her way up the hall. Her sons steadied her on either side. Behind me I saw my uncles, aunts and cousins. The younger generations had come to visit Grandma Agnes. The entire family trailed behind her into the cafeteria. The bitter smell of coffee was strong. We gathered around Great-grandma as my grandpa's strong arms lowered her gently into a waiting wheelchair.

The splash of bright flowers on her dressing gown held my eyes and I glanced at her face for a sign of acknowledgment. Her deep hazel eyes were clear and comprehending as she looked at each of us. For a moment the silence was uncomfortable and oppressive, but a voice from behind appeased me, "Sing, girls, sing for Grandma." My ten-year-old cousin stood next to me, her tan face bewildered. Its usual radiance was drowned by her fear. I began to sing, my voice insignificant in the open room. Soon all of the great-granddaughters joined me.

"The River," a song made popular by Garth Brooks, flowed through the nursing home. Orderlies gathered and patients cocked their heads. The fear was gone and my heart soared with the increasing intensity of the song. I saw tears glisten in my mother's eyes and felt the reassuring weight of Grandpa's hand against my shoulder.

Too many times we stand aside and let the water slip away. 'Till what we put off till tomorrow has now become today. So don't you sit upon the shoreline, and say you're satisfied. Choose to chance the rapids, and dare to dance the tides. I will sail my vessel till the river runs dry.

Our childish voices ceased. The song ended with a smattering of applause. Grandma's eyes were large and dark behind her thick horn-rimmed glasses showing 97 years of hard work, love, heartache and life. Her pale moist lips curled into a smile and she touched her hands together twice in recognition. Our clan's arduous trek down the hall to Grandma's room seemed shorter. There was a slight bounce in my step and a warm calm within me. Once she was situated on the high hospital bed, we all took a turn hugging her fragile fluttering body. I glanced back to see her head touch the pillow and her hands clasp peacefully at her waist ...

A curve in the road swept away the memory of my last visit with Great-grandma. My eyes focused once more on nature's display. The small beads of dew gathering on the window's edge contrasted with the steely chill of night and the secure comfort of the van. It had been a long drive through Wyoming and Nebraska. After hours of driving, our destination felt near. Grandma's funeral would be the next day. My eyes drooped. I settled into my own comforting blanket and let the roll of the van lull me into a deep, unfettered sleep.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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