A bridge that links and divides.
Two nations, border country, and in my mind
I’m so close to the edge.
But fly-strewn water fills my mouth,
and drowns all possible words.
The water is warm and viscous, its whole surface dotted with a generous sprinkling of flies. Flies so well-fed and lazy that they don’t even bother to move as she glides through the water, arms pulling forward slowly and head and shoulders bobbing gently up and down.
A medieval bridge with four squat arches, its sandstone blocks glowing pinkly in the early evening sunshine. She sees two children standing on the parapet of the bridge and between them a man with an arm around the shoulder of each. She hears the voice of another, hidden from view but nearby, seeming to remonstrate with the three on the parapet, perhaps pointing out the danger of their position. Julie feels a jolt of alarm and opens her mouth to cry out but river water, warm and fly-strewn, pours into her mouth stifling her voice.
Just then she passes into the shelter of an arch and immediately feels a sensation of cool air on the top of her head. Under here the sound of the rhythmic movement of her arms and legs through the water suddenly becomes louder, its reverberations bouncing off the stone arch and filling the air beneath with a force that is almost physical.
The air is warm and still as she passes out on the other side of the arch. An instant later the silence is shattered by a loud splash somewhere behind her, and then another. Voices calling out. Julie turns and kicks out, propelling herself back to the other side of the arch with a frantic crawl. She is there in three strokes. But she sees no figures in the water, no one on either bank, nor anyone on the bridge above.
She knew she had seen them, she had heard them. Julie was in no doubt that she hadn’t imagined the children and the men on the bridge, nor that she really had heard the two splashes. All of her senses are real: she feels the water on her skin, the sunshine on her head and the scent of newly-mown grass in the air. In desperation she ducks her head beneath the surface of the water and kicks out to propel herself downwards. Darkness. Silence. She swims in a circle, first one way and then the other, not seeing but searching with outstretched arms. Lungs bursting she surfaces, takes a deep breath, and then submerges once more; and again and yet again. But still no sign.
Treading water, she tilts her back and lifts her head crying out:
‘Help! Help! Please, somebody!’
There is no answer, the riverbank, the village, maybe even the whole world are empty, bereft of life. Total silence, except for the cries of the children that still echo in her head.