Close Call { Excerpt }

In the shower she takes a swig of beer, sets the bottle on the edge of the tub, and begins prying leeches, flat and large as house keys, from her cold toes, the top of her foot, her ankle. She places three in a line next to the bottle, where they lie motionless, though alive. Thinned blood threads over her feet. When she and Neil moved to the country four years ago, miles downriver from his family’s farm, he taught her to peel off leeches rather than douse them with salt, which he said might make them vomit and spread disease.

An hour ago, when she capsized, she didn’t feel the leeches take hold. She was alone. It was dusk. She looked up to greet a pair of bats when the kayak teetered, hit a tree recently fallen from the riverbank, and flipped. After a long moment, she surfaced. Sputtering, dog paddling, adrenaline-jarred, skin-tightened, throat splicing eddies, heels churning mud. She held the kayak and wrestled to free it from the current and the willow it was pinned against. She imagined herself the puny accident bystander who suddenly has the strength to pull a giant, unconscious passenger from the wreckage. Even so, she worked half an hour to bring the kayak ashore, roll and empty it. Near dark, she returned for the paddle. More splashing, spitting, gulping, sinking in mud. More leeches latching on.