This is a slightly edited version of the original story as can be found posted on other Internet sites; in this form it has appeared in hardcopy. My thanks go to LadyCibelle, and my friend SH, for their assistance in preparing this tale for posting/publication.
Clarifications: Towpath = a path beside a river or canal, originally used as a pathway for horses towing barges; Bedsit = a rented room consisting of a combined bedroom and living room, with cooking facilities; Wobbly, = (in this particular incidence) a fit of panic.
At that time I didn't often walk along that towpath by the river any more. I'd enjoyed the tranquillity of the place since my childhood; in my younger days I had spent many happy hours fishing there and watching the waterfowl raise their young. To see the transformation from cygnet to swan take place over weeks and months had been my idea of heaven as a child. It could have been that my fishing expeditions to the riverbank -- which were never very successful -- were an excuse to sit and watch the swans and all the other waterfowl. Bird watching -- as it is euphemistically called -- wasn't really a pastime that was readily accepted by my peers back in those days; well not the kind of birds with wings on them anyway!
In later years, I had got into the habit of taking a stroll along the towpath almost every day. Even when we started courting, Mary and I spent a lot of our time on that riverbank. Not exactly what you could truthfully describe as bird watching or fishing by then though; Mary and I enjoyed that grassy riverbank for its ... yeah well, I don't have to spell it out to you, you were all young once; you know what I mean!
Once I'd lost Mary, I tended to walk there alone, nearly everyday. I suppose recalling my childhood and the many happy hours Mary and I spent there together.
That was until the day I looked into the water and saw those eyes staring back at me. That young woman's face had haunted my dreams ever since, and maybe I feared that I would see it looking back at me again if I walked by the river again. Look, maybe it's best if I go back to that afternoon again and I'll try to explain it in a more coherent manner.
Back then my life was in a kind of limbo, and had been for many years; my mind remained in a kind-a fog of memories most of the time. You could say that I was literally drifting through life, day to day.
Anyway, it had been my routine to take a long walk after work everyday; it didn't really matter where I walked, as long as it kept me from sitting in the house alone. I'd vary the route I took quite often, but it always took me through the cemetery where I could say hello to Mary and Loretta.
Mary and I had tried for years to have a child, but her pregnancy was to bring an unexpected end to our happiness. I suppose it's unusual in this day and age, for both the mother and baby not to survive a birth; but it does still happen when complications set in, and I'd been the unlucky husband and father that it had happened to.
I suppose I sort-of withdrew from the world after the funeral. Of course, our friends had tried to be very supportive, but they were flogging a dead horse really. I just didn't want to be around anyone, let alone married friends and their children.
Over the years, my life dropped into a routine of work and long quiet walks alone. Maybe I should have sold up the house and moved away, but somehow I couldn't bring myself to sell the house Mary had loved so much. But just being inside that great big Victorian pile, reminded me of all the work that Mary and I had put into it together to make it into the comfortable modern home we intended to spend the rest of our lives together in. And Mary's enthusiastic excitement, as we'd converted the smallest bedroom into a nursery.
"Three!" Mary had said, "Three children are going to begin their lives in this room, and grow up in this house!" she'd grinned when we finally finished decorating it.
As the years rolled by we'd began to think that children were never going happen for us and then eventually she fell pregnant. Mary and I were both ecstatic at the news.
But less then eight months later my life just stopped!
Now the door to that nursery room stays permanently closed, as does the door to the room Mary and I once shared together. I never did sleep in that room again after ... It held too many memories!
Anyway, I've digressed; Mary really has nothing to do with the particular day I was telling you about -- you'll please forgive me if I keep referring to her though -- other than the fact that as I did everyday, I had visited the cemetery and had my little daily talk with her and our baby Loretta, before I headed down towards the river.
Although it was a warm spring evening, there were very few people about as I took the steep path that led down from the bridge to the towpath beside the river below. That path is narrow and quite a claustrophobic place, with almost vertical banks either side. Those banks do strange things to the sound of the traffic on the road above, sort-of deadening it and distorting it at the same time.
I suppose that I must have been three quarters of the way down the path when a strange sound caught my ear. For some reason -- probably the distortion caused by those steep banks -- I had trouble working out what the noise was at first; eventually coming to the conclusion that someone had just thrown something -- probably some rubbish -- into the river from the bridge above. What I'd heard was the distorted sound of the splash as it hit the water.
"Arsehole!" I called out loud. Not that there was much chance the miscreant would have heard me.
It amazed me, even after all the time and effort that had been put into cleaning the river, from the environmental disaster area it had become. People would still used it as a convenient dumping ground for their crap; rather than take it a few miles up the road to the official tip.
Probably still annoyed about the idiot's thoughtlessness; when I eventually got down to the towpath -- maybe a minute of so later -- I found myself studying the waters surface. Looking back, I suppose I was hunting for any clue as to whatever had been dumped in the water. But all I could see were the usual ripples in the surface as the water moved slowly along by the current.
Proceeding on my way along the bank, my mind noted a young courting couple walking towards me, maybe about a hundred yards away. And I think I wondered whether they'd spotted what had been thrown into the water. But having second thoughts, I realised that -- like Mary and I had been all those years before -- they looked far too into each other, to notice anything. It was doubtful they'd have noticed if the QE 2 had steamed by.
"Remember when Mary and you, used to walk along the towpath arm in arm together like that?" A little voice -- that I didn't want to hear -- said somewhere in the back of my brain. A lump immediately formed in my throat, as I tried to ignore the voice. I didn't want to get into conversation with that voice again; those conversations always ended with me feeling even more melancholy.
Instead, I turned my attention back to the water, looking again for any sign of the detritus that I was sure had just been added to it. What I saw took my breath away for a second. Two eyes, just below the surface, staring back at me.
Christ! The sight of them gave me such a shock, that I staggered backwards for a few paces.
But then, taking my heart in my hands I moved back to the bank edge and looked down into the cold water a little more carefully. Sure enough, there was a face, just below the surface whose pleading eyes were staring back up at me.
Things kind-of happened quite quickly after that, as I moved into a kind of automaton mode. Look, I'm no hero and I believe if I'd stopped to think about it, I most likely would have stood there and yelled for help. But I wasn't thinking, my mind was concentrating on, or captivated by, the pleading expression in those eyes...
I remember yelling something -- god knows what -- to draw the courting couple's attention, and then I plunged head first into the cold water. It took me only a couple of strokes to reach the body; then taking firm hold of it under the arms, I found my feet in the mud and struggled to get her back to the bank. Where I found that the young man of the courting couple had jumped into the water with me, to help pull the inert body from the water.
"I could hear the guy's girlfriend talking to the emergency services on a mobile phone, as her fella and I started resuscitation on the apparently lifeless form. I, doing the mouth-to-mouth bit; whilst the young man, counted out the chest compressions as he did them. I find it strange to have to say, that as two people who didn't know each other -- but who both had obviously trained in the technique -- not one word passed between us. We both knew what had to be done and we both did our part, with dedication. Even though for a very long time, no sign of life came from the body we were working on.
I believe that inwardly we both feared that we were too late. Not speaking to each other, prevented us from having to actually air those thoughts. Whilst we kept working, there was a faint chance we would be wrong.
I think we could hear the sirens wailing in the distance, when -- what we I'm sure we both convinced was a corpse -- gave a sudden -- and very unexpected – cough, spraying river water all over us, and then she began to breath on her own.
Then the young man announced, "I have a pulse!"
.... There is more of this story ...