Flash fiction for the Daily Inkling’s prompt—sink or swim.
With thanks to Paul Militaru for the photographic inspiration. This one’s for you, Paul
They had often stood on this bridge, out in the middle of the river where the current appeared to rush fiercest, though it seemed to her a lifetime since she had watched the rushing water with excitement. Once, she had felt carried along on the back of some great animal or bird, to places she had never seen, to be someone she had not yet met. She felt like the river, rolling and racing to the sea, longing to throw herself helter-skelter into its huge embrace. The world was vast then and there was no horizon.
He stands next to her in silence. Once, she would have known what he was thinking. Once she would have cared. Doesn’t she? She has to ask herself. There’s a twinge of pain, because the answer is, yes, she does care. She twiddles the stem of a red rose in her fingers. He has always bought her a rose when the Gypsies come around the restaurant tables. She used to think it was romantic. Now she sees that he simply doesn’t want to look like a cheapskate.
She twiddles the rose and looks along the river to the horizon, because there is a horizon now, and she knows that whatever is beyond it will stay hidden, out of reach. What you get is what you see. He shuffles, and she thinks she hears a sigh. She moves closer. Their hands touch and he doesn’t move away. They are on the edge, of the bridge, the horizon, the rushing water, the unseen ocean. One way is back to the bland indifference until they wake up one morning and find that somehow, the other is no longer there. The other way is onward, to watch the coiling water and follow where it leads. How to know which way to fall?
She lets the rose drop from her fingers. They both watch as it falls, head first, red and unopened. They watch as it is caught by the current and dragged out of sight. The water squirms, dark green and rapid. She realises she is holding her breath. Then she sees it, the red splash bobbing, twirling in a little whirlpool before shooting off after the rest of the river. To the sea. She turns and he is looking at her, an idiotic grin on his face. Reflected in his eyes, her face smiles back.