If someone had asked me ten years ago, my favourite place, I’d have said by the water. I love water. Any kind of water. Whether it be the sea rushing to shore, a river flowing, a pond glinting, a burn, a puddle, a shower, a hot tub, I don’t care, just allow me to be by or submerged in water. I swim amongst the fishes, float on waves, reflect on swans dancing on the glaze. The deeper and larger the mass the better. Here there is danger, excitement, sparkle, spirit. Being by water is like being shushed to sleep. A dream. Living in a life lived before it became hard to live.
I was always attracted to water, so my mother said, and she taught me to swim as a result. In a freezing natural sea pool. In summer. Our summers where I lived weren’t always warm and days by the sea could be brisk. Water gives us something. What can that be? Walking by a river revives us, the strength of the flow changing as with our moods. The rocks steady, unmovable, are always there in the cold invigorating tide, froth gathers, leans for a moment of respite. Knobbly arms stretch over from gnarled trunks, and birds sing through the airstream. The mystery of where it comes from and where it goes entices, it calls, and one walks by open, sunny spots, waterfalls, sheer banks, meadows, disused rail tracks, ruined, and fairy castles.
When my mum passed, I wasn’t drawn to the water. I didn’t think her passing could be washed away with the current. As if I could forget it in its choppy dance, hide it in the seaweed covered rock-pool. It was real. Death is real, it comes to us all and my mother would have told me, it was her time, and she wasn’t scared.
Not for me the happy pier, the sound of the masts like a familiar song, a lullaby sung to me as a child, the water lapping against the boats, sucking, spouting comfort. Here, the sun would shine, despite the gloom in my heart. It would skip around my eyes, determined to make them curl. No chance.
After my mum passed my favourite place to be, became my bed. I became cocooned in a nest of tears. My bed was the island surrounded by stormy seas, white capped waves bashing the frame. In bed I slept. I lay awake. I slept some more. I remembered. In my bed I tortured myself with the thought of other beds.
The flower bed we hadn’t planted in mum’s garden. Mum loved her flowers. Each year we took her for new bedding plants, and we’d plant them, she would nurture them. The hospital beds. The temporary kind in A&E. Those high plastic-coated beds she struggled upon, and off, when the water tablets did their job, her dignity flying through the ward, screaming holy murder. We left her there. There wasn’t a bed. She insisted we leave her there; she’d be home soon. And she was. The death bed where I found her. If only she’d waited an hour or so, until I was there. I always came Monday mornings around nine.
In my bed, my haven, I drowned in a midden. It became a ritual. Rise, eat, read, bed. But then when my mum passed, we were living a ritual. Had been living this ritual for some time. The lockdown ritual. When Covid drifted towards our rugged shores I grew worried. Protect the vulnerable, we were told. I protected my mother with all my might, in case she was to die. Call me paranoid. Worry tugged at me. Mum could die. I couldn’t let that happen, but as worried as I was, and as uppermost in my mind her possible death was, the shock of her death struck me a physical blow. How could this be?
Almost two years later, the healing process contemplating leaving me, I’m coming home from a trip away, on a road I’d been before with my mum. My eyes lay upon a familiar line of water skipping alongside the road. It appears from nowhere, a stirring of movement attracting the eye. It meanders backwards and forwards, further from the gaze, further still, out of sight and then gradually appears closer, closer. Each time the glittering ribbon of water runs from the road, into the undulating, merciless land, my neck stretches a bit more from my shoulders. Each time it runs off into the icy tussocks, and hides in its shallow stony banks, I fear I’ll lose it.
The road falls away, continually, under the tyres, and the swish of the slush and snow sings to me, up through the air, through glass, through ringing ear drums, through the car radio murmurs. The burn continues to flow, from and away from me. Each time it disappears I’m on edge. My eyes follow it as far as they can and then my imagination takes over. I see it wind along the meadows, in the shadow of the hills. These giant mounds follow me, my eyes follow the river. The road is in a valley of hills and cut down trees. I take my eyes from these. Bleak broken trees freeze me. Cold, rough, trunks laid bare, one on top of the other. Nothing moved. No bird, no mole, no deer. Only the drifting snow moved in icy formations, blown with the wind and the rush of cars. My heartbeat, as it most often beat, now. Slowly. My shoulder blades are tense, a knot formed in between them. A nagging.
I continue to follow the river. I needed it to stay nearby. I wished it near, wanting to look forever upon its glittering form, the current taking with it small white rushes of superfluous energy as it breaks over boulders, as it splashes faster, faster, wider, wider as it moves inland, but I know it will disappear eventually. I know it will glide away, through the hills, the part of the hills with no road. It will wind off into valleys I can’t go. As much as I want to go, as much as I want to keep watching the river, have it percolate alongside me, I know it is impossible.
Roads are not made to follow rivers. Roads are car filled arteries carrying travellers to town, to city through country, villages, farms. Parallel roads leading to the same place. The puzzle of the crossroad. Which way to go? Roads are manmade. Rivers follow the course evolved for them, wiggling, rambling, rolling.
Another wide arc and it’s out of sight, the traffic slows. I keep flicking my eyes to the land. I know the river is there. I hope it’s there. It isn’t there. Cars pass. Someone speaks. I don’t listen. The only thing I want to hear is the river. The rush of water calming, drawing me to it. I idolise it. The river brings me peace. I’d almost given up hope of seeing it again when a bridge comes into view and there it is. It’s there again, dancing through the bridge. My eyes come alive with the flow. I watch and watch, my heart beats. Then the road winds southwest, the river east towards its journey end, joining the sea with open arms, surrendering to its powers.
I remember two figures standing, still, contemplative, each silent as the waves come forth in huge rolls, and bash against the rocks, surging back upon themselves, pulled by invisible ties. My heart tugs, tributaries of blood rushing, gushing. My eyes look forward onto the open road, knowing that my mum is urging me on.