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7 minute read.
The white light from the moon disappeared in the tar-like water. The rower dipped their oars into the lake and moved the boat further into the night. Clouds of mist emerged from beneath their hood as they steadily breathed in and out in time with their strokes. Jude watched the rower from beneath a woollen shawl which was wrapped around him. His jaw trembled and his drenched body shook.
The rower reached into the boat and tossed a bundle of dry clothes at Jude’s feet. Jude pulled them on and continued to watch the rower’s steady movements.
“Please.” Jude said. “We have to go back, my daughter…”
“Your daughter’s not here.”
The finality with which the rower spoke silenced Jude. For a moment there was stillness until he steadied himself and began again.
“My daughter’s on the shore.”
The oars cut through the water and pulled back to the surface.
“Please, I need to know she’s safe.”
The rower paused and the boat seemed to hover on the expanse of darkness beneath them. He lifted his arm up and pointed into the distance where the lake stretched on into inky blackness.
Jude tied the boat to its mooring and climbed onto the jetty. The rower nodded towards a lantern which hung from a wooden post. Jude took it. The flame was a dull orange, a quick movement would surely extinguish it.
“Move on,” came the voice of the rower and so Jude walked.
His steps were hesitant, the wooden jetty creaked beneath him and the light from the lantern barely guided his way. With each step the lantern flared and grew more golden until Jude winced since it was so brilliant and bright in the darkness.
The flame became an orb of amber light which released streams of dust spiralling into the darkness like cannon fire before arriving on the shores of the lake in showers of bright sparks. The sparks fell upon statue-like figures which sat with their legs stretching ahead of them, their hands pressing into the stones, their fingers reaching towards each other but not quite touching. They were columns of silvery light which looked as if they could be brushed away with the sweep of a hand. But he recognised the figures.
“Why are you showing me this?” he called out, but if the rower heard him he gave no sign.
The two figures moved closer together, Jude watched his arm go over his wife’s shoulder and her head rest upon his chest. Although he was watching nothing but silvery shadows he could smell the perfume she wore that day, he could feel the touch of her hand upon his thigh, the warmth of her breath upon his neck, the sound of her voice in his ear as she told him that she was pregnant. Tears gathered in his eyes.
“Why?” he gasped. “Just show me her body. Tell me how she died.”
There was a flash of white light and then darkness.
They rowed further into the lake. Swirls of silvery mist appeared above the water before being sucked up again by the darkness.
“What’s this for?” Jude was huddled in the woollen shawl, his skin still wet beneath the dry clothes, watching the swirls as if they were shooting stars.
The swirls began to gather until there was a mist above the water. The rower rested the oars and pointed. A figure of a man emerged as if formed by a sculptors hands, followed by the form of a child
The silvery figure reached its hand out and held the child’s. It handed it what looked like a small stone.
“For god’s sake, stop.”
The man skimmed a rock across the water and the child copied their action
The sounds of child’s laughter filled Jude’s ears and he felt the touch of his daughter’s hand in the palm of his own. Jude screamed through the laughter and there was a flash of brilliant white light.
The lake was still once more.
“My daughter is on the bed of the lake.”
The rower said nothing.
“I know how it happens.” The cold and darkness had numbed Jude to the mutterings of his heart.
“It’s usually quiet. She won’t have screamed or called out, her arms would have waved above the water but nobody would’ve seen in the darkness.”
The rower lifted his head slightly as Jude continued.
“Then she’d begin to hyperventilate in her panic, starting to take on water. Then she’d fall beneath the surface, trying to hold her breath but growing heavy and sinking. She’d need to breathe. She’d open her mouth, she’d inhale water, her larynx would close…”
“Now you stop. Somebody saw her in the darkness.”
The rower moved his boat onward.
Another boat drifted towards them, shrouded in the same silvery mist Jude had seen before. He could see the figures of himself and his daughter, now taller, sitting on the boat. Jude heard their voices.
“Your mum needs to go away for a while.” Jude mouthed the words as he heard them.
“She needs to get better and there’ll be lots of people to look after her.”
“But we can look after her.”
“We can’t. I know it’s hard but mum’s not been well for a long, long time and she’s only just realising she needs help.”
