"Find Christ At The River"

As soon as the brown heap landed in her lap, Sylvie knew hell could come as quickly as she wanted it to. It was wet and cold when it hit her, splattering into a million little blobs at the base of the white swimsuit making its first appearance all summer. Grainy chunks spread out across wide thighs, over the hibiscus plant neatly drawn around the right one, peppered with pores. It wasn’t even the good kind of sand; the white, wispy, Sandals resort in Cabo kind of sand. It was ruddy, river dirt sand. The kind people who didn’t live close enough to a proper coast had to settle for. The kind that when it sticks to your toes makes them sooty instead of ashy. The kind that stains your beach towel. The kind that when sugar-high kids play with it, it becomes mud pies instead of sandcastles, and when it lands in your lap—the lap of a stranger trying to sunbathe—it doesn't sting so much as make you stew.

She imagined herself grabbing a fistful of it into her hands, snatching up the blonde girl snickering at the water’s edge by her arm and shoving it into her mouth. Shut her and her sister up. Then return to her tanning spot to wait as the cops came, rifles drawn and ready. She’d heard stories about redneck Buffalo. Dodging heaven could be so easy.

Sylvie fiddled with the loose threads in the center of her King-sized fitted sheet, bleach spotted but useful, stretched taught by tucking the heaviest of her belongings into its elastic creases. A Harry Potter book with a waxy, folded receipt pointlessly bookmarked between pages 9 and 10, the same place it had been for the last two months. A set of Birkenstocks leaning against a dingy cooler holding more ice than Coronas. A bundle of street clothes beside a mini-boombox, its charge worn out thirty minutes ago. Two oversized purses.

“That looks like baby shit.”

“Shut the fuck up, Dennis.”

Dennis pursed his lips quietly, rolling his eyes behind his cat-eye shades and turning his attention back to the water. His red hair glinted underneath the sun, brushfire shined over with pomade, fighting against his Godiva brown skin, silver bullring, and the tight, striped Versace briefs for attention. He waved a delicate hand at the mess, unbothered, cool as a cucumber, as if two sun-averse terrors with inattentive parents didn’t just chuck sand towards the only two black people on the beach. “I’m just sayin’. You look like you shit yourself.” Eyes down, Sylvie thought about the absurdity of how she looked; pitiful, like an old broad who couldn’t contain her own movements.

Dennis was the kind of annoying that you got used to after you stopped fighting against it. Hell, maybe even grew to enjoy it. Not Jacob, though. To him, Dennis was a nuisance. Why Sylvie didn’t pick a female roommate was beyond him, and he didn’t laugh when she joked that Dennis was one of the closest girlfriends she had. Ever since the night he tiptoed out of Sylvie’s bed and was greeted by Dennis in the cramped apartment’s only bathroom, slowly massaging his cheekbones into the mirror, the thorn of his presence remained lodged in his side. “Y’all were noisy tonight,” Dennis had told him with a wink, smirking beneath his face cream. Jacob had returned to bed cussing, stirring Sylvie out of her satiation. As he huffed back under the covers, Dennis had texted her: “Whoops. Did I do that?”

Sylvie laughed to herself. Anyway, maybe shoving it into their mouths was too harsh. Maybe it was better to just return the favor, scoop up the mess in her hands, ball it into a tight mound, channel her inner Yankee and pitch it back at them. Stringy strands clinging to the side of their wet faces, scraping more dirt-sand from the Niagara into their buckets. She’d eye them as they fussed, nursing the spots on their arms where it stung them.

“I know that look, Syl. If you’re gonna go off the rails and get yourself arrested, let me know now so I can start packing up our shit. ‘Cause I ain’t bailing your crazy ass out. Gonna have to call Jake for that.”

Dennis watched her canine teeth creep into view. “You know he hates when you call him Jake like that, right? Anyway, ain’t gonna do nothing crazy. Just send it back, is all. Bet those badass kids wouldn’t throw it again.

“And what happens when their Momma come back?”

“Let her come. She can get one, too.”

He waved her off, resting his hand gently over his eyes, sitting up. “You trying to go to hell, but God must be trying to gift wrap your intervention.”

She followed Dennis’ gaze out onto the water. Three men stood in the shallow murk up to their hips, fully covered in tee shirts and shorts despite the early September balminess. A tall man stood between two other gentlemen, holding his nose as they covered him in scripture. Sylvie couldn’t look away.

Sylvie wasn’t the churchy sort. Not by choice, anyway. Like any other Black girl who grew up far below the Mason Dixon, she’d been dragged into slick wooden pews for the better part of her youth. Sneaking extra snacks from the table after Sunday school even though she’d been explicitly told one cookie per kid. Listening to warbling old ladies in the choir profess their off-key praises, rolling her eyes at congregants shouting “Yes! Let him use you!” no matter how far away their voices were from heavenly exaltations. Shaking the hands of the pastor, ushers, organist, liturgist, lay leader, kitchen ministry, and literally anyone else Ms. Eleanor insisted her little girl say “good morning” to out of respect.

Moving to the north for college drew a logistical wedge between Sylvie and the Methodist sanctuary that raised her. The distance was an ironclad excuse; a repellant for church aunts who hovered with an endless list of building tasks and committees that needed youth staffing. Four years had passed since she turned her tassel onstage, so she longer bothered to try harder than “He knows my heart” when her mother asked about the last time she read her Bible or when she was joining a church. Sylvie was lazy when it came to the Lord. That she could admit. But there was a difference between a lack of effort and a lack of respect. Reverence in His presence was still a part of her, instinctive, settled deep in the marrow of her bones.

So she could feel the heat of anger flush her cheeks as adolescent squeals cut into the prayer fragments she could make out from the casual reverends holding the man’s back and head as he centered himself for the cool wash of Christ. Just to the right of them, the girls scraped loudly at the ground with their hands, splashing in the lapping waves of would-be holy water, unconcerned about the doings of their maker.

Dennis had already rolled back over, briefs hiked up higher to get the last remnants of sunshine to work its magic on the cups of his behind. But Sylvie’s unblinking eyes followed as, with one swift lean, three visible bodies became two, then three again. The baptized man, freed from the protective grip of his dunkers and drenched ‘til his white tee went clear, raised his hands in the air, eyes to the sky as onlookers cheered.


Hallelujah. Sylvie couldn’t help but look up, too. She wouldn’t be able to explain to Dennis why exactly she looked up or what she was looking for. But she watched a gaggle of seagulls cawing above her circle over the river bank before depositing their loose, digested lunch right above the little girls’ heads. Shrieks of dismay blended with the start of loud, heaving tears. Sylvie’s lips curled into a smile as she leaned back onto the sheet. Would you look at that: the prayer she was asking for.


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