I have lost a great many things, including the manse that sits behind me, nestled along the riverbank. The cold water tickles my toes as I peer into the expanse of gray sky, mourning the loss of it too. This land, this sky, this river will be stripped away and sold for pennies, leaving me naked and alone.
As children, we were never allowed to play here. It was too close to the water whose current lurked beneath. Now there are no parents to warn me or siblings to play with. They are gone too.
I unlace my boots and edge further into the water, letting the sounds of executors and vultures slip away as the babbling flood fills my gaping heart. They pick through my home, my things, my family history as if it can be itemized and sold at auction for anything close to what we owe. These things are priceless. But does that mean they have too little or too much value to count? I suppose it depends to whom you pose the question.
My skirt is pulled into the river, and the sneaking current picks it up and tries to drag me away by my petticoat, but my feet stand firm on rock. I peruse the tree line looking for answers among the evergreens, but they are as quiet as the sky.
“Miss!” A squawking vulture calls from the back staircase.
I know precisely where he stands based solely on how his voice echoes against the stone. I know every breath of this land and it knows me, but that is not enough to keep it. The lawyers insisted on an estate sale, saying it was the only way to help correct the debt my family accrued and subsequently left me.
I turn to face Mr. Forrester, careful not to lose my footing on the rocks. To him, I am the very picture of grief: long, black dress, high collar, and birdcage veil. I am in mourning, but it seems a shame everyone should dress the same when the act of mourning is so different to each soul. In the Bible, men mourned in sackcloth and ash, erasing their individuality in the name of despair. I, however, want everyone to see the aching chasm in my chest where my heart once rested. I want them to know and suffer. Instead I am just another young woman in black. No one sees any difference from one plight to the next. Grief is grief and the more elegant, the more palatable it will be.
“Yes, Mr. Forrester. How may I assist you?”
“Miss Davenport, it is not safe for you that close to the water. The river has risen since last night’s storm. Please come back to the house.”
The house, not my house. We both notice the difference in the strained silence that follows, a silence in which we wonder if his words should be corrected, but we decide not since they are true.
I am inclined to listen to him, but I want to stay a few moments longer, just to feel the crisp water against my stockinged ankles one last time. I do not know where I will be after today, and I do not know if I will ever see a winter river again, surrounded by the protection of rock and evergreen. I feel its protection too and it calls me to stay.
“Your concern is most kind, Mr. Forrester, but I am quite well, thank you.”
When awful things happen to people, they either live or they die. It does not matter which. The awful thing does not stop to ask ‘What would you have me do?’ It simply happens, and the unfortunate soul either stays or leaves. It did not ask if I cared when my mother was taken by fever, or if I minded when Father drank himself into the grave. It was bothered none by my shame when my brother absconded with the remnants of our fortune to settle his gambling debt. It did not consult my disposition when my lover left on the eve of our wedding, or when the infant inside me threatened to abandon me too.
I place a warm palm over my abdomen. It has not yet betrayed me, but it will in time. The breeze turns angry as it whips and roars in my ears. My veil blows back off my eyes and I see clearly.
Tragedy begets tragedy until the white capped wave crests and crashes, leeching the breath and happiness from my body in one rescinding pull of the tide. It will not stop, and I will either live or die.
My cheeks flush with anger as I think of what little control I’ve had over my entire life. No tragedy that befell me was brought on by my own misdeeds. I deserved no part in the mistakes of others or the gluttonous lives they lived. My fiancé wanted more: more women, more freedom, more time. The Davenport men had a love of money, and they too wanted more, squandering what they had. Why, then, can I not have the same control over my future and fortune?
I step further into the river so the raging current pulls at my knees. I can choose to stay or go. I am more powerful than tragedy itself, a mockery to the tribulation and anguish with which God has plagued us.
“See?” I shout into the roaring wind as it sweeps down the river. “I, too, can take away.”
I step into the current and let the water, my only true companion, sweep me away to heaven.
Written by: HG Reed
Photograph by: Michael Ken