The River

by Yvette Naden

I thought she was a scarecrow, or possibly an olive tree. Silhouetted against the darkness, part of me thought I’d imagined her. That certainly would have made things easier.

I’d ran out of milk – two cartons, all gone. I was sure Daniel’s midnight cereal banquets were to blame. At least he hadn’t been drinking today. But I was drinking now. Drinking the darkness and the acid rain, trying to walk home through the trenches of mud which formed the path back up to the farm.

My coat threatened to tear itself from my skin, the plastic bag battering me, suddenly too heavy. Arms sagging, I paused, leaning on the stone bridge.

I should have kept walking.

She was standing in the middle of the river, the woman in rags. A wide sunhat obscured her face. How it held itself to her skull, I had no idea. The wind ravaged us, the water hugging her shins. But the woman did not move.

You there, you alright? The woman looked up, and I could finally see her face – a mass of pock-marked skin and eyes of ivory.

Yes, thank you. A real downpour isn’t it? She laughed to herself. And I’ve left the washing out on the line. What a numpty you must think me? The water rose to her thighs. Her jeans, which I imagined had once been blue, were jet black. Her arms hung by her sides.

She wore the riverweed like bracelets.

You must be cold. Here. I stepped closer to the bridge. Setting down the bag, I climbed over the stone wall, dropping to the ledge on the other side. Holding out my hand, I leaned as far as I dared out into the river. The woman didn’t blink. She smiled jovially, as if sharing a joke with God.

Grab my hand, I told her. The river wheezed and groaned. Please, take my hand. I live just up the road, it’s not far.

Oh, Home Farm. I know Home Farm. The woman pursued her lips. I don’t like what you’ve done with the garden.

That was my husband, Daniel. I lowered my head. I didn’t want to talk about Daniel.

I can see his marks on you, said the woman in the river. The water had risen to her blouse. She looked down and swore.

Dearie me. I just had this dry-cleaned.

Please, please. Just take my hand. I reach out, arms straining, knees threatening to buckle. When she looked away, I sagged and was about to climb back over the wall and phone the police, or the Fire Department, or whoever you were supposed to call for something like this, when I heard her squelching footsteps. I turned around to see her wading through the river, wading towards me, hand outstretched.

Are you happy? she said.

She took my hand, and I let her pull me under.

* * *

Yvette Naden was born in Mayenne, France, in 2002 but moved to the UK in 2006. She now lives in York where she works as an English Tutor and writes everything from poetry to political essays.

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