THE ACCIDENT by Barbara Girardet
Was she drowning? Was she floating? Perhaps she was dreaming.
Lying on her back the water felt soft and gently supporting under her. She glimpsed the cobalt blue between the overhanging branches and felt the stabbing staccato of the sun’s light burning her eyes, instinctively she shut them tight. Drifting out from the shadows the heat of the warming day on her face, her back cold and wet. She lifted her hands to shield her face and was splashed with water smelling of mountain tarns and boulders, of green hillsides and wide open valleys. She became aware of the weight od her dress, the light fabric now heavy and heaving at her. Her ears filled with water and she could it echoingly licking at her face from somewhere far, far away.
And still she floated, pulled by the current downstream, strangely lulled into a dazed half sleep. Birds called and sang, darting across her field of vision, fingers of willow stroke her soothingly as she as she passed under them. A gentlemanly heron eyed her, curious, then spreading his huge grey wings took clumsily off and glided with lazily up stream, and out of sight. Swans watched, impassive and aloof. Wary ducks hurried away followed by trains of skittering shambling ducklings.
Was she still floating or was she sleeping? Dreaming? Drowning?
It was a beautiful, primeval spring morning. She had awoken at first light and having dressed crept very quietly, very carefully down the stairs. In her tiny, private sanctuary she gathered her painting materials into a canvas bag and slinging it over her shoulder let herself soundlessly out of the house. The cool, clear, half lit air was filled with birdsong, a cascading crescendo, a chorus of glorious noise, a hymn, and ode to joy.
She walked quickly, lightly through the woodland fragrant with and brimming with blue underfoot, startling a small herd of deer and out staring a vixen heavy with unborn cubs. Crossing the dewy meadow, sheep hurried their lambs away to a safe distance. Her shoes and the hem of her trailing skirt grew wet around her feet. Yellow cups of butter, starry white daisies tinged with pink, delicate shy violets hid amongst the blades of green. A pearly softness misting off the river scarfed the trees and shrubs on the banks. She took off her shoes and walked barefoot towards the river, her feet tingling numb, her body shivering, her mind a pure blank new page.
Gunmetal grey, oozing mud along the water’s edge, sharp and tangy in the afternight glow of the dawn. She walked along the river bank looking, searching for the flowers and grasses, the birds and insects she loved to paint and sketch, listening to the music of the river’s waters, quietly lapping the muddy shore, chattering and rushing over the stones and pebbles in the shallows, silently carrying trees and jagged branches in its inexorable flow towards its final destination, the open, infinite ocean. A pair of swans sailed effortlessly on the current followed by well disciplined cygnets, nudged into line. They accepted her presence with total indifference.
A busy bunch of noisy, skittering ducklings scrambled out of the rushes, a comical little train of bobbing, unruly little creatures, jumbling, bumbling untidily in the wake of the proud quacking drake. They brought a smile to her face as she watched them, ever astonished at the speed with which these fragile hatchlings, tiny balls of soft downy feathers could paddle upstream as they raced to keep up with mum.
She found her favourite Hawthorn. A twisted, sharp witch lady, where in the winter months elves and goblins had fun and made mischief swinging from her contorted fingers. Now when Spring danced over the face of the earth lightly touching it with her green shoes, the thorn transformed into a glory of life and breath taking beauty. Green buds unfurled into lacy leaves and white balls of blossom buds were ready to burst and smother the tree in a snowfall of pure white.
She spied one brave, tiny bouquet of blooms already open and a far branch overhanging the water, dancing, swaying in the breeze. She leaned out to pluck it but her reach was not long enough. Stepping carefully onto a fallen log and holding as tightly to the thorn as its sharp needles would let her, she slithered and slipped her way closer to her prize. A bunch of white purity and innocent beauty. Stretching out her free arm she reached out towards the blossoms. A moment of triumphant satisfaction and joy as she plucked at the cluster of tiny white flowers. Then a slow, silent dream of flying, and a floating of calm and peace.
Lying on her back on the watery bed, the sun and sky reflected in her eyes, willows whispering to her, water weeds wrapping her feet in soft slithering strokes, handing her on her way in a continuous embrace, carrying her downstream. Swans watched, ducks scattered, birds fell silent. Yet, she could hear singing. Beautiful singing. Was she singing? Was she dreaming? Was her mind drifting? Was she drowning?
She was still holding the tiny white hawthorn blossoms between her fingers.