There was a pause and then Naomi spoke, deliberately placing the words with the air of someone much older.
“I can understand that. Mum is very different from other mums.”
“I know, dear…”
“But I love her.”
“And she loves you.”
Jude flickered in and out of consciousness. He barely noticed as the rower tied the boat to another mooring point.
He held out a flask to Jude who reached a shaking hand out from beneath the shawl.
“What is it?”
“Whisky. For your nerves.”
Jude knew better than to question the rower and so took a swig from the flask.
“Do we get off here?”
“No. Stay. Watch.”
There was a flash of light and then two figures could be seen sitting on the jetty. Jude turned his eyes away.
HIs daughter held an urn in her hands.
“I don’t understand, dad. How could she?”
Jude listened to his own stifled sobs.
“Dad… please. I don’t understand. Why did mum do it?”
Jude urged himself to talk, but he knew that there would be nothing. He didn’t know what to say to his daughter. His daughter turned over the urn and silver ash fell on the lake in small ringlets like water lilies and then faded into nothing as the figures disappeared.
“I know what happens next. Don’t show me.”
But the rower did. The figure of his daughter appeared again and again, walking along the jetty and then sitting on her own, sometimes scattering petals into the water and sometimes just staring at the blackness. Then she would swim, cautiously at first, just a few strokes out before she returned to the solidness of the jetty. Then she became more confident and Jude watched as she swam out into the water.
Jude was sick off the side of the boat. His whole body shook as he vomited, his eyes glassy with tears.
“We both know what happens next, Jude.”
Jude spat out the vomit which had clung to his teeth and spoke through the acidic taste.
“She swims out too far and gets caught in a current. She dies.”
The rower shook their head.
“You’re wrong, don’t you remember what you said?”
“Of course I remember.”
“I won’t show you.” Jude’s shoulders rested, “but we can listen.”
“Naomi you’ve pushed things too far.” Jude’s voice echoed around the lake as if the sky itself spoke.
“All these nights out doing god knows what, drinking, smoking, you’ve lost your focus. You’re staying in with me this evening.” Jude cowered at his words. Naomi’s voice filled the lake.
“Dad you can’t hang onto me forever, I’m not your little girl anymore.”
There was a moment of silence, a moment which hung like the stars in the sky, like a body from a tree.
“You’re right. You’ve grown older.” Jude paused. “You’re more like your mother than ever.”
There was the slamming of the door, the roar of the engine and then silence.
Tears streamed down Jude’s face. Silver mist gathered around him until it formed a shroud around his figure.
“I’m sorry.” Jude muttered.
“I’m so sorry. If I could undo it I would but I can’t do anything.” He wiped the tears from his cheek.
“It’s my fault. I know. I know this is what this is about. She was upset, she went to the lake… she, she…”
And Jude saw her. Her figure glided across the lake with ease and precision, further and further into the darkness.
Jude spluttered awake. He took in deep gulps of oxygen and then threw up the water which had gathered in his lungs.
He saw her body next to his, lying limp and still. He felt for her pulse, there was none, he pressed his lips to hers and breathed into her lungs, giving five quick breaths. There was no response. Five more breaths. Nothing. Five more. She coughed, spluttered, water dribbled out of her mouth and Jude rolled her onto her side. He patted her back as she continued to throw up the lake water.
“It’s ok.” He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. He saw a towel out on the jetty and ran to get it, wrapping it around her shoulders.
“We need to get you out of here, we need to get you to hospital.”
“We need to go now, where’s your phone?…”
“Dad, it’s ok.” Jude saw the look she gave him. He’d seen it before.
“It’s ok dad, you can relax. I’m ok and I’ll be ok.” She smiled.
“It was you dad. You saved me.” Tears gathered in her eyes and held there.
“I was so stupid, swimming out there on my own. I was mad but…” She grabbed his arm.
“I love you dad.” She pulled him tight to her and felt the weight of his body begin to lighten. Jude looked at her, he knew what was happening.
“Dad, I’ll miss you.” Tears now streamed down her face.
“You saved me dad. You saved me.”
Jude’s body glittered silver in the moonlight and began to turn to dust. He looked at the sky and saw it grow darker, darker and darker.