River Mother

Emily Devane

This river is a careless mother. She sets out with good intentions, singing The Hills Are Alive at the top of her bubbling, babbling voice. She tickles our feet as we play, pulls and tugs while we throw sticks from bridges, begs us to dance the time-step on summer evenings. When our feet wobble on her sunken stepping stones, she coaxes us forwards. Be brave, she says, and her voice is a half-remembered dream. Some days, she holds herself close, bends towards us, listens intently – but when we look to the pebbles in our hands for answers, she falls silent. Without warning, she disappears, sinks beneath the ground, carves out deep, hidden chambers. For long stretches she is lost to us. When, at last, she re-emerges, we make fires, huddled beneath her crumbling cliffs. Our smiles falter at the vision of ourselves mirrored in her surface. We protest. We even dare to kick the stones at her edges. Though we do not know what lies lost in the folds of her tight embrace, we are shaped by her presence. If we forget her, she roars: look at me! comes storming in all directions, eating up roads, interfering into basements. I’m still your mother! she cries, stomping her bare feet until they bleed souls. Then, stretching her hands, she plucks us from our sleep, says let’s make midnight biscuits. She sits us down with cups of milk, and with her head resting quiet on her chin, watches while we drink.

Emily Devane writes, edits and teaches in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. When the River Wharfe bursts its banks, she is cut off from the world and reminded of nature’s changeable moods. Her stories have been widely published – most recently in New Flash Fiction Review and Lost Balloon. She is an editor at FlashBack Fiction.