Made you into a River


Made you into a River

Sam dragged his palms across the corners of his eyes and pulled himself out of bed. Leaning against the window, he watched thick globules of rain smearing against the pane. White fog draped over the sky, puffy flumps trailing waxy tendrils. She had been crying again most of the night, muffled sobs, on and off.

Reaching to the bedside table for cigarettes, he eased one out and left it dangling in his mouth, caught again in the glassy square of spattering rain and muddled cream sky. Then he turned and looked at the bed, the slight depression in the pillow on the right hand side where her head usually rested. Needle droplets drilled at the window pane behind him and her thin face was there for a split second, wild-eyed and gasping for air. Then it was just a sunken pillow again. The unlit cigarette fell from his mouth and he was running through every room in the house, banging on doors, shouting her name.

Her frail form dangled from the rope twisted around the pipes in the ceiling of the cellar, a red pool gathering on the concrete floor under each cut wrist.


<We came to this river often, when we were happier>.

Meet me again by the water, perhaps she would have said. Why would you not leave a note? Still, it seemed to have a thematic, lyrical quality; the sentence bent around his brain, destructuring itself and seeping into his subconscious. If you know that person well enough, you could take a stab at recreating their final thoughts. You could try to imagine what they were thinking at that exact point, regardless of the circumstances or situation. Perhaps this was what breaking up your own body was about, to rebuild it in another way? There was nothing to suggest that you are as capable and fulfilled in this sweating, peachy mass as you are in any other medium.

Sam knelt by the river and ran his fingers through pearls of onrushing water. The cold bit his skin and crushed that frame of time into a single, replayed image. The water had the substance of a plastic bag handle in that moment, he could lift it up; lift the whole river along with it, carry it off like a sheet of tarpaulin. But he was always crouched down, intent on his project; a new project, a rebuilding.

Removing a small, sharp knife, he began hacking at his own arms, wincing and dipping them under the surging sheets. Red ink exploded in fluffy maps and dissolved into the current – Sam was compelling her to be there again if even just for a moment, willing her to absorb this into her own form.

He shook his head and spilt fast, urgent memories to accompany the real substance: saw your short dark hair from behind down the hall couldn’t think of anything to say hack / hack / I loved you then and I still love you now despite all this pain you have passed on to me / hack.

And then she was there, the frothing water glistening on his ruined forearm and solidifying. She was cold and fresh and impatient to play with the budding existence he had given her, but she was also everything she had been before and at all times; he willed her not to leave him again – at least not just yet slice / slice / don’t leave me again I am more a product of what I absorb every day / and I’m certain I have to be with someone to be happy.

Your mind can convince you that what you are doing is entirely right, and the way you are thinking is exactly the way you should be thinking–your nervous system is connected to your brain etc, etc. Sam saw this oncoming torrent as a myriad combination of her thoughts; they crashed over his torn arms and fused, carrying him with them and choking <I am sorry but I didn’t want to be that sad anymore>, gathering enough slippery, gelatinous, watery substance to show her covering her face with her hands.

He didn’t mind, not at all; he was busy swimming with the tide, conjuring up saccharine versions of what he felt she should say if she could; kicking his feet and letting all these different filmic moments they had experienced wash in and around him: place the ring on your finger / went out to meet you at five o’clock in the morning after you’d been out you were so drunk and all you wanted to do was talk / slice / (slower, less frantic now as they collided)

I couldn’t possibly have been happier, this place was beautiful for a very simple reason: we were together.

What do you mean you didn’t want to be that sad anymore?

You’re happy when I’m happy.

No, that’s not unhealthy. This water is a natural extension; it flows, it’s what’s supposed to be happening.

She splashed clear water in his face and swam on ahead, the same dark hair fanning out in the rhythmic swells around her. He kicked his legs extra hard to catch up – I can’t let you go this time, I can’t let you out of my sight for even a second.

For several beats the two of them rotated, spiralled and wove; submerged in their underwater world. As she glided through the milky fluid, trying to flee, she mouthed bubbles; <it wasn’t beautiful, it was terrible and you contributed to that, I blame myself and I am responsible for my own happiness but you played a part. It doesn’t make a difference where or what I am, I would always think the same way. You can’t remould me and put the time we had together on a pedestal now that I’m somewhere else>.

Sam floated face down, clouds of red bursting out around him to blend into his river.



17 thoughts on “Made you into a River

  1. So sad…but as alway, a great read. As much as we’d like to, we can never know what goes on inside another’s head. We can’t save them. We’re lucky if we can save ourselves. Poor Sam couldn’t.

    • Thankyou as ever for reading, Kathy; yes, you’re absolutely right, I’m glad this story (as grim as it is) prompted these thoughts. Always really glad to see you’ve read one of my stories, and to hear your thoughts, thanks so much.

      • I’m always on the lookout for a new story from you. Keep on pushing the envelope, experimenting with different styles. I have the feeling you have quite a career in writing ahead of you.

  2. Absolutely Love the stream of consciousness dialogue here and there. Sparse and real. “..went out to meet you at five o’clock in the morning after you’d been out you were so drunk and all you wanted to do was talk / slice” is stunning. Really. Stunning.

    • thanks so much for reading – I was really glad to see you’d read this one, because i was pretty unsure about it – and the lovely feedback Manja, it’s really motivating. I will use it as motivation to write and keep trying things. actually, when I first wrote this, that stuff was unspaced – wentouttomeetyou etc – but we both know that would have been a rip-off 😉 ablatantone

      • “that stuff” is wonderful. It is stunning for its sparseness, its naked bones. Maximum alienation with minimum use of elements. It’s so easy to use lots of clever words and just embellish stuff ad nauseum. Aesthetic Arrest is an oxygen hole in the ice. A simple form. The whole world in a single atom.

    • thankyou for reading this, Kate, and for your really kind words. this had been on the backburner for a while because I wasn’t sure it was working, and I still think it needs work, but I’m really glad to read your comment. Thanks so much for reading my stuff.

  3. Stephen this was a very hard one for me to read! You described so well the grim anguish, confusion, guilt and despair. I like the way you piece thoughts and memories like a mosaic, sharp and glittering bits. It was painful and so well written!!

  4. Possibly my favourite piece that you’ve written. Love the rhythm of your prose and the way we are sucked into his consciousness. Especially love the paragraph where you describe the feeling of lifting the water as if it were a carrier bag, such evocative description. 🙂 Maria.

  5. Trying to climb inside someone else’s mind – I think that’s something we’ve all tried to do but you’ve expressed the futility of it here – no matter how close you think you are to another person. Your writing keeps on getting better, Stephen.

    • Thanks for reading, Julia – I hope you are well and enjoying your writing. I’m glad to hear your thoughts on this as I wasn’t sure it was working. I wrote it last summer and had left it, unconvinced…need to stop by your blog soon, sorry took so long to reply to your comment here, and thanks again 🙂

Thankyou for reading, feedback/constructive criticism always welcome :-)

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