Friday 29 December 2017

Down by the River

Ann Dixon

sparkling water

       With all her household chores finished Enid Fisher danced her way to her secret hideaway down by the River Clare. Amidst its many twists and turns was a small inlet, hidden from the view of prying eyes by the long delicate fronds of a Weeping Willow tree. From the land, it was hidden by a wide stretch of Blue Elderberry shrubs and a mass of tangled Juniper bushes. With a bit of luck thought Enid,  Harry would be waiting for her. She had thought long and hard before inviting him to the hideaway, but Harry had proved to be a stalwart friend and had even taken on  Jem Galloway, the school bully, when he had tried to steal her school bag. To be absolutely sure though, she had insisted he take a blood oath, swearing never to reveal its location to anyone -  especially grown ups.

Enid twirled and hummed as she drank in the fresh, sweet, smell of summer. and  ahead of her, the River Clare twinkled mischievously  in the sunlight. As she got closer Enid looked around to make sure no one was following her, or could see where she would duck into the swirl of Juniper branches. All was clear - the only onlookers, a few stray cows meandering on Darrow Head.

 "Where have you been ?" asked Harry, as Enid emerged into the dappled light.  "I've been waiting for ages. I thought you might have forgotten."
 "Harry Dempster! You do talk a lot of tommyrot. I know you had to muck out the pigs this morning and that's at least an hour's job. Besides, you know I can't get away before all my chores are finished. Aunt  Gwyneth insists on checking everything I do before I'm allowed out. Anyone would think I was a servant rather than her niece." Enid slumped to the ground and  lay back on the grassy bank. "Let's not argue," said Harry. "Look! I've set up my fishing rod, just liked you asked. If we're lucky we might catch a whale or two." Enid laughed, sat up and joined Harry by the riverbank.
The minutes ticked by and the line remained languid and still.
 "I don't think there are any fishes in this river, let alone  whales," moaned Enid. "I've been sitting here for ages. This is boring."
"Fishing takes patience," replied Harry "And clearly you ain't got very much." 
Enid stuck out her tongue and  was just about to throw down the rod in disgust when there was a sudden pull on the line.
 "Hey! Harry, I think I've got something. Come and help. I think I might have caught a whale after all."

It took  Enid and Harry almost ten minutes to land their whale, which turned out in the end to be a monster sized carp.
 "A whale, a whale, I've caught a whale," he whooped.
 "Let me hold him then," said Enid excitedly.
He placed the carp in Enid's hands, and as he did so she leant over and kissed him, firmly on the lips.
 "Wow!" said Harry, and returned her kiss with equal ardour. A cheeky grin spread across his nut brown face. "If that's my reward for helping you catch a whale I think I'll catch another?"
Enid blushed.
 "Now don't you go getting any ideas Harry Dempster," she replied. "I'm not that sort of girl." Harry winked at her.
 "As if I would. I'm a knight in shining armour I am, a veritable Sir Lancelot. Chivalry's my middle name." Harry bowed low and within minutes they were both in fits of laughter.
 "I think we'd better return our whale to his watery home," said Harry.
Together they bent down and replaced the carp in the river.
 "Goodbye Tommy Whale," whispered Enid. "KEEP SAFE!" The carp flipped its tail and swiftly darted away to the safety of deeper water.

For a few moments they stood looking nervously at each other. Enid was the first to break the awkward silence.
 "Thanks for teaching me how to fish," she said quietly.
 "And thanks for that kiss," said Harry. "I must admit, It was a bit of a surprise.  Does this mean you actually like me Enid Fisher?"
 "Course it does you ninny. Otherwise I wouldn't have told you about this place."
Harry reached over to Enid and swung her round. " Then from now on then you're
 my girl," he said.

The sun  began to set over Darrow  Head and Enid and Harry said their farewells. "Same time tomorrow?" asked Harry hopefully.
 "Why yes, dear sir, " replied Enid. "I do believe I have a space in my busy diary," and together they walked to the top of the hill hand in hand. Many more assignations followed over the years  and in 1913 Harry and Enid married.
     Their bliss was unfortunately short lived . Harry joined the army at the outbreak of the War and for five years its monstrous shadow  blocked out the sunshine of their love.

When Harry returned to Blighty he was not the same man that Enid had married. He had become quiet and introvert. The lively, outgoing, happy go lucky man she knew, was locked away in a distant land of memories  that he would not -or could not share. Enid so much wanted to help Harry but he resolutely refused to talk about his war experiences. She surmised that the memories were just too painful.

One morning when Enid was cleaning out the cupboard under the stairs, she came across their fishing rods which had fallen behind some wooden shelving. Her thoughts immediately ran back to those early days when she and Harry would meet in their secret hideaway down by the river. She smiled to herself as she recalled the day that she first kissed him. His expression had been one of complete surprise and also of absolute joy. From that day, all those years ago she knew that they were meant for each other.

Enid was about to replace the rods when a sudden idea popped into her head.
 "Hey! Harry. You'll never guess what I've just found."
 " You mean you've actually found something in that cupboard? Its like the black hole of Calcutta under there."
 "Well! I've just found these," said Enid extracting the rods. "How about we brush them off, grab some bait, and go fishing?"
 "I don't know about that," replied Harry doubtfully.  "It's been a long time, love, and I've probably lost the knack after all these years."
 "Well ! Harry Dempster, you'll never know until you try, " said Enid resolutely. "I know just the place down by the River Clare?" Harry laughed. "Come on Harry, just
 for old times sake."
Harry looked across at Enid's smiling face. How could he say no.

That afternoon, the two of them pushed their way past the juniper bushes and emerged into their secret river bank world.
 "Come on then Harry. Let's get cracking!" said Enid encouragingly.
 "I will," said Harry,  "But not before you give me a kiss. No kiss means no whales and we can't have that, can we?"
Enid eagerly complied. The kiss was long and tender.
Two hours later Harry was happily chattering away and  Enid caught a heart-tingling glimpse of the man she had married all those years ago.

That day, fishing by the river, was to be the first of many. They were days when  Harry could free his troubled  mind and focus on the beauty of nature. His battle was not now with a fierce some enemy but with an array of clever and intelligent fish. On those days that  Enid  and Harry fished  together, he would  smile and talk joyously  about their carefree, childhood.

So it was, that gradually, day by day, week by week and month by month,  Harry Dempster slowly recovered. Harry would always say that he  put his recovery down to the love of a good woman and the quiet search for Tommy, the riverbank whale.

On one particular summer morning, as he waited patiently by the riverbank
 for the fish to bite, he took out his pen knife and carved a heart in the bark of the Willow Tree. Underneath  it read - Harry loves Enid 1926 He stepped back to admire his handy work.
 "Oh dear," he said after a while. "I do believe I've forgotten someone." He returned to the tree and added the following:    Harry loves Enid 1926 and Tommy - our whale.

About the author  

Ann is a retired primary school teacher and has written many short stories in a range of genres. She has also written a fantasy fiction book for children entitled The Bewitching of Esme Smart. She hopes publish this sometime next year.

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