The Waterwheel

I slipped off my socks, rolled up my trousers and picked up my sixpenny fishing net. The gate had corroded to such a point that parts of it were now missing and local children had long since found ways to squeeze through the bars. Now much of it had disappeared allowing access to any child not put off by the cavernous darkness and strange echoes beyond. I climbed through with little difficulty.  Behind me were children paddling, framed within the gaping mouth of  bridge, trousers rolled up  or dresses tucked into pants wielding fishing nets  and loudly declaring their prowess at netting fish or tadpoles. I knew that on the other side, inaccessible accept by this means, lay an abandoned water mill it’s wheel still sloshing relentlessly, grinding no more grain, and providing no living for the parents of these children.  The children watched me enter but didn’t try to follow.

Despite the pressing current and the darkness that initially made me panic a little, I told myself that the secret would be  to consider each new footstep carefully while bracing myself against the current with the stick of my fishing net. That way I wouldn’t stumble and make a fool of myself. I knew that ahead there were troughs in the river bed as well as sharp stones. I knew the water became noticeably  colder especially near the middle where for some reason the current seemed to pause and miniature whirlpools would sometimes  appear. I was sufficiently far in that I could already feel the water chilling.  My feet were accustomed to the route but appeared whiter and thinner with blue veins that in the cold water glowed like an ancient script.  As I lifted my head  I was aware of a distant descant of children dwarfed occasionally by rumble of a car passing over the bridge  overhead  and the slosh the waterwheel. It brought it all back.

I looked back. A small audience of children had assembled beyond the gate  framed by the bridge arch now in silhouette against a bright afternoon sun.  The bridge was made from flint and consequently the raw edges of sharp stones glistened and reflected the light back into the rivers flow and back onto there faces like the moving grain of an old film. The children were smiling, kind smiles like they recognised me. The faces were familiar. I knew them everyone. My eyes filled with tears and  I leant against the wall blotting out the reflected light. The screen went dead.  My feet were freezing. My fishing net slipped from my grasp. I felt myself falling. The flints scraped against my back as a sat into the water. The water filled my trousers and I wet myself.

“Chris I can see you ? Are you alright. We have been really worried .You have missed your tea but we kept some for you. It’s trifle your favourite. Come on now everyone’s waiting it’s bingo night.

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