Featured in Colorado Review
Silent ImpactsFeatured, Nonfiction
Published Spring 2017
Two midwestern villages—I’ll call them Arno and Morgan—face off against each other across the banks of the Bainbrydge River. Their feud is old and largely undefined, like the one that exists between my uncle Harry and cousin Al or the one in my nine-year marriage. The air between the two villages is clear and cloudless, but the water at their feet is tainted from years of industrial contamination and good old-fashioned septic waste. I stand on the riverbank and try very hard not to think about sewage. I am there to clean up the groundwater.
I’ve studied the groundwater contamination in Arno for over seven years as an environmental consultant, and it’s finally time to start remediation. My job this particular day is to set temporary water-level gauges in the Bainbrydge River. The September 11 attacks happened just a few weeks before, and I am keenly aware that I look suspicious—a woman wearing a Tyvek moonsuit and waders, juggling a stack of steel posts, fuchsia survey tape, and a rubber mallet. Pickup truck drivers give me you’re-not-from-around-here looks; so do occasional leisure boaters, who I hope to Jesus are not eating any fish from this river. The Bainbrydge River is sluggish, a sulfury, over-hard-boiled-egg green. My steel gauges suck right down into its bottom.
I’m staying alone in Morgan in an unmanned bed-and-breakfast. The house was built by Robert Morgan, founder of Morgan Village and a general in the War of 1812. It is haunted. I’ve stayed here before with other engineers, but this trip I’m working with a construction crew that prefers the cheaper accommodations of Hunters’ Lodge. There is bloodstained dirt in front of Hunters’ Lodge. I prefer the solitude of the haunted Morgan B&B. I am away from Denver, from my home and my husband, for three months. I have three months to think.
A skinny man leans out the window of a primer-coated Chevy. “When are you gonna be done here?”
Consultant Tip: There is typically no reason to answer any question in a direct manner.
“We’ll be a while.”
He points to the front office of my client’s building, a window factory that has operated in Arno since 1899 but is in the process of shutting down. “Are they ever gonna open again?” His brown eyes wet as he turns away from me. We both look toward the beep sounds of a backhoe in front of the factory. My crew is ripping up the concrete foundation where inground wood-preservative tanks once sat.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” I say, although I know that we both know I’m lying.
Michele Finn Johnson's work has appeared in Mid-American Review, Puerto del Sol, Necessary Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment, and elsewhere. Her work previously won an AWP Intro Journals Project award. Michele lives in Tucson with her husband, Karl, and is working on a creative nonfiction collection. www.michelefinnjohnson.com