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Excerpt from Lives Less Valuable

It Begins With Water (p. 6)

From chapter "Part One"

Perhaps the story begins, as so many stories do, with water. Perhaps it begins with a stream, and perhaps it begins with a little girl spending summer days as long as lifetimes playing near this stream, getting wet, getting muddy, and when she gets tired, sitting on the banks to listen in on conversations between trees and frogs, grasses and water. Always water. Perhaps it begins with evenings overflowing with the sounds of crickets and early mornings heavy with fog. Perhaps it begins with this little girl watching water condense in tiny drops on leaves, then watching these drops join others to drip off the ends and into the stream.


Or perhaps it begins much later, still with water. Perhaps it begins with a river.

The river was not always this way. Once the river was full of fish: shad, river herring, sea lamprey, sturgeon, eel, trout, striped bass, salmon. The Atlantic salmon, long as an arm, swam seemingly with one goal in mind, to come home, where they would spawn. The fish—so many they kept you awake at night with the flapping of their tails against the water, so many that people were afraid to launch their boats for fear the fish would capsize them by their numbers alone—hurled themselves up waterfalls, and failing to make the top, hurled themselves again and again until through force of will they made it, battered, bleeding, exhausted, home. Now the salmon are gone. So are the bass, the eel, the sturgeon, the lamprey, the river herring, the shad. A few trout hang on, but not so well.

Once, you could drink the water. Once, there were no signs posted telling people not to eat the fish, no signs telling them not to swim in the river. That, too, has changed.

Perhaps this story starts with Malia sitting by this river. She comes to this spot often, because just right now, just right here, in the early evening sun, feeling against her skin the warmth the stones have stored through the afternoon, she can almost forget. Here she can pretend there is no city, no poison, no cancer, no dying children. Here she can pretend the fish still swim, only deep, where she can’t see them.