A story I wrote for this week’s 2-Minutes-Go was partially inspired by actual events. Four years ago, Hurricane Irene wiped out many of the Hudson Valley’s pumpkin patches, among other devastation. Pumpkins float, in case you weren’t aware, and when the flood waters rose in New Paltz, the crop at Wallkill View Farms was washed into the neighboring river, disappointing children and amusing reporters for miles around. On a recent drive, seeing all the jack o’ lanterns on the front stoops, I was reminded of the news footage of the renegade pumpkin flotilla.
The wind picked up. Eyeing his quarry as he wobbled on the east bank of the Wallkill, Pete threw out his arms and prayed for balance, his slick dress shoes doing a piss-poor job against the wet grass and the mossy rocks. This was supposed to be a quick trip. A fast dash up the Thruway, pick out a pumpkin at the big farm market, return home triumphant. A hero to his little girl, not so little anymore. But the old farmer had just lifted his raggedy eyebrows and laughed at him. “There go your pumpkins,” he said, waving a hand toward the swollen river. “Guess you don’t read the papers much, huh.”
And indeed, there went the pumpkins. A recent flood had turned the Springtown flats into a lake and, lighter than they looked, the gourds had left the building, so to speak, turning the Wallkill into a giant bob-for-produce tub.
This was ridiculous, Pete knew as he stood on the bank, the old farmer’s bark of a laugh piercing his memory, that this rash action would not make her forgive him. Would not erase the narrowed eyes, the huff, the slamming of the door. He’d tried so hard to get to the school in time to see her solo last night, but it was like the world had conspired against him. Meeting running late. Then traffic. And the goddamned rain. Now, silence from his only daughter. Before the divorce, they’d take their yearly pilgrimage to the valley, to the farm market, and she’d delight in picking out her own jack o’ lantern pumpkin. But this year, she couldn’t be bothered. His fault? Her mother’s? The adolescent need to distance herself from her parents? He didn’t know. Maybe all three.
He focused on one of the orange globes, bobbing in what looked like approachable distance. It wasn’t too bad, didn’t look like it had been damaged in its slalom along the rocks. He inched down the slope, knees shaking, his hand going for the security of a fairly strong-looking sapling.
“Come here, baby,” he crooned, stretching as far as he could. His fingertips were nearly brushing it when his feet began to move. As if they were fresh-waxed skis on the diamond slope. He knew he was done. That he was powerless to stop. He knew in that way that lengthened time, that had him windmilling his arms in an ineffectual, cartoonish attempt to change…nothing.
And then all he felt was cold. Cold water, seizing his lungs, pressing against his flailing arms, until his hands hit…something smooth. Something round. Something solid. He hugged the object as if it were his retreating daughter, as if it were the only thing standing between him and that slamming door. When they finally dredged him out, shivering with hypothermia, minus one shoe and laughing maniacally, he was still clinging to the pumpkin.