The River by Alice Rose

I stand still in the water. My muscles ache in the cold. I take deep breaths from my belly. The sound of water cascading down over the rocks surrounds me. It rushes past my ankles and the fall looks like steps. As if a person could have built them.
        I shiver, but I take my time. Rubbing water against my body and through my hair, over and over, until I feel fresh. I don’t come here often, it’s half a days walk from my cabin. I only do it because I know I should. But I don’t mind the dirt under my fingernails anymore.
        At the river, I like how bright the sunlight is on the water. A deep gap from under the scaling evergreens, like a road cut between skyscrapers.
        As I rub behind my ears I look up. He doesn’t see me at first but I see him. I’m far enough away not to startle him. His heavy body moves slowly over the rocks. Pawing at the water. His brown fur ripples occasionally in the wind.
        Then he sees me. His grizzly eyes like black holes, small and endless. He’s the first one I’ve seen here in two years. His gaze is steady. Does he know?
        Can he tell that – as hard as I try – we are different? That I did not grow up in these woods, but a cosy semi-detached house in the suburbs. I’ve been out here three years, but can he still smell it on me? The fast food, the subway in the morning? Can he tell that I used to get my water from a tap? That I would pay to carry it around in a bottle and I would do the same with food and heat and shelter. Does he pity me? That I would use a machine to tell me when to wake, and what to do, and where to stop and when to go.

Alice Rose grew up by the sea in Hampshire, UK. She earned her MA in Creative Writing at the University of Hertfordshire and was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2017. Rose writes from her small St Albans flat, feeding other people’s cats and attempting to live a low-waste lifestyle.

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