The River Keeps Me Company: extracts from The Floating Harbour

Download the whole novel, for free, as a PDF here: The Floating Harbour


     “Keep keeping it together. If you fall apart, I’ll drown.”
     I turn and see the man aboard his boat, as it moves out as he works about the mast.
     “Why do you keep talking, out loud, to your boat?” My arms are crossed by the time my question’s asked; arms released by the time response is given.
     “Is it better to talk to those who’ve never been, and share only with the pages of a notebook?”
     He slides down the mast, back against the wood, sits at its base, hat shadowing the face, gives a parting wave, that’s nearly a salute, and sails off, down into the city.
     I watch her and she’s wistless as she weaves and waves again. Between us a kind of sled is pulled by the power of a horse, reined and bridled, and my boots and my damp and muddy ends-of-jeans cut across, behind, the way it’s going, over toward the bustle by the buildings.
     She asks me:
     “Who’s your friend?”
     I tell her:
     “Well, not you.”
     She protests:
     “I couldn’t help you.”
     I reassure:
     “I know.”
     Buried in the bustle by the buildings, submerged in the surging by the shops, carried by the current of the current crowd, we float on hard ‘r’s and drift in dialect of West Country women and men, taking, each, their place at the place at the bridge, living in the fort upon the chasm.
     A spider flits across the paving and the mud as I glance groundward as we move along, lifting my gaze back up and on the people.

There’s one with a stride, in anger;
there’s one with a well-kept waddle;
there’s one with purpose paramount;
there’s one with a limp and hobble.

There’s one with a basket – woven,
held against a dirt-white apron;
there’s one with a soft hat – ribboned-
straw – on a head of auburn hair.

There’s one with ragged trousers on;
there’s one with a red, ragged shirt;
there’s one with light blue, one with green:
both dresses, with the ground they flirt.

There’s one with cloth-sack hoisted up
across the blades of hunched shoulders;
there’s one who, with another, loads
barrels onto a wheeled cart.

­­­­­     A bridle and its breath come close as she pulls me to the side and turns me. She is flowing with the others in a way that I am not and she’s pulled me round to look upon a broad, green hill, much higher than the towers re-ascendant. There are clouds, in flux from grey to white, in the blue that the grassed hill climbs into, some walls of stone and little paths mark it, near the trees, for settlement.
     The river keeps me company, uncovered and in sight, drawing and directing yet more ships and pilot boats between the vessel walls – walls that are lined with the glass of panes jutting out from rows of coloured buildings. They stand there white, dark blue, and red, and beige and grey and brown and yellow; their tops are tiled, triangular, or flat and without feature.
     “All this was just below the surface.”

 

Image credit – Wikipedia

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