Rivers (extract)

Every rivulet, each roll, each gulp of the water breathes and whispers to me, “Come, come. This is where you belong”. Each rock I pick and place in my pocket is perfect. Smooth, weighty, solid; nothing akin to this muddle of life, this ethereal uphill scramble.

Each one I choose carefully; this one reddish brown, a woman’s pain, in body and mind, relentless for all of these adult years, a monthly cycle of despair and uncontrollable desire for self-destruction.

I pick another rock for my never-born. The world sees as a lack, a failure. I do not, only as a punishment for the wrongs I have made. A punishment from whom, I know not, but somehow a balance restored, a debt repaid. I weigh it, two hands, it is heavy enough.

This one, this one holds the heartaches of 30-odd years, the lovers whose silences slowly turned my heart back-and-blue, the ones whom I could not hold, too free and happy for one so wrought with doubts and fear and monthly despair. And all for nothing. All for one tiny, delicate being who was not allowed to be at all. An inordinate amount of pain caused by a tiny glimpse of a life never-lived. The what-might-have-beens.

This stone, jagged and coloured with glinting granite, this holds the long nights, following evenings of desire and sultry smiles, of surreptitious winks caught in a flash, then later, dancing thigh to thigh, being swept through the night by lovers bold and strong, and me just about holding, holding on.

This smooth, round pebble, the warm touch of his fingertips across my face, my eyes closed, trusting, as he gently traced the shape of my eyelids, my mouth. The gentle first kiss beneath a secluded summer tree, dappled sunlight playing on our freckled, glowing faces. Each moment that shone like the sequined tails of a mermaid. I hear their song. I could always hear their song. Calling, calling,” Death is quiet, death is peace, the depths are pure and clear and simple. Meet us in the water, this is where you belong.”

This one for all the souls damaged or lost to war, to man’s never-to-be-satiated greed for more land, more money, more power. At the cost of the lives of the innocent. What a harsh world I will leave behind.

I stuff all of it and more into my pockets and try to stand, stumbling on the rocks underfoot and coming down hard on both knees on my first attempt. Once I get into the fast-flowing, deeper water, my solid companions should be enough to take me down. I start to sob as I think of those few friends and family who will be caused pain by my actions, but I am no use to them, or anyone now. I am broken down.

And then, as I am wiping the tears from my eyes, I catch a distant voice, caught on the wind. I think it’s a person, or I may be hearing things, the state I am in.

“Que sera sera, whatever will…” be will be. And this has to be, so I try to get up and into the water. But the voice comes again. This time closer.

“Hello darling, is that you Jessica?” It’s an elderly voice, unsure, female. And dry, cracked. I turn to meet my singing interloper. She is definitely elderly and probably cracked, judging by the fact that she is wearing only a thin white old-fashioned nightdress and not a sock nor a shoe or a coat on her. And it is true winter; all sparkling frost and icy stinging-cold-blue nights after sundown. And sundown is fast-approaching.  

I sigh, a long sigh into the ground.

Then, all action, I turn out my pockets as fast as I can and crash my way over the rocks to her.

“No, no, I’m not Jessica, I’m Anna. And you must be frozen!” I try to make my voice sound light and normal, as if this is an exchange between two perfectly normal women, doing perfectly-normal things.

As I get closer I can see her feet are bleeding. “Oh Anna, how lovely. Are you new here?”

“Yes, yes, I am new,” I say, placing my long, woollen winter coat around her shoulders. “What’s your name?”

“Oh me? I’m just Hetty. Some used to call me Henrietta, but it sounds too much like Vienetta.” I can’t help but laugh, and so does Hetty. “Thank you, thank you for the coat,” she says, “But I wouldn’t like you to get cold now, dear.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I say as I bend down to take off my socks and put them on her feet.