Every summer for 5 years they made their way to the banks of the water. Even as a child he noticed the stillness under the breath of morning that bayed across the river as if the day and the pair of them had not yet been discovered. And it was true, in part, of them at least. Their youth, their innocence, their view on life was mysterious, like the mist above the water, imagining where it came from, what lay beyond it and where it would one day take them.
Somewhere in the last years, someone built the wooden deck, measured the timber, cut it, laid it, hammered every nail between the lines years had carved into what had once been a tree, attached the metal ladder that slipped down into the waters beneath but clung always to the wood as if too nervous to dive right in. But it was too late.
When he was 9, a year before the deck and the chopped wood and the metal rail that cast strange reflections into the sleeping waters, the stillness of one summer morning had been awakened by a silence more shattering than a scream, as if the world had stopped beating, as if the water had stopped moving, as if life itself had stopped. And it had.
Like every other day in august, they had met on the stoop of her front porch, he in his stripped trunks and brown leather sandals, she wore a blue bathing suit and tiny white pumps like ballerinas on stage. She had to be back early, her mother was making pancakes for breakfast. She promised to keep him one for the following day. She always promised and always came through, except when she promised they’d be friends forever.
They ran, as always, from the stoop, down the lane, past the trees and bushes and the bins and the beaten down cars, past the boats raised up out of the water to dry out.
Karla was 10. She had green eyes and liked sherbet dips and read the Beano instead of Mandy. She had freckles on her arms but not on her face. She had brown hair and her mother said she already looked like Ali MacGraw.
Ted was no Steve McQueen. He had dimples on his cheeks and black curly hair. At 9, his moustache was already the talk of the school which meant they finally stopped joking about his belly. Karla never mentioned his belly, like I said, she promised to bring him pancakes.
When they reached the river bank, they usually jumped in holding hands, breaking the surface, breaking the stillness, waking the silence. But that day Ted was still eating a bagel he’d pulled from the pantry on the way out the door so Karla ran and jumped and hit the water and it splashed and she went under and it settled and the stillness returned as he stood there watching and eating, and the silence mounted as he stood there waiting, and the fog stole the air as she failed to surface and he looked into the water, so still and silent, and he saw his reflection in the water looking back up at him and nothing beneath it but nothing and nothing.
She was gone and all that she was became the light that lit that day and all that she had been washed away in the water and all she had seen rose up to the surface and became a reflection that looked at the sky as it looked down from above but only the heavens saw her reflection in the water, only the heavens looked down as she faded, dissolved beneath the milky mists of morning.
Only the heavens and the boy named Ted with a bagel in his hand and tears in his eyes who once loved a girl who looked like Ali MacGraw.
All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly