Abigail J. Allen

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The Woman at the Well

The week after, I hiked along a river and sat in front of a waterfall while strangers ate lunch. They each packed sandwiches (not in aluminum foil –but I imagined they did and then made them into alien creatures to float down.) It felt like we were worshiping. I half-expected Jesus to resurrect in the water. To climb, baptizing, from the churlish water-ruck.

The waterfall sloped down a helix of rocks, foaming out in velvety eddies that disappeared in hidden crevices just to appear in the warm green water a hundred yards later. It was odd, it seemed terminal. I liked to watch the ferns inside the clefts of rock; they beat unrhythmically with the water. Staring at the pounding drips, the all-consuming nature of water, I wanted to be a sponge to drink it all in and then vanish with it. What is it about human nature that makes us so hungry? I am always infinitely hungry. The moss-covered inches of the place sweetened the air like a jungle. I think it’d all be more beautiful in a storm. I think I’d come again when the skies are torn open and the earth is drenched, to stand and stare at the water and the darkening rock. Waterfalls are such an invitation.

I was sweating, and I wished I could peel away my skin with my clothes. I think I was wearing a new shirt; it would have a ring of sweat around the edge when I changed later, but I sweat at work so much that I don’t really care anymore. (Have I mentioned I’m blonde now? I’ve never thought of myself as a blonde. I feel like the shower-Psycho-lady. There’s a ring around my head where the bleach didn’t catch. I hope strangers think the halo is intentional.) I wanted to hold open my shirt, unzip my skin and let the water drown me unconscious. Maybe it’s just me that wants to be consumed. Maybe? I don’t think we’re altogether that unique, not really.

But the thing better than the waterfall—the family of four with the black lab puppy. The little girl with curly shoots of hair and head-to-fro pink. Who had smiled at me and said hello, who got her feet wet, who grinned at me in her daddy’s arms. She’s got a shimmer in her. I wanted her to comprehend it, but I didn’t know her and she wouldn’t understand it. Don’t lose your shimmer, girl! Don’t stop saying hello. Let the ends of your curls turn wet with waterfalls, always. You are more than your biology—you are a floodgate of life. She started putting the rocks in a row; she lines them up because she knows she can build with her hands. I prayed for her on the way home.

Others were arriving to the baptism. Couples, friend-pairs, dogs and little families. (When they smile at me, do you think they know that I look at scissors and guardrails differently sometimes? Do you think they know what I thought about that Sunday?) A man seemed too old to be a boyfriend to the woman, but maybe she’s got wrinkles beneath her sunglasses. Maybe they’re just in love. I watched the middle-school boy climb down the rocks precariously. I was seven feet from him, perched in a cleft of rock; if I leapt down I could catch him if he slipped. I felt my heart pounding; I didn’t even know the kid but he had to make it down safely. His mom was there. His dad was smiling. The boy put his feet to the slick moss and I leaned forward, praying, praying. He finally decided to sit down and scoot himself off and I only leaned back an inch.

Nature isn’t vain like us. We have to be seen to feel beautiful, but nature just is. She is, and she already knows. At the top the waterfall dripping like diamonds, like endless silver strands, hair-thin, dewy with sun. She’s an empress.

I hate the word depression–I prefer the word devoured. I want it gone but I don’t think he’s going to take it from me. He uses the darkness for his own purpose now—he keeps the space sacred for himself. We talk about it all, we weep together. In the times I cannot handle the pain he brings me comfort in small, bittersweet ways: peaches, new books, delicate silence, a scissoring of Psalms. Poetry. God-comfort is the hardest comfort because it isn’t superficial, and I always crave the counterfeit. I want false comfort; I want the comfort of myself. He just gives me food and himself. Make a cup of tea. Go for a walk. Drink water. It’s not until everything else dies in the dark that I can see him like this, and I realize my soul is only soul with him.

I am so much like the woman at the well in the Gospel of John; so much that when I stand before a waterfall, I crave it, I crave the dead-leap, the flesh-plunge. I want my God in gallons and he gives himself in cups to me. (Though perhaps I am wrong about this—yes, I know I am wrong. A cup of him is a cup of the universe.)

But God is God of things. He’s God of stuff: He is the God of Winter. He is the God of Water. He has command over my body, he has the clay in his fist. He takes it up to mold—and he first adds water. Enough to make the clay soft and workable again. I yearn for so much. I fall into darkness to find it, and sometimes I just fall. But he has this way with him? This way of bringing me into a disastrous joy? A joy that does not end pain but dives into it, soaking, and whispers even beneath the waves, “I am still always more.”

I stood on the rock and inched over the wet beam. The boy in the orange shorts was braving the onslaught of water and screaming about seeing a rainbow. I looked down into the echoes of pour, into the swarming drink-beds. In the greenlight of New York summer sweat, down deep into the inching waterfall-tide, I saw the glimmer of the sun punch up from the spray and foam and water-flecks in colored sweeps. I thought only of God, I thought only of God.

Abigail J. Allen is a writer and poet from Upstate New York. She has had both poetry and prose published over the years in a number of magazines, including Inklings, Straylight Literary, etc. In 2020 she was awarded with the Individual Artist Fellowship in Poetry from the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance. Abigail is a deep lover of fairy tales, asking questions, and finding cool bugs.

Photo by JACK REDGATE on Pexels.com

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