I pause on the bridge where she stood, mesmerised, thinking of her last thoughts. Paralysed by the possibilities. The darkness of the world fed her illness, but the river ended her life. Its beauty couldn’t ease her pain.
I long to enjoy the river’s beauty, but can only think of her. Did the German bombers fly over the river on their way to sow fear in her City? Did they feed the voices in her head? Why do I think of a woman I only know through words; whose life is so different from mine? Why don’t I see the light glint in the water, the fish dart in the reeds? Why do I not hear the birds, and admire the beauty of the hills? Why am I looking for her?
The Ouse; so sustaining, so fatal. It flows through fields, between Downs, under bridges, to the chalk cliffs. It nourishes crops. It supplies the brewery upstream, and the harbour downstream. It employs, and feeds. It’s a playground for hobby sailors, fishermen, and walkers. It brings life to those it touches, but took her life.
There is a disturbance in the water and a face mask floats under the bridge. I watch as it is carried downstream, between the hills, through the fields, to the sea. The river’s course is unaffected by the mask, as it was impervious to the distant bombs.
My reflection briefly surfaces then disappears. I imagine her lying on the riverbed below. My darkness is blackened by a world nearly 80 years older. My chest tightens as I realise my daily bathe in nature is soon to finish. My world is falling apart. I have felt this way before, but now I have a reason to be anxious. Now, my irrational mind has rational fears.
I don’t hear the voices she heard. I don’t hear the bombs falling. My world has not been devastated by war between people. I am afraid because of another kind of battle. I am falling in a different world. A world where I can’t hug, where I can’t work, where I can’t meet with people who care about me. My exercise brings me to the bridge over the Ouse, and I can’t stop thinking of her, wondering if the water salved her pain.
The river did not deviate when Virginia took her last breath, when the blood in her veins slowed, when her heart stopped. Its course did not vary when her life was surrendered, neither will it be altered when my life is over. Some days this reassures me. Some days it fills me with despair.