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South Carolina Honors College

Fairforest Creek

by Merrik Moriarty

Remember how Daddy used to call us the luckiest girls in the world? Dozens of kids, and we were the only ones in the whole dusty county with a stream behind our house. We’d bounce around with the rest of the neighborhood for limitless hours, until our skin was sticky with Southern humidity and matte with grit, until your curls were springing out of your braids, but when we retreated into the woods, no one followed. It was our own little haven from the searing sun, where the sky was dappled and the striped stones were immeasurably valuable, where the cypress roots were fairy houses, and the water was magic on sunburned shoulders. 

In my mind, the brook is a blur of precious metals. Skin summer-bronzed as we tumbled along the striated shore, minnows flickering silver beneath the surface. Platinum glances of light over rose-gold waters, iron and silt and smooth river stones. Trotting among the weeds, I watched you scramble for balance, stumble, draw back with a cry. Your blood bloomed into the water, and for a long moment, we stared at that spot of ruby pollution, transfixed. Cut myself, you laughed when it had been whisked away toward the ocean. Don’t tell Mama. Soon enough, the incident had disappeared into the treasure trove of perfect mid-July afternoons.

Remember that night when we slipped out of beds, tiptoed past wavering moonlight and broken-glass shouts? Body lanky and in-between, mountain range of white knuckles clenched over yours, I crept after you into the back yard, past the tree line. The brook watched us patiently while we huddled by its banks and drew mindless spirals in the silty mud. Its rushing filled my ears until the voices went silent, a hushed accompaniment to your breathy singing, and when we chanced the house again, it was still a murmuring backdrop for my thoughts. Always. 

You won’t remember me tripping through the underbrush, pressing my bag to the ground and my back to the ridged bark of an oak, because you were elsewhere. One last visit during middle school and you had vacated my side—sisters weren’t cool anymore when you had a glossy group of friends, a bright new strip mall and omnipresent phone instead of tree limbs and moss-fuzzy boulders. Chest hiccupping, hands in trembling fists, I watched a plastic bag float by, a crinkling ghost tumbling dangerously toward the water, and I couldn’t bring myself to catch it, to drop it in the little pile of litter already retrieved from our sacred place. No longer ours. Barely, anymore, sacred. 

I never told you how high school really was. Gone by the second year, you didn’t witness the crashed car and self-pierced ears, the blaring guitar chords that never really disguised the shouting downstairs. Your texts were sporadic, and so were my visits to the creek. Those years were constructed of bloody knuckles and smoke, of chip bags tangled in the weeds on the banks and plastic straws scattered among the no-longer-precious river stones. The stream’s rushing soundtrack was methodically replaced by screeching guitar, the rasp of faulty engines, my own jagged breath. 

Yesterday Mama called, asked for help loading belongings into humidity-limp cardboard boxes to be carted to the new house across town, and today I am back at the brook. Would you believe me if I told you the broken state of our fairytale kingdom? The water is slicked iridescent with oil, clouded with stagnant algae. Foil wrappers dance in the wind where we used to, beer cans crumpled among the knobs of cypress roots—the fairies evicted, I’m sure. I stand with my feet among the knotted weeds, the grimy plastic, and try to picture the trove of those early summers, minnow catching and scalps burning with sun, slip-slide of small feet over rocks. 

Do you still have that little crescent scar on your ankle? A physical mark left by the stream on your skin where its impact on me is only in those hazy memories. I sink down onto the uneven shore and trace a spiral into the mud—a tribute to you, to golden summers and times of old. 

  To our poor, poisoned brook. 

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