The River of Sins: Saving Grace
by Lisa Wright
“It’s too hot. I’m dyin’ from this heat,” complained Grace, waving her Bible in front of her heat-reddened face like a fan. “Why don’t we go down to the river to get cool?”
“We can’t. My mama told me that the summer season we shouldn’t go down there. The city people are comin’ down to our river to wash away their sins,” said Aster. “We wouldn’t want to catch their sins, would we? And stop waving The Good Book around like a rag doll, why don’t ya? You ain’t got no respect for the Lord!”
Although she was beautiful, just like the flower her mother named her after, Aster was extremely naïve. She usually had the welfare of others in her mind, and wanted to make sure to guide herself and Grace with good moral standing. She both loved and feared the Lord. She paid the most attention to her parents and the preacher, where Grace liked to believe in the general goodness of people and was usually a pushover when it came to making friends.
The two girls, both in their mid-teens, were raised in a small town in Louisiana. Aster was a slightly curvy young girl with hips that looked as though they’d already borne children, her auburn hair lightened to an almost strawberry blonde in the summer sun. Her skin darkened with freckles as her hair lightened, making her look like two different people from winter to summer. Grace, on the other hand, was tiny, almost frail-looking. Her dark brown hair was thick and curly, and her skin was so white that she emulated a porcelain doll. They were both very beautiful and neither of them was aware of their good fortune. They lived in the bayou, went to school together at their church, and were waiting to find their perfect husbands to whisk them away and make them wives and mothers. All they knew were the words of their parents and the words of their preacher.
“This is true,” agreed Grace. “Reverend Thomson said that we need to stay away from the temptation of the devil. He’s always tryin’ to trick us, ain’t he?”
“What’s all this talk ’bout the devil?” came a raspy voice from behind the weeping willow trees. It was Delilah, the only daughter of the local grocer. Aster and Grace tried not to run with her too much, for her and her father quit attending church when her mother passed away. Reverend Thomson prayed for them every night at their Saturday and Sunday services, and Aster’s mom warned her that Delilah was getting too close to the devil.
“Don’t you dummies know the devil ain’t real? At least that’s what my pa says. He says that there ain’t no God and there ain’t no devil, so there ain’t no shame in livin’ life.”
“Well my mama says that your pa ain’t in his right mind no more,” rebutted Aster. “She says we just got to pray for him for your sake, because you need to come back to church and get right with the Lord.”
“I’ll think about going to church if you come down to the river with me to swim,” taunted Delilah in a singsong voice.
Grace, usually never too quick to speak, chimed in this time. “Aster, we could just swim in it can’t we? If we don’t drink it we ain’t gonna catch the townsfolk’s sins!” The heat was really getting to her. Every bead of sweat seemed to get into her bright blue eyes, stinging them like acid.
Aster wasn’t sure about the idea of going to the river, fearful of what God would think if they took a dip in the river of sins…but Grace did have a good point. If they weren’t drinking the water they probably wouldn’t end up sinful.
“Alright, alright, fine then. But we ain’t gonna tell my mama that we went to the river,” said Aster.
Delilah let out a giddy laugh and told them to follow her. As usual, she sauntered with her hips from side to side, her red gingham shirt tied up around her tiny waist.
“She sure would benefit from havin’ her mama back, wouldn’t she?” whispered Aster to Grace. “She looks like one of them temptresses we hear about from the Reverend, don’t she?”
Grace giggled, but didn’t remark back. She was just happy to go to the river on this hot summer day, even if it meant that she was going to have Aster on her back about it for weeks.
When they reached the river, Delilah was the first to undress down to her underwear and jump in. “What you girls gonna do, just stand there lookin’ miserable? Come in the water, it feels nice!”
“I don’t quite think that God or the Reverend will think it’s a good idea to get down to our skivvies in the river of sins,” said Aster. “And my mama, well, she says I shouldn’t be down here anyway.”
“Oh quit your bellyachin’ and jump in, it’s too hot to be thinkin’ so much—how you expect a man to marry you with an attitude like that?” hollered Delilah.
Grace smiled, stripped down to her underwear and ran into the river, screaming. She felt liberated! “Oh sweet Lord, this is just what the doctor ordered! C’mon, Aster, the water’s fine!”
