Elizabeth Enochs

Water Baptism

Boy in a Boat, Fishing by Theodore Robinson

A child stands amid the lazy tentacles of a willow tree as a river rushes swift and strong. There’s a rope swing he desperately wishes to try, but he must wait.

As he watches, he doesn’t understand. He is fascinated and frightened. The river is known for its root wads and alligator gars, but no one seems concerned. He sees the uniform, billowing white; he hears the soulful, chanting harmonies of his mother’s friends and dares to hope he’s dreaming. As his mother is submerged in the water—one delicate hand gripping the hefty, smiling preacher while her other hand holds her nose—he dreads his own turn.

He knows there will be a picnic afterward and that is what he thinks of now. He wants pie and potato salad. He wants iced tea. He wants to run. He wants the other kids to explore the woods and balance on train tracks with him.

He looks around and sees the line diminishing. The women fan themselves with folded up church bulletins and paper plates. The singing hasn’t stopped, the preacher is still smiling. The child feels thirst scratching his throat, feels the rough willow’s bark beneath the pink flesh of his fingertips, and clenches his jaw.

He sits down on a rickety dock, its graying boards cracked and swollen from years of sweltering heat and bitter winters. He takes off stiff, ivory dress shoes and gently rests the soles of his feet on the water’s surface. His freckled nose crinkles at the icy caress until he slowly relaxes, allowing his feet to dangle, immersed. He stares at the river’s surface and sees his own face, sees clear sky dotted with mashed potato clouds. He imagines falling into his reflection, into the open sky, into another world. He sees the ripples of scooting water bugs, hears the splash of a bluegill.

His mother finds him hiding and gently takes his hand. He’s next in line. He watches the woman before him, smiling through the cloudy filter of river stream. Her white cotton dress quivers in the murky water, her eyes are shut tight, she reminds him of a ghost.

He ventures into the water slowly, already holding his breath. He feels the squelch of bank mud between his toes, watches the dislodged bits of riverbed thickening the water, and his heart lifts. It’s almost over.


About the writer:
Liz Enochs is a writer and journalist from a small town in Missouri that you’ve probably never heard of. Her work has been published by Narratively, Bustle, USA Today, and many others. More often than not, you’ll find her in the woods.

Image: Boy in a Boat, Fishing by Theodore Robinson (1852-1896). Oil on panel. 9.9 x 13.6 inches. 1880. Public domain.