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Jimmy Carter boycotted the Moscow Olympics that year, and John Lennon was writing again. Voyager discovered Saturn’s moon Calypso, while Kim Kardashian’s mom missed her period. It was a May Sunday morning when, after months of trembling, Mount St. Helens finally let go. She blasted a pumice-filled cloud sideways, not from her mountain peak, a massive explosion traveling wider and farther than anyone could ever have known.
Nearly sixty people died that day, but two blessed campers woke up in Green River with fallen trees protecting them just right. Harry Truman’s Spirit Lake vanished into smoke and fire. The Toutle, and even the domesticated Cowlitz, spread across gardens and porches, stealing washing machines from swimming houses.
Past Castle Rock, a young woman stood in her flooded pasture, balancing bare feet on her horse’s saddle. She called out to her stunned cattle, feeling the panic stampede quickening in their breath. Tilting her head forward, she closed her eyes. Her feet slipped sideways into the air, her palms slapped the saddle swell, before she settled her backside into the seat.
With lips pressed so tight her teeth must’ve hurt later, she rode through rising water. As her wide hips rocked faster, her disoriented herd kept pushing toward the muddy waves. The horse nearly bucked the cowgirl loose, but she tightened her legs against his sides. She whispered, stroked the horse’s mane. Finally, she tapped his haunches lightly with the whip.
Abruptly, she sat in the middle of the cattle as their bodies pressed into one speckled river creature. She watched spring water climb toward their underbellies. The cowgirl’s smooth, calm bridle tugs directed her horse to the edge of the herd. She zig-zagged side to side, pressing the cattle backward.
Upstream, floodwater arms snatched refrigerators, beer coolers, a broken Jesus riding his crucifix. A floating glass window pulsed rainbows past the cowgirl like jumping fish.
Listening to the cowgirl’s steady commands — her jaw softer, her grip on the reins less fierce — the cattle finally turned. They released their bellies into the water, swimming back toward blast-bent trees.
A Catholic nun, whose church now rested across the river — and a few farmers here to help — they cheered. They raised their arms. They twirled in the ash-filled air. At the water’s edge, mud-streaked cattle stood up in drowning red clover. One old cow clambered up the broken steps of a flood-stolen porch and lay down, until startled by a volcano tourist’s cackling laughter.
Loretta Marie Long
My short stories and poetry have been published in Pemmican, The Salal Review, Triggerfish Critical Review, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, and The Rising Phoenix Review. I’ve worked as a carpenter’s apprentice (on Mt. St Helens’ bridge number 11), a greenhouse assistant, massage therapist, and waitress. Now I teach in The Writing Program at University of Texas at San Antonio. In 2010, I earned an MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.