THE RIVER by Liz Eastham

The river rises and falls like a manic-depressive, its moods changing with the seasons. Like a fickle lover it lures you with its fullness and then yields its secrets with the ebbing tide.

In summer the river is like a magnet, loved by all. Birds circle overhead, gulls wail, hoping for fish. More patient fishermen line the banks, content to wait, basking in the sunshine. Ducks sail in a v-formation, waggling their tails and flapping their wings as they set off. Boats bob up and down, bored to be moored. Dogs run free, glad to be off the leash, their owners glad to be heading to the pub. Outside can be heard the clinking of glasses, the clatter of crockery, laughter and chatter. Around the corner a small orchestra plays from a white bandstand in front of picnics, sunbathers, more dogs, children running and playing. The air is light with joy: nature is on its best behaviour. A woman is singing a sad but beautiful song, her crystal voice carrying down the river, sending echoes to the other side. The only chill in the air is from the emotion evoked by the sound.

Later as twilight begins, the river's day of celebration culminates in a climax of colour as fireworks light up the sky and cascade down the arches of the old bridge. Above, bursts of green and red, like exploding flowers, fall and shimmer on the inky blackness of the water. The music of the evening is the whirring and banging of the fireworks, the oohs and aahs of adults and the squealing of children.

The fireworks mark the end of the summer season on the river, giving way to the uncertainty of autumn followed by the severity of winter. As warm and cold collide, the lightning provides a more sinister firework display; its sounds create its own orchestra. Thunder cracks, wind whistles, a crescendo of energy drives out all memories of summer idyll. The rain pelts, onto the dry thirsty banks, onto crinkly autumn leaves. The river sucks it up like a greedy parasite. As the wind whips up, the river rushes like someone desperate to make an appointment as it pulls at the sides towing along reeds and mud, colouring the water a rusty red, foaming at the edges like frothy ale. As it threatens to burst its banks, summer serenity turns to anger, its allure to fear. People rush with sandbags as alerts and flood warnings are issued. There is only so much you can do.

When the fog falls, it provides a back-drop for a gothic play. In winter the ice hangs above the river cliffs like sloths. People are drawn to the now mystic appeal of the river. A warm fire glows in the grate of the pub, snow falls past the window, shimmering in the golden lights. Outside in the dank darkness the river is enjoying its winter break, peace and quiet.

Now it is the turn of man to disturb the peace. This time the river holds allure only for the desperate, provides a sad solution, a final asylum. Once again the river is lit up: flashlights form an arc in the sky, blue lights of vehicles swirl in the mist. A helicopter circles and drones, people talk in hushed tones, the motor of the rescue boat triggers into urgent action. The pub has not long closed, its sleeping inhabitants as yet unaware of the disaster on their doorstep. Tomorrow tales will be told in the bar, questions asked. The bridge will be festooned with flowers, all hope abandoned. Only the river knows where the body lies, such is its power, and will yield when ready. There is no arguing with nature.