The River by John Holland
It is too hot to walk. The sun has rendered the day harsh and distorted. Bleached it of its softness. They flee the starkness of the stubble field. Head for the river. And are cooled by its deep swell and the purple shadows of overhanging trees.
The smell of wild garlic seeps into them. In places the river bank gives way to rough tracks leading to the edge of the water. They step down to peer into the river’s surge.
“I’m going to lie on the grass bank in the shade, “ he says.
“I’m going in,” she says, thrilled at the idea.
”You’re mad,” he says.
Already without stockings, she sits on the bank and removes her shoes. Stands and places one foot, then another, in the river. Feels the ooze between her toes.
“It’s amazing,” she screams. “It’s so cold.”
He sits up on both elbows to watch. “You ARE mad,” he calls.
She takes a few more steps. “Come on in,” she shouts.
He continues to watch her. She begins to walk slowly upstream, away from him. The water is deeper – nearly to her knees. She lifts her green cotton skirt. Then stumbles on a rock and loses her footing. He sees her lurch before steadying herself.
He calls to her, but the water drowns his call.
The river splays around her thighs. She is aware of the strength in her calves and thighs as she strides on.
He stands and walks to the river’s edge. Sees her in the distance moving purposefully away from him, a V of water following her. He imagines her walking mile after mile into the open sea.
She turns and begins to walk towards him, feeling the power of the river against the front of her legs. She is laughing uncontrollably.
When she reaches the bank he holds out his arm for support, as she strides from the water. She is shivering, laughing, out of breath.
”Bloody hell,” she says. “That was great.”
He says nothing. As they walk up the bank into the bright day, she holds her skirt so that it doesn’t fall onto her wet legs. Still in sight of the river, they lie on their backs on the grassy slope. She breathes deeply, her white legs apart, bent at the knees, dripping river water. Feeling the sensation of the sun on her wet skin as something familiar, yet intensely sensuous. The air tastes and smells like that of her youth. She imagines that they are 18 years old. Discovering each other, testing their nerve. It is as if all the years of their marriage have never existed.
Still grounded next to her, he moves on to his side. His face is close to hers, shielding it from the sun.
“I guess we’ll talk about everything when the kids are back at uni,” he says, searching her face.
“Yes,” she says. “Not now.”