The River Wedding 

by Tim Roberts

The end of me.

When The Big Night finally comes around, I lay awake waiting for the demons to take my father. Sometime after midnight I hear the muted thud of a bottle as it hits the rug. He is now their plaything. I jump from my bed, already dressed in one of his cheap suits, the ones he used to wear before he was fired from the Car Yard for skimming cash off the extended warranties. The suit is shiny at the knees and elbows. The cuffs and trouser bottoms are rolled inwards to accommodate my small frame—this passed down from my mother’s side of the family, God rest her soul.

In the living room, my father sits in his chair, eyes closed, fresh piss mapping a strange continent at his crotch. Before him, Audrey Hepburn clings to Gregory Peck as they ride through the streets of Rome. Her monochrome beauty casts shadows on the back wall just above my father’s head; dark dreams prowling, waiting for permission to enter. I kiss his forehead and taste the sweetness of Bourbon in his sweat. I help myself to the pack of Camels sprouting from his top pocket, light one, then place it between his fingers. There is nothing more I can do here.

Take him.

Behind our house, the full moon lays out a silver path across the barley fields. It guides me down to the river. Before I see the water I hear it, flowing stronger than ever. The ceremony has begun. When I arrive at its banks, she is seated on a rock at its centre. She is naked, her porcelain skin a pale beacon. She holds out a hand, her magic drips down my spine, soaks into my chest and a strange current draws me to her. My intended.

Her father is here, a proud white horse who watches me take off my shoes and step into the waters. Her mother skulks just below the surface, white foam dancing around her eyes and forehead. Above us, a breeze causes the branch of a weary tree to shiver, yielding a flurry of white cherry blossom. Everything is as was promised.

As I tread the riverbed, my feet are sliced on keen stones. I feel the sting of cold water enter open wounds. I focus on my beloved’s open palm and force back tears. Tonight I become a man. She steps into the river and takes my hand, drawing my face to hers. My husband, she says, pushing her lips against mine. She forces me down into the water.

For a while, it seems like we may stay like this forever. She breaths her air into my lungs, I breath all I have back into hers. Beneath the surface, the waters are calm, there is no sense of the chaos above. Shortly, the pain arrives. A darkness gathers around my vision, her face perfectly framed like the moon in a telescope. As I inhale, she takes her lips from mine, water fills my mouth, my throat contracts, I reach my arms backwards trying to push up against the riverbed, but my hands are swallowed by sediment. I am beyond salvation—my lungs fill with cold water. Knives thrust outwards from my chest and, as I drown, the pain morphs into the brightest shade of yellow I have ever seen.

On the fifth day.

After I have crawled back onto dry land, I spread myself out under the rising sun as it burns the morning mist off the river bank. When I am dry, my wife comes to me and tells me she has something to show me. She vanishes into thin air, before reappearing further downstream. I leap out from the protection of the grass and follow her. She delivers me to the spot where I have been found.

The police have already arrived. Two officers are talking with an old man who is holding fishing rod and sat on a creel. This is new: I can see the cancer that has rooted itself in his lungs. Another officer is wading into the water, trying to fish my body out of the water with a hook on the end of a long stick. His femur is chipped from an old bullet wound. He snags my belt, and floats me towards the river bank face-down, like a rowing boat coming into moor. Once they have unceremoniously pulled me ashore, they turn me over.

As one of the officers strokes away the black, shoulder-length hair that is matted to my skin, my bloated face is revealed, cracked with blackened veins, and both eyeballs missing—the easiest thing to chew for the denizens of the river. The officer vomits into the water and, as he looks up, catches sight of two dragonflies dancing in the reeds, just before they flicker out of existence.

Tim Roberts is a writer of short fiction based in Somerset in the UK. His flash fiction has won several prizes and he is currently working on his first quirky bio to accompany his stories.
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