All Stories, General Fiction, Short Fiction

The Saugus at Odd Hours, Odd Times by Tom Sheehan      


The river here heaves up on the bank like an old man getting into bed.

Birds cry downstream. A gull perfects a theft, executes drastic turn in air that could break bones. I do my duty walks  like perimeter guard, shoulder walking cudgel the way I carried my carbine back there at 23, know the pound of it to an ounce; knowledge of the scabbard hangs on.

I’d rather the river and the tired water’s run as 86 years weigh a heavy canteen. Nothing is like a river’s to and fro against this sea, tide-wash, catch of kelp, air sting full of briny sea’s salad smells, perpetual anger, always earth-dig, sand-flush and rock-wear, drag on the moon, where a ship’s ghost and canvas call.


The river’s never lonely: dancing grass by bank and levee keeps nests of redwing blackbirds hidden away like keys in a pocketbook, has scum of illegal drain, used rubbers, cat-o-nines high and proud as Fourth of July rockets ready for the final match to strike, rats waiting for ultimate revolution, artifacts of time like Ford fenders, Chevy’s 4  wheels, down behind the minister’s house where the slope is steep and you don’t have to work hard to belabor a river that’s been harder at living for longer than us.


I measure all the contributors the Saugus has from here to the sea; computer cops say garbage in garbage out: and I think the birds die, a river dies, bank grass gets burned without flame ever on the make,

silt is sludge of tune-up residue, dance of dark foam makes images needing little imagination. The mill turns its back when the chemicals burn even the spigot, coarse landfill the contractor brazened out is sour where fish hesitate to cast their lot, old service station leaks into the underground where roots linger and grease takes its time. Neighbor gives his gifts in direct pipe drop, turns his back like the mill does, pretends he doesn’t hurt the Saugus.


My Saugus hurts. Dashed blue trout have gone, birds move away from oily contributions, people pass by and don’t know the river’s terror and that hurts more than all.


Some nights, grant me my mystic choice when wind’s blowing out to sea and I am on my perimeter walk at river bank, there’s no other joy. Upriver comes down, pasture and  field fall on me, woodlands walk, new cut hay hurries itself, a new salad of smell. Porcupine and rabbit and deer and such merry folk of talk and tale crown the river air, give hope, ride over me, say river does not die.


Everything smells here. Going away. Losing. Six o’clock Fridays. Monday’s departure for work.Wood choppers. Police escort and ambulances. Town Hall offices. Riverside Cemetery in May like popcorn. Not having enough cash at the hurried checkout counter (and hardly enough food). Deep breath anywhere on the Turnpike. Park Press once halfway burned down. The men’s room once in McCarrier’s, now Phil’s place. Tumble Inn Diner at 6 on Monday mornings. MBTA buses. People who don’t believe me. Viet Nam veterans because of their eyes. The town when Odd Fellows Hall burned right up the bricks. VFW carnivals that lit up nights. Little  League and Pop Warner refreshment stands. Saugus High’s locker room for 1000 years. Back rooms and back stairs at nursing homes.

But most of all the river smells.


We speak of alternatives. I know of none for river place. Have seen upriver dredging fall away to politics and budget stress. But deep in  the bottom of my tackle box, wearing hook, worm and salmon’s egg,

lies a picture of the 17-incher from years ago. Now I wait for crystal dreams, the flow of white waters, Earth being lapped clean the whole sing-song length of banks, flashing beneath arching alders as boulders ease in their washing, as bones of the old river pop up like trail skulls, and trout find their memories ripe, turbulent and explosive through all the river’s curves.


Tom Sheehan

Nlynch [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

7 thoughts on “The Saugus at Odd Hours, Odd Times by Tom Sheehan      ”

  1. Wow, very poetic and lyrical, I could smell that river. 86 years is a long time, and all the changes seen and noticed there, all the memories. Glad the redwing blackbirds are still on the scene, and we keep using our rivers for drains, hardy birds blackbirds and seagulls. The river where I grew up has also changed mightily…. the salmon are basically gone and the river’s drained for irrigation, sagebrush grows on the southern slopes of the hills where it didn’t before when there were cottonwoods in the valley to block the wind and keep in the moisture…. wow….. the Saugus has inspired me into my own nostalgia. Good stuff.


  2. Hi Tom,
    I think all the comments cover what I would say.
    In so much of your writing, we can feel your love of a subject.


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