“It could’ve gone worse”

by H.C. Siregar
Scarborough, ON

“If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace”1
We’re sitting by a large rock, basking in the afternoon light. The water in front of us runs down the stone-covered path, creating this wave-like motion similar to that of the tracks for Monster Truck cars. This river stretches far into the small bridge that the three of us just passed by. It may appear small from a distance, but trust me when I say that it is a long, grand one.

Returning my gaze towards the river, brown rocks greet my eyes. Even though it’s a fairly clear day, the stones emit no glow. Among the sounds of rushing water, a faint voice with a British accent gently turns my head to my right.

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest, to children ardent for some desperate glory.
        The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
        Pro patria mori.

Josh closes the book as he looks at me, “How’s that?”

“Pretty good,” I nod. “It’s a very heavy subject.”

“Yes, it is around the subject of gas attacks,” explains Josh as he places the small book in his lap.

His response prompts a quick raise on my brows before I lean my head forward to resume my attention to the body of water.

“It’s a shame, really,” he says, causing me to bolt my head to him. “Wilfred Owen was killed a week before the Armistice.”

“Yeah, he could’ve become big with his talent,” my cheek can feel the soft fabric of my mask.
“But that’s the thing. That’s life.”

“Indeed,” Josh sighs.

“Too many lives lost, too many great talents, well,” I say in a muffled volume. “Gone.”

“What’s that?” asks Josh.

“No, I was just saying ‘too many lives lost, too many great talents gone,’” I repeat myself. “We honestly saw that before, well, a year ago.”

“Yes, but, here we are,” Josh putting both of his hands behind him, his legs dip into the water. “Can’t believe that we’ve been living this long.”

“More like, ‘thank goodness!’” I correct him. “I thought I would never make it. I thought I would find myself crying to sleep inside my wardrobe and never wake up.”

“What? Why?” pushing himself upward, Josh’s eyes become round in my view.

I shrug, “because I couldn’t find a job. I thought I would be stuck in the hell hole that was under my father’s roof. I thought that was my life until marriage—”

“Look here,” Josh puts his hands around me, prompting me to turn and meet his view. “You’re here, now. That’s all that matters. You’re my best friend and losing you would’ve been a great tragedy.”

“The same goes for you when you have that surgery, dude,” I give him a small pat on the shoulder before he releases his arms from me.

“Yeah, well, I was hanging on,” he responds before putting both of his hands on his knees.
“Please, Sarah, you’re never a lost cause. Your father has no idea what he’s talking about.”

“Right,” I nod.

In my head, I’m glad to hear that. Josh is right. I glance to my left where the falls form its body. The water trickles down in a large form of white foam that has been stretched down to the big pool below it. There are people sitting behind it as their hands hold onto the rocky surfaces of its walls. They look so small; so are we.

Yet, we’re still here, enjoying the view of the falls.

“Josh,” my gaze is met with his squinting eyes. “Can you read another poem again, please?”

“Hold on,” he says before quickly grabbing the small book.

That’s when I turn to the river and squint at a beige object floating in the water. They wiggle like snakes, creating a noodle-like form among the clear liquid. Seeing this strange creature drifting away, I bring my head forward and blink.

That’s when a thunderbolt struck my brain, causing my eyes to jolt open.

“Oh crack,” I cry, “my stockings!”

I jump into the river and my hand grasps an invisible handle in the air. Once I steady myself, the water feels cold around my legs, and the surface below is full of moss-covered rocks. Like an astronaut landing on Mars, my hands are tethering above the water. The air helps me balance as I carefully but quickly step down the river where the water slowly swallows my skirt.

“Sarah!” I shot my head towards the back, and Josh’s already on the water rushing towards me. He nearly slips but regains his composure, pauses for a minute, and continues to walk down the water where he sees the stockings about to slide down the riverpath.

In a swift of his hand, Josh snatches the tip of the stockings. His hands, however, glisten with water that the current manages to pull it away from him. Like a mother taking away a scissor from an infant, the stocking slips from his fingers, and we both watch them tumbling down the unruly path.

“Oh no,” he utters.

Seeing his eyes becoming wider with disappointment, I lower my head and I feel a small giggle tickles from within. They start out from the inside of my throat before slipping through the cracks of my teeth into a small laughter. I arch my back and my head faces the sky. This muffled laughter flies through my mouth, sings to the clouds, and definitely causes a lot of heads to turn.

As I lower my head down, I hear a small chuckle that is the medium volume of my laughter from seconds ago. I turn to look at him before letting out a grin behind my mask.

“Funny, eh?” I say before walking up to him. My hand rests on his shirt-covered shoulder.

“Never mind the stockings, Josh. We’ve been through a lot worse.”

Staring at me with a tiny glimmer in his eyes, he nods in his response.

“Josh! Sarah!”

Directing our attention towards the rock, there stands a tall, young woman with her brunette hair curled into Victory rolls. The rest of her locks fall loosely around her shoulders which are covered by the floral blue dress she’s wearing. In her hands, I see the presence of a thermos and a picnic basket.

“Ah, Charlotte!” greets Josh towards the young woman.

“What are you two doing over there?” she gives her head a slight tilt.

“My stockings slipped and travelled down the river,” I nod as I slowly make my steps towards the rock.

“What? Oh no!” cries Charlotte in pity.

“No, no, it’s okay! I have plenty,” I wave my hand down. “It was from H&M, anyway, you’ve got plenty of those, right?”

“Yes, of course, we can take you there tomorrow, if you like,” she says.

“So what’s for tea, love?” cries Josh to his girlfriend.

“I just came back and grabbed some sandwiches and darjeeling,” she raises the thermos up.

“Sounds fantastic!” Josh responds enthusiastically.

“By the way, your poem book is there,” Charlotte bobs her head down towards the tiny book, which is lying near-close to the water.

“Ah, speaking of which,” I turn to Josh when he simultaneously looks at me. “Do you have more poems to share?”

Josh places both of his hands on hips and raises one eyebrow. He must’ve taken his time to think of my question before bowing his head down in a chuckle and returning with what I perceive to be a concealed smile.

“Well, after we jump out of the water, sure."


1 From the poem “Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen
2 From the poem “Dulce et Decorum est” by Wilfred Owen
--- Corresponding to the theme of an "Imagined Future," Siregar wrote a wish she had that hopefully would come true. In this body of work, she imagined herself hanging around the small town of Ingleton where she spent her 1940s weekend with her British penpal, Josh, and his lovely girlfriend, Charlotte. Besides attending the event, the three of them would spent their lunchtime by the Ingleton Falls, where they would enjoy the spectacular view of the village's beautiful waterfall. As they enjoyed a peaceful time, an unexpected circumstance broke the tranquility of their poem-reading session but ended with a positive outlook for the future.
--- Born in Jakarta, Indonesia and currently residing in Toronto, H.C. Siregar has always been interested in Creative Writing and Vintage Fashion. A talkative Bulbul bird, she talks and writes in paragraphs about the wonderful memories of the past and the present.

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