I’m eight. The river bank is covered in concrete. It’s about a ten-foot drop to the rushing waters below blocked only by a metal railing, molded and painted to look like wood. The water looks solid, as if it could hold my weight. Small objects float by: leaves, twigs and occasional pieces of trash. I climb through the rails and walk on the opposite edge of the concrete while holding onto the bar and looking into the river. I’ve snuck out of the house. I’m not supposed to be here.
The sound of my tennis shoes scraping on the pavement seems abnormally loud, and the vibration crawls all the way up to my fingertips. I look down expecting to see the river; instead I am confronted with a stone staircase.
I jump off the ledge and onto the first step. My hands are sweaty and dirty from the rail, so I wipe them on my corduroy pants. The staircase leads directly into the water. Why would there be a staircase leading directly into the water? Who would need such a thing? I walk down the steps carefully in order not to slip this close to the river. At the last step I bend down and put my fingertips into the water.
First a dimple, then a hole, the world flows backwards through the breach.
The water is cold and impenetrable. I’m standing at the last dry step and staring in to the green surface. I have to know where these stairs lead. They must be here for a reason. I take the first step into the river. The water quickly soaks my shoe and sucks a gasp from my body. I drop another step and the water rises to my knees, another and the water is up to my stomach. The current pushes on me as if the water kingdom was gently urging me forward. I take another step and the water soaks my shirt. The current is too strong; it knocks my feet out from under me. I fall backwards and hit my head on the steps above. The world shakes from the impact and then I’m in the arms of the river. It has lured me in and caught me.
Everything is a roaring light-green. Sometimes I see my hands and sometimes my feet. I am spinning. My red backpack with its promised status of student flashes through my mind. My mother’s thin scar on her thumb, the green pushes