Monday 23 March 2020

The Ferryman

Lemon and Ginger Tea


By Jo Dearden

The bed felt hard and uncomfortable. She was so thin now, her bony body chafing against the rubber sheet underneath her. She was aware of cold metal bars close to her head, instead of the soft headboard of her bed at home. She felt disorientated. Everything seemed unfamiliar. Wires hanging down around her. A bag of clear liquid hung from a metal stand beside her, linked to a white canular taped onto her left skinny bruised arm.  She could feel the coldness of the liquid coursing through her veins. A machine whirred. She could hear voices nearby but couldn’t make out what was being said. It felt like being at the entrance of a tunnel. She tried to see where she was, but everything seemed hazy. She was stuck in a swirling mist that was gradually wrapping itself around her.
Someone was trying to lift her head. ‘Good girl. Easy does it,’ she heard a voice say. She tried to reply, but she couldn’t make her mouth move. She could sense her daughter sitting near her, holding her bony hand. Perhaps her son was in the room too. She wasn’t sure.
A bright light appeared to be getting closer. After a while it seemed to be right over her. She tried to stretch out her arms, but they stubbornly remained by her side. She felt her body rising. She was sliding through the tunnel, the light flickering at the other end. She closed her eyes.
She was walking along a seashore. Waves gently lapping, almost touching her sandaled feet. Wet shingle glistening in the sunlight.  She saw a family laying out rugs and towels. A wicker picnic basket sat nearby with its lid open. Two children helped themselves to a sandwich each and ran towards the shore. They threw some stones into the water laughing and shouting.
A long open boat suddenly appeared from nowhere.  She hadn’t noticed it until it was nearly upon her. An elderly woman and a young boy sat in the boat as it bobbed alongside. A ferry man clambered towards her, offering his hand to help her aboard. ‘Do I have to come with you now?’ she asked. The ferryman nodded, his long grey hair wafting in the breeze.
She stepped into the boat and sat next to the young boy, who looked about 8 years old. The old woman sat opposite. She looked back towards the beach. No-one seemed to have noticed the boat.
The ferryman began to row. The oars effortlessly cut through the waves like a knife through soft butter. ‘When will we get there?’ the little boy asked.
‘That depends,’ the ferryman said. The oars swished back and forth. ‘We might have to collect one or two others first.’
‘What happened to you?’ she asked the boy.
‘My football ran into the road. I didn’t see the car. It hit me before I had time to get out of the way.’
‘Oh dear,’ she said, putting her arms around him.
‘That was bad luck. I expect there will some other boys like you where we’re going,’ the old woman said.
The boat turned towards the shore again. A middle-aged man stood waiting patiently. He stepped into the boat and sat next to the old woman.
‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Nice to have company. I didn’t know what to expect.’
The ferryman started to row again. ‘Do you ferry people every day?’ the little boy asked him.
‘Yes, there are a few of us who can do this. I used to take people across an estuary in Devon before I got sick.’
‘Do we have to pay you?’ I haven’t brought any money,’ the little boy persisted.
‘No, this is a magic boat. You have to be very special to be allowed on it,’ the ferryman told him.
The landscape started to change.  Everything was bathed in an ethereal light. An eerie silence fell over them as they all gazed in wonder at their surroundings.
After a while the boat rose out of the water. She held the little boy tightly as the boat flew through the air until it was a tiny speck in the sky, disappearing into the clouds.
Back in the hospital, the machine stops whirring. A nurse places a sheet over her lifeless body. Her daughter sits on a chair next to the bed with her head in her hands.

About the author

Jo Dearden trained as a journalist with the Oxford Mail and Times.  She did a degree in English Literature with creative writing as a mature student. She co-edited her local village newsletter for about ten years. She also worked for a number of years for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. She is currently a member of a creative writing group, which is stimulating her writing again. Jo lives in Suffolk.

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