We are excited to bring you the 3rd place winner of the Becoming Writer Anniversary Contest.
For a long time she sat on the river bank and waited.
A pale-grey moon crept up, growing full against the dark sky. Willow trees stood silhouetted on the far bank of the river with their arms stretched out toward her, pleading like strung-out junkies. She began to shiver; she was only wearing a thin, cotton nightgown but she was barely conscious of the cold. Her gaze was fixed on the water in front of her.
She had made a decision. She didn’t want to be tired and sad anymore. It was time. She stood and picked out a tentative path down the bank to the river’s edge. With each step the sand gave way a little beneath her bare feet, leaving delicate, damp imprints in the dark.
The water was shockingly cold around her ankles. She could feel the drag of the current across her skin as the water slid around her feet, flirting with her, whispering for her to come in and play. She tried to shut its liquid voice out of her head and stood still, staring down at the water; her eyes tracked ripples of movement on its surface. In the dark it looked deeper than she’d imagined. And that voice…murmuring…whispering…coaxing her in, telling her it would be okay, that all her troubles would go away…she would be free. More than anything else she wanted to be free – from her confusion, from her sadness, from herself.
She had been hospitalised three times now. She spent most of her days medicated to make the intolerable depression less so, but tolerable wasn’t any way to live. She had watched a girl in hospital try to cut her wrists with a plastic dinner knife once. It had taken what seemed like hours of dedicated digging to break through the thin white skin and then through the underlying blood vessels; for all that effort and all that mess, the girl still hadn’t died. She didn’t think that it was an option worth considering.
She looked down. The flowing water reached just above her knees now. She didn’t recall moving and part of her realised she probably ought to be afraid but somehow knew that it was inevitable, that she would never be able to resist the irresistible, escape the inescapable pull of the water. She could feel it drawing her in, luring her into the dark, into the deep, away from the so-called safety of the water’s edge.
She remembered her first time in hospital. Half-hourly supervision. Sedatives. Treatment regimes. It made painting impossible. Her muse was apparently a sober creature—metaphorical bags were packed and she was left alone, painting like a child with fingerpaint. The number of times she had cursed her muse now haunted her. She was bereft without it—hobbled, restrained, contained. She was medicated out of her mind, confined to the ward and spent the majority of her time huddled with her arms around her knees in a chair in the corner. From there she had seen a man who had overdosed thrashing and foaming on the floor nearby, his eyes rolling back in his head, his limbs flapping convulsively. She had heard his high, keening wail all the way down the hall when they had first revived and then restrained him. It had sounded painful, and she was afraid of pain.
The pale skin of her thighs broke into goose bumps as the water’s icy touch rose higher up her leg. She felt like she was standing still, immobile on the bank and the river was coming to her, creeping across the sand and up her body like some kind of insidious ivy, slowly but surely rising up to entangle her in its liquid leaves. Her nightgown swirled around her, drifting and flowing in the current like a dream. Tendrils of almost-transparent cotton hid her numb feet from sight; to her they no longer existed. In her mind, her lower body was being eroded by the water – she could feel herself melting, the water dissolving her inch by inch. Only the part above the water still existed. The rest had been transformed into river and sand and drifting wetness.
She had seen someone die. In the hospital an old crazy lady had died in her sleep in the bed next to her. She had one of those monitor things you see on the TV that beeped and hummed all night and kept her awake. She had been sitting on the window sill one sleepless night when the machine stopped beeping. Just like that. No warning, no alarms, no panicking nurses. Someone came in, calmly turned off the machine and pulled the curtains around the old lady’s bed. Simple. It was that easy, when you knew how.
The inky blackness licked at her crotch and she gasped – the cold sent a shock vibrating through her skin; the intimacy of the water’s touch was chilling and yet somehow tender, like an angry lover’s. She felt strangely aroused and remembered a scene from a movie where a woman was led naked in to the water by a group of sirens. The woman floated on her back, supported by their hands, her skin palely luminous in the moonlight, the voluptuous sirens rising up around her, stroking her body, whispering in their bewitching voices, caressing her skin, worshipping her, pleasuring her. How beautiful it must have felt to be carried away, to be drawn into their glorious, bare-skinned, liquid embrace, to become one with the water. She wanted that, wanted to paint it, wanted to be it. She craved the freedom and intimacy and release the river held out to her like a promise.
She peeled her sodden nightgown from her body, flung it from her and watched it drift off on the current, imagining all her sadness and confusion slipping away down the river. In its wake, a rush of relief, of anticipation flooded through her. She took her last step on the sandy bones of the river bed before she thrust her naked body out into the depths, a beautiful ship on its maiden voyage, virginal and fresh and new. Her old self was washed clean of all her sins, all her fears. She could feel the icy water flaying her skin, stripping her raw like acid, eating away at the person she had been – the crazy girl, the artist, the addict, the pariah. She was being reborn.
With her face alight with joy, she surrendered herself to the lure of the water, to the siren’s song; the liquid voice of the river flowed like anaesthetic through her veins. Her last sight of the world was the grey, cold face of the moon, viewed through the rippling layer of water above her as she slipped silently, gladly into the depths.