From the little stand of trees and shrubs between the river and the Greenpath, he gazed across the narrow river toward the municipal golf course. The moonlight, flickering behind the rushing clouds, outlined the rolling mound of a hazard beyond the silhouettes of the naked, gnarled black cottonwoods, mountain alders, and river birches on the far bank. The river ran fast, tossing invisible spray over the rocks that broke the shallow surface near the bank. Dead leaves scratched across the gravel and brushed at his feet on a frigid February night.
He looked to his left and his right on the Greenpath, then across the river to the modest swell of the fairway near the fourteenth hole. There was no one. He turned and scanned the parking lot adjoining the three-story corporate building in the small industrial park. There were no cars in the lot, no lights on in the building.
Reaching down and gently touching the artery in her neck, he felt a faint pulse. He kneeled beside her body and placed his ear next to her mouth and nose. He felt a slight breath, warm in the frozen night.
He began to undress her. She wore no jacket or coat. He looked at her clothing, all of it tight fitting—the dark t-shirt with some indecipherable writing on it, the jeans that seemed too narrow to slide over her ankles. Even the socks seemed too small.
Sweat forming on his upper lip, he strained to bend her arms so he could remove her shirt. He felt a slight release as it ripped when he pulled it over her shoulders.
Carefully he raised her shoulder and reached behind her back to unhook her dark bra, but he found no clasp there. He grasped the bra in the front, his trembling knuckles grazing her small, cold breasts as he lifted it and pulled it up toward her chin. It caught on her jaw, then on her nose, but finally it was over her shoulders. He disentangled it from her arms, the elbows stiff in the cold. He folded it and placed it next to her on the sandy gravel.
He stared at her breasts, the nipples dark smudges in the dim moonlight. His trembling finger touched a nipple, hard in the cold. He pulled his finger back. He held his hand in front of his face, the five fingers spread. Then he lowered his hand gently until each finger touched the soft breast, pressing it delicately, feeling it yield only slightly. With an unsteady hand, he slowly traced the delicate arc of her breast, from her sternum, downward, then beneath its gentle curve.
Suddenly, horrified, he jerked his hand away from her body. For many months he had dreamed of her, but now he was choking on guilt, shame, and despair.
He unbuttoned her jeans, tugged at the zipper to lower it, and tried in vain to pull the denim over her hips, first one, and then the other. He pulled at the jeans from her knees, but the fabric was so tight against her skin that he could not gather enough in his fist to secure a grip. He placed a palm in the hollow above her hip to keep her from sliding across the gravelly dirt. With his other hand he pulled hard on the denim. Finally, the fabric moved, and he managed to release her hips. He looked up as he heard the growl of a passing motorcycle, its rider oblivious to the scene in the patch of trees and shrubs not ten yards from the Greenpath.
He reached down to remove her thong. He could not look away from the narrow, straight line of black hair that led down to her vagina. As he folded her jeans and thong and placed them next to her shirt and bra, he began to weep.
He crouched beside her and tried to lift her in his arms. Feeling the soles of his shoes sink into the sand and gravel, he studied the uneven, sloping surface, with its river rocks, tree roots, and stumps half-hidden beneath the tall brown grasses. He did not trust himself to carry her safely to the river. He lowered her carefully to the dirt and then stood straight and walked around to her head.
He grasped her arms, above the elbows, surprised by their thinness, and lifted her trunk. Now only her heels touched the ground. He smelled coconut in her jet-black hair, thick and straight. He gazed at her breasts and her sex, indistinct in the flickering shadow his body cast in the dim moonlight.
His hands gripping her slender arms, he walked backward, slowly and haltingly, hunched over, her hair pressed against his chest, down the bank toward the river. Struggling with unsteady steps, he continued backward into the water, dragging her silent body. His feet tingled as the water rose over the tops of his shoes. The water rose higher and higher on his jeans, over his knees, until it reached his crotch and he gasped.
Her ankles and legs and buttocks now slid beneath the surface, and he felt her body shudder. He thought he heard her moan from the sudden chill. Although the water was warmer than the freezing air, it felt ten times colder.
He walked backward, deeper into the river, the water covering her trunk. Now he was sure he heard moans of pain through the gurgle of the rushing water.
His left foot slid off a large river rock covered in a slick film and he lost his balance. Instinctively, he released her arms, watched them rise slightly in the cold night air, then fall, slapping the surface as he tumbled backward into the river. The river enveloped him, the frigid water stabbing at his face and his neck. As the water penetrated his heavy coat, then his shirt, he turned over onto his stomach and struggled to right himself, his hands grasping for something secure on the riverbed. The icy water rose inside his sleeves.
Finally, his churning legs touched the riverbed and he could extend his head, his arms, his trunk into the freezing air. The water had soaked through his clothing. He gasped for breath, shivering. He scanned the rippling surface, panicking because he had lost her in the black river.
Then she appeared, fifteen feet away, half-floating on her back, with only her knees and breasts breaking the surface of the dark water. She was caught up on some rocks, her head invisible beneath the surface.
He fought to maintain his footing, his sodden clothing weighing him down like anchors as he trudged over to her. He lifted her head out of the water, bending down to listen for a breath. But the lapping of the water against his chest and over her body was too loud. He placed one hand on her forehead, the other on her chin, and pushed her head beneath the surface. The weight of his jacket started to pull him over, but he pushed back with all his might against the flow, trying to keep his footing.
He held her head beneath the surface for another long moment, feeling his tears against his frozen cheeks, hearing his teeth chattering in the night. “I am so sorry,” he whispered as his body convulsed in the freezing river.
He grasped her arms, above the elbows, and walked backward toward the shore. His body shaking, numb from the water, he slowly pulled her from the river. Her breasts and her sex glistened in the faint moonlight. Pulled down by his wet clothing, he slowly made his way over the rough surface of the river bank, back toward the spot where he had left her clothes. Exhausted, he carefully let her trunk sink until she was reclining on the ground. He was breathing heavily.
After a moment he lifted her again by the arms, and as his hands felt the sand on the back of her arms, he began to weep again for what he had done. He dragged the body farther until, finally, sheltered by the gnarled cottonwoods and the shrubs, he laid her softly on the scrub brush and gravel, next to where he had placed her clothing. Once again he tried to hear her breathe, tried to feel a pulse, but this time he was certain she was dead.
He strained to shake off his own coat, heavy with river water. He started to dress her, but he struggled to get her thong, her jeans, her bra, her t-shirt, and her socks onto her wet, sandy body, rigid in the cold. He pulled and tugged at her clothing. It was necessary to cover her naked flesh. He worked in the faint silver moonlight that dodged the swift clouds down at the river on a frigid February night.
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