The grass sung with a choir of crickets, a symphony of beings unseen by the naked eye.
The steady tempo of footfall on gravel caused the city woman to look up in surprise, catching the runner’s puzzled gaze as he dashed past.
She stood, having long foregone her shoes which dangled slack at her side like a dead animal pelt.
Corporate and clinical, her black suit stood out against the soft summer hues.
And yet, undaunted, she continued to walk along the river seeking out the thin dirt path that wound down to the water’s edge, hidden by a curtain of foliage.
It was a little shabbier than she last recalled. Now overgrown, viridian shoots clambered through the thicket. They wrapped themselves around the weary willow tree, embracing it as it wept into the river below. Her eyes circled the clearing, taking in the engraved initials forever etched into its bark.
The sight triggered memories of melodious laughter and disjointed scraps of conversation. New love had grown in that space, the young couple’s eyes shining with delight and wonder. Their hideaway was transformative, even the discarded empty cider bottles took on an eerie otherworldliness, glittering in the sun and projecting jewelled shadows onto the neighbouring trees.
Her gaze fell upon a log sat in the middle of the copse. The ghost of a fire burnt into the ground, its ashy remnants like a birthmark on the otherwise sandy earth.
Time stood still in this haven.
Days of teenage innocence and charisma-fuelled dreams had once peppered this space. The woman felt herself give in to bittersweet nostalgia as her lips twitched with the faint shadow of a smile.
Her hands skimmed the surface of the scarred tree, the years were displayed clearly in its wrinkled flesh and the sap that bled from the lettering, once promising an eternity of potential.
She couldn’t help but notice that her heart still skipped as she set down her tattered picnic mat and glanced out at the blanket of water before her.
In the distance she could hear the cry of teenagers splashing flirtatiously, wearing skimpy bikinis and torn denim shorts. Raw and bare, they scurried up the embankment and flew into the icy depths propelled by the momentum of an old rope swing.
A sudden burst of inspiration coloured her mind as she started to undress, fuelled by the thrashing energy of the stream
They couldn’t see her, but she could make out their silhouettes against the dusky horizon.
Concealed, the din of passers-by faded away as her eyes fluttered closed.
There her mind fled to a memory from long ago. Two bodies intertwined, drunk on cheap wine in the English summertime.
The hours had trickled by as the sky filled with a thousand blinking eyes staring down at them.
We were immortal.
Remnants of excitement from their joint fiction of ‘what ifs’ and ‘we will’ flooded her mind, before a glance down at her calloused hands broke the illusion. The truth was hard, but time and experience had taught her that partners came and went like the seasons. It had taken her a while to realise that only self-love was reliable and steadfast.
And yet, it amazed her that the shell her consciousness inhabited differed so much from the person she felt she was on the inside. Her skin seemed a muted grey, the black linen a dark, impersonal uniform that society had gifted her.
This existence is tiring to me, she thought as she stood and dipped a toe into the cooling stream. The sound of her watch ticked away, counting towards some indefinite deadline calling her back to the isolation of her office cubicle.
A teardrop skimmed the surface of her skin before landing in the pool beneath her, disappearing within that large body of water.
But it doesn’t have to be.
And with that she became something other.
A sudden burst of inspiration coloured her mind as she started to undress, fuelled by the thrashing energy of the stream.
Her skin drank up the sunshine as the water lapped eagerly at her heels, coaxing her in.
Now she was completely naked, her long auburn hair caressing the small of her back, fanning out around her like a fiery red cloak.
Slowly she lowered herself into the river, feeling the water rise up and meet her like a lost friend.
Hello. It said.
Her abandoned belongings left a trail of breadcrumbs to the person she had been mere seconds before.
Then she shed that skin.
You’re safe now.
At once she understood the voice, rediscovering her long-lost mother tongue.
Fully submerged, every cell began to vibrate and transform as she was swept along by the undercurrent. The water was her dancing partner, twisting and enveloping her with maternal care as she pirouetted along the riverbed.
Now she flowed into the water, her fingertips stretching out into the endless expanse, listening for the distant echo of whale song and the chatter of her fellow sisters who had also been reclaimed.
The more she reached, the more she gained as with every leap and bound something new was borne.
Her skin glistened, reborn. The pale freckled hue turned an ethereal blue with a sheen of iridescence that mimicked sea-glass. Within another breath, her legs disappeared into a soft shimmering tail and newly created gills began to form, the ridged folds blooming into petals along the surface of her skin.
Blinking up, she gazed at the sunlight dappling the water and watched on as a barge lazily chugged by none the wiser.
The siren marked her new beginning.