This story was a finalist in Flash Fiction Chronicles’ 2014 String-o-Ten and, like many stories, it has a history. This meant very little at the time, beyond personal awe at the way the cosmic forces of gravity and the motion of the moon and planets become crystallised at the turning of a tide on a river. Finding a bunch of roses lodged in a shrub on the river bank where they would not be swept out to sea or blown away sparked the theme – a woman investing hope in those forces following a deep tragic loss. If magic exists anywhere in the universe, she wants to believe it will be here.
The river is the Adur in Sussex and the shrub just a few hundred yards from the A27 which, this last week, has been the focus of world attention after a jet ploughed into traffic lights there*. Eleven people died, many more were direct witnesses waiting at the lights just behind those who were hit, or travelling on the eastbound carriageway. Others saw the ball of flame from the airport where they were spectators, and thousands sat in shock at home as social media and TV put out video, photos, and stunned analysis throughout that day and the several that followed.
The road is partially opened today (August 30th) and on Tuesday I will be on it taking kittens for their vaccinations. I will be feeling simultaneously selfish and grateful that I was not there on that day and nor was anyone I know**.
This is the story:
Here the Magic Must Be
The river was almost at its zenith, that tipping point between the heaving press of the sea from the coast and the thundering weight of dark, fresh water draining from the hills. It glittered and sparkled along its banks as if strung with fairy lights.
The woman twiddled her handkerchief until it knotted and then pushed it into her pocket. Twice a day, every day, all of heaven and earth balanced here on this point, she thought. For reassurance, she felt for the handle of the knife that sat quiet next to the handkerchief and watched a pair of terns shrieking and wheeling overhead. They landed on the river, drifting up-stream at opposing angles until the tidal cusp caught them, held them, suspended them in the moment.
The woman saw it. With sudden urgency, she pulled out the knife and reached to one side where a small regiment of roses lay swaddled in cellophane. She lifted the pale tag to her mouth and breathed her warm breath into the name written there, pressed it between her palms to remind him of her flesh, and pierced her finger on a thorn to give him her blood.
Then she stood, cut the flowers free of their wrapping, and approached the water’s edge. If magic existed anywhere it had to be here at the turning of tides, in the repeated drowning and birthing of land. She crouched down, touched the petals to the water and wished.
*Approach video clips with caution
**Eight victims have been named so far; one is the son of a friend’s close friend. Like me, many will be waiting and hoping not to recognise the last three names when they come but some will not be so fortunate.