Obey your father when he warns you to steer clear of the river. Especially when the water’s the color of tea leaves steeped overnight. Let the tannin alert you. Think runoff and rainfall, increased flow and volume. Think lungs filling with water.
Disobey your father and suffer worse than his strap. Be careful. Stay in the shallow edge where the flow is gentle, the energy weak. Hold your dress up with one hand, not two. Use the other for balance. If you slip on a rock and fall in, swim crosscurrent. Tilt back your head and breathe. Don’t panic.
If you’re still afloat when you reach the brackish water by the river mouth, watch out. Where there’s salt, there are tides. Where there are tides, there’s the ebb current on a mission to drain the river, you with it. The ocean and wind currents take over from there. Brace for the cold while it lasts. Fall asleep in minutes. Pray you’ll wash up on shore at the next high tide.
Expect mourners to tut and shake their heads. Don’t listen when they complain about disobedient children. Take comfort when your father says you were his favourite. Know that your mother’s burden will ease with time. Accept that your older sister didn’t save you. Blame invisible forces like gravity and currents. Curse them, then rest in peace.
Elizabeth is the author of the novel An Imperfect Librarian (Breakwater Books). Her short fiction has appeared in various journals and magazines including Quibble.Lit, the Compass Rose Literary Journal, Free Flash Fiction, Monday Microfiction, Nixes Mate Review, MoonPark Review (forthcoming) and others. A retired academic originally from Newfoundland, Elizabeth now reads and writes in Nova Scotia, Canada.
photo by Thomas Somme (via unsplash)