“I…I’m not quite sure that’s a good idea, Grace,” said Aster, hesitantly. She sure was tempted to jump into the water, but she was in a dither of catching the sins from the townspeople. In Aster’s mind, sinfulness was a disease.
“Why you so scared of the Reverend? He’s just a man!” said Delilah.
“Yes, but he’s a man that serves God,” explained Aster.
“God was just a man, too, you know,” Delilah snapped back. “God, I demand you to speak to us and to tell Aster we must not enter the river!” she yelled to the Heavens.
Panicked, fearful, Aster squawked at Delilah not to test God in that manner. She peered up to the sky waiting for fire to fall upon them, but nothing happened.
“Well? You comin’ in or not?” asked Delilah.
Very slowly and unsurely, Aster removed her clothing one piece at a time, looking up at the sky waiting for a sign from God that she shouldn’t go into the river. Finally, she had removed all but her undergarments and nothing happened. Aster let out a sigh of uneasiness, walked to the river, and put her big toe in. Stopping to look up at the sky again, she paused once more for a signal not to enter it.
“Oh, Aster, don’t be silly! Just c’mon in the water, it ain’t gonna bite!” shouted Grace. She was really warming up to the situation and to Delilah, enjoying the freedom of not being so God-fearing.
Aster finally jumped all the way in, letting go of her fear in an attempt to feel like she was free. The girls forgot for a moment about Aster’s mama’s words, about what the Reverend told them to avoid, and, just this once, they lived in the moment. They laughed and splashed until suddenly Aster felt a great amount of pressure pinning her down under the water. What was going on? She panicked. Is this God’s way of punishing me for entering the river? She couldn’t fathom the girls doing anything to her, but she was able to surface only to see Delilah laughing and jumping back on top of her. Aster was no match for Delilah, and Grace was too scared to jump in and stop it.
With one great big gulp, Aster accidently swallowed down the sins of the townspeople.
When Delilah let her up out of the water, Aster was panicked and angry. “What are you so higgledy-piggledy about, I was just messin’ around!” laughed Delilah. But Aster did not find it to be a laughing matter.
“I swallowed the water! I swallowed the water!!” she cried.
Grace started screaming for the Reverend, but she quickly realized that he wasn’t in the vicinity. When she finally looked up for an answer, it wasn’t the answer she expected to receive. Silently she walked out of the river onto the shore and, still going unnoticed, grabbed a large jagged river rock. She crept slowly back into the river, still unnoticed with all the commotion between Aster and Delilah, raised the rock up with both hands over Delilah’s head and, with all her might, struck her. At that moment Delilah went limp and fell into the river, floating to the top. The river turned red all around the girls. Aster looked at Grace in shock.
“Did you swallow the water, too?” questioned Aster. There was no other plausible reason for Grace’s actions in her mind.
“I…I…Oh Lord, what’d I do? What’d I do?!” Grace bellowed. “Of course…I swallowed the water and it was Satan hisself who told me to hit Delilah with the rock! You were right, Aster, this is the river of sins!”
Aster saw the devil in Grace. She believed that in order to cleanse herself of the sins that she had ingested from the river, she would have to save Grace from herself.
“Let’s get back home, we’ll tell mama and the Reverend what happen’ here and they’ll know just what to do,” suggested Aster to Grace. Grace nodded agreeably; completely unaware of what was just around the corner.
When they got to the shore, Grace bent down to grab her clothes. Aster quickly inspected the ground and saw the perfect rock, jagged, just like the one that aided in Delilah’s demise. She picked it up and quickly cracked Grace across the eyebrow, leaving a giant gash with blood drizzling from it. Grace swept her fingers across her forehead and upon seeing the blood coming from her own head, she fell faint into the river.
Aster felt as though she helped save both Delilah and Grace and, in the name of God, sacrificed herself to the river to remove the sins swirling around in it.
Lisa Wright, a Top 25 Finalist in the 2015 Ms Veteran America competition, is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran who served in the Army for six years. She is happily married to her best friend, Greg, and they have two little boys, Cash and Jaxson. Lisa enjoys writing non-fiction essays, poetry, and dystopian shorts.