Marnie lay by the river. It was cold this early in the morning. A white fog pounded the riverbank as if steam was rising.
The river churned. It was rushing somewhere – maybe to the hills where the wildflowers grew, maybe to the sea. Marnie couldn’t be sure which way it was going; she had lost her sense of direction.
It was the letter’s fault. Arlo’s letter. Written in that neat, sure script that always made her think of notes on a stave. Arlo was a composer of sorts, his letters were usually very well-considered, properly constructed like they taught you in school with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Arlo’s letter had explained everything. It was typical of him to elaborate. Marnie had told him there was no need. Once something was over, it was over. There was no need to try and paint it a different colour.
Arlo was decent. Everybody said so. That’s why he had written the letter in the first place. To make Marnie feel better for ending up alone.
She found she couldn’t read the whole thing in sequence. It was like ripping a band aid off a wound that was still weeping – you either had to do it all at once or ease it off bit by bit. Same with painful words – you either had to read the whole thing in an aching rush, holding your breath, or read stray phrases here and there, trying to piece together the meaning.
Marnie had known for a while that Arlo had met someone else and that he was thrown into turmoil as he searched for a way to tell her. She respected that about him, the fact that he would always come clean; but it didn’t make the sense of emptiness any less vast. How could it be that you could wake up in the morning knowing someone was yours and by the end of the day – one single day – he was someone else’s?
Three words stuck out on the pages of Arlo’s letter. Not – I love you. Marnie wouldn’t hear that from Arlo ever again. Not after – she is pregnant.
Sometimes scenes from life mirrored lyrics from songs. Marnie thought of Springsteen’s The River.
‘Then, I got Mary pregnant
And man that was all she wrote..’
That was all Arlo needed to write. If his new girl was pregnant he would never leave her. It was the beginning of something for him, but it was the end for Marnie.
All night she had been singing the song in her head. She had been thinking of Ophelia and the Lady of Shalott. Drowning, dying in the river for madness. For love. For love and madness. And that’s where she had ended up. By the river.
The river was lit with morning. Green and yellow and blue all at once. How could water, so colourless under glass be so full of the sky and the trees and the break of day as it flowed over ground?
Marnie wanted to cry, to drop her tears into the river to see if they changed its earthy hue but the tears were tightly closed. All she could do was dip Arlo’s letter again and again into the river water until the words melted, clumping at the edges of the paper like honey sliding down a spoon. She dipped and dipped until the colour of the words became the colour of the water, until there were no lines like leaving you or I won’t be coming back hurtling like arrows.
Arlo’s words changed to blurred blue, forming an arc on the paper like an open hand folding in on itself before disappearing into the water. The paper, clinging like damp cloth, was bare. Panic rose in Marnie’s throat. She didn’t want to see the words on that letter ever again; but she didn’t want to not see the words ever again.
Nothing could be done. They were gone, washed away. As the light hit the surface of the water Marnie saw trails of blue ink flick like fish before they followed the course of the river to the hills or to the sea; trembling, ghostly watercolours.
*Inspired by the Search Engine Stories prompt – water colours.