A long time now I’ve been here by the river. I walk it most weeks, upstream or to the sea. Left bank or right, crossing where I can. I pass through curtains of willows, over riparian tufts or turf of green, along tarmac walkways as well as towpath tracks in the earth. If I walk long enough I’ll come upon stone embankments between which the spans are of sufficient stature to have parapets ornamenting them. While I walk, I think about what came to pass, beginning with the request to which as her master it was incumbent upon me to acquiesce. I remember everything. At each crossing, I know exactly which piece of her I let fall from my fingers.
She came from the river, having swum up it from the sea in the first place. I saw her transform. Before my eyes she broke the surface, close to the fourth crossing from the source. She chose not to accept my help, being strong enough to pull her own weight free of the water using the limbs of trees overhanging it. As she came into the air, I saw her skin as silvery-blue for a few moments before scales became pale, white, seemingly human skin. Shivering, she took my jacket with a graceful acceptance. I brought her home. From that moment we were inseparable. Our love was colossal; at times it was impossible to tell who was sovereign, who servant. There were instances of silence, recrimination even – she was slippery, sometimes longing for the water more than the chains about her wrists, while I was, I confess, somewhat possessive – but these occasionally violent emotional contretemps were always swiftly overcome.
After she took her final breath in my arms, I set about enacting her last wish. ‘Give me back to the river, so that I may make my way once more to the sea.’ I was in any case never going to let earth or fire have her. But I was fearful of the risk implicit in jettisoning her whole. If someone saw her – went to the police – they might recover her from the water. Then she was likely to travel not to the sea but to the crematorium, via the morgue.
The conceit came to me of journeying from source to estuary; a pilgrimage in her honour. At every crossing, I saw myself taking a piece of her from my rucksack. That way, bit by bit, piece by piece, she might be given back to the waters from which she came.
On expiring she was recast in mer form. I cut through her silvery scales as well as the beautiful blue-white skin of her top half. Because of her entreaty, chopping her up was an act of love, not barbarism. It was a necessity. Soft with the memory of our time together, I felt no horror.
The source of the river is the subject of confusion. The leaking spring initially seems to give rise to nothing. But nearby there are pools from which the stream soon gathers pace. A relative of her ancient, ancestral father watches over its place of birth. I left the first fragments of her there. Her eyeballs. The oriels of her soul.
The estuary is all complication too, the alluvial silt mixing with the big sky to promote the surging of lonely sorrows in anyone who chooses to walk there. The cries of waterfowl set the tone, hungry, raw, piercing the empty scenery. With the current running silent, the estuary lacks the conversational energy of the sea. It is somehow an in-between place, even though it is where the river terminates.
For long stretches in between the river runs in oxbows through watery lea, its current strengthening all the while, its channel born from a millennia-long war of attrition. My progress was serpentine too. While walking, between sacrifices, I took in the changes from country to town to suburb, then back again. I was among people who might never have a union such as ours. Even though she was gone, even though I was the one alone, I felt it was the others who were properly the objects of pity, not me.
The last of her I threw from my moving car while crossing the longest span. From on high her heart fell into the mass of swirling estuary water below; mine fell with it.
Now she is never far from my thoughts. If I stray too far from her, I feel her silent pull, her restless ceaselessness, her ceaseless restlessness. Like a killer returning to the scene of his crime, unable to quit it, I stay put. If I leave, who will listen as closely to her song? Who will smell the water’s musty perfume as I have smelt it, nostrils flaring open to a connection with my neurones far in excess of that of a hit? Who but me will lean exultant into the river-spray as the breeze whistles along the water’s course, carving the granite of my face? Who knows the river as well as I?
The river flows through me; I flow through the river. So like a heron I wait by her. Like a heron, I nourish myself on her, fishing memories, reconstructing our story. It will be the last I ever tell. At some point they will come for me. When they knock, then I will tell it to them.