Such a hot day; one of those rare, perfect days of summer. Your parents drowsy with sandwiches, stretched out in the collapsible chairs Dad wrestled out of the car. Your little brother curling in your mother’s lap, and although she says he’s far too old to be such a baby, her arms grip him tight. And you, stepping into the river, chill sharpening your breath to a point.
Don’t be long, sweetie, your mother is calling, eyes half-closed against the glare.
Don’t go far! cries your father. You wave, inviting him in. In a moment, he says, voice muffled, eyelids flopping. You’ve never understood how he can fall asleep so fast.
The water is delicious, your limbs sliding without effort. Fish shimmering, mosquitoes whining, trees leaning over the shadows under their branches, and you are swimming now, easy and strong, breath glittering in your lungs. You have never felt so alive, ripple-thighed and powering the weight of yourself forwards, and although you know he won’t be there, you pause to see if your father is following.
The lowering sun is blurring your vision. That might be your brother on the bank, jumping and waving his hands, but he’s too tall, and alone. You wonder where everything has gone: your parents, the chairs, the picnic. You don’t know what possessed you to leave, and fight to turn around, but the current punches you in the chest and it’s only now you’re trying to go back you realise the river has taken over, shoving you onwards.
Spiralling further and further downstream, away and further away, you tell yourself you’re the strongest swimmer in your class, try to believe it although the drone of insects is now loud enough to drown out thought. You are fighting and losing, fighting and losing, your feet slipping and tearing on the rocks, grappling for each rattling wheezing breath, looking at your arms and legs and wondering where the old woman came from and why you are wearing her body, while ahead the river is boiling as it vanishes over the falls.