October 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
A moment in time. A mother relives the last day she spends with her young son…
It had been a year since James had woken her with a question. ‘Mummy. Where does the rain go when it stops being rain?’
‘To the sea,’ she replied sleepily, moving over and lifting the bedcover for him.
‘And how does it get there?’
‘I’ll show you.’ She folded him close.
‘When it isn’t dark. Tomorrow. Now go back to sleep.’
‘The river’s different today.’ She spoke the words carefully as if they might break.
‘How?’ Robert probed gently.
She gave no sign she had heard him, but began to scratch the dull orange lichen lacing the parapet of the millpond bridge. Her fingers bled into the crumbling brick.
‘That must hurt,’ he said.
‘What?’ she answered distractedly. ‘What must?’
She didn’t answer but suddenly leaned too far over the parapet. Robert jerked as if stung, his hand flying to the small of her back. ‘Look,’ she pointed. ‘The trout are back.’ An arc of sunlight streaked through the crack willow leaning away from the bank as if it must surely fall, and the bright patch of water glittered as the river trout flickered silver in the light.
Robert held her tight. ‘They like the warmth,’ he said.
‘No, no,’ she insisted. ‘They’re playing.’
He breathed in deeply. ‘So how is the river different?’
‘That day it was screaming,’ she said. ‘Today it whispers.’
Robert had become her bridge to before. Every week he sat stiffly on the hard cane chair in her white hospital room and read her poetry; and then, as the pills began to shield her from the past, he took her walking amongst the trees. Today, she had asked to be taken out. ‘To the river,’ she breathed.
‘Shall we walk now?’ Robert slid his arm around her shoulders and eased her away from the bridge.
‘No.’ The skin around her eyes wrinkled into a smile. ‘It’s quite safe. I won’t do anything silly.’
She took a small square of white paper from her pocket and began to fold. Creasing and tucking – the blood from her fingers staining the paper – she folded again and again. She blew sharply on a seam and flattened the shape with two fingers. ‘Look,’ she smiled, holding the boat in her palm. ‘That’s what we were doing.’ She blew again and the boat fluttered from her hand and rocked through the air into the water. It landed on its side and drifted beneath the willow.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Now I remember. The river was full after the rains. It screamed at us to stay away. It spat at us as it spewed itself out from under the bridge. We stood there.’ She nodded towards the crack willow bent over the water. ‘We took no notice.’
‘You were on the bank to float paper boats?’
‘I was showing him what happened to the rain on its way to the sea. James thought the river was angry. He wanted to placate it by giving it our boats as a gift. He didn’t hear my warning. He slipped, and the current…’
The boat hit the bank and quivered. Again and again the ripples pushed it into the bank. ‘It will surely sink,’ sighed Robert.
‘Wait,’ she urged, tears trickling down her cheeks. The breeze suddenly changed direction, lifted the boat upright and it floated downriver.
‘I am finished here,’ she said, taking his arm. ‘We can go home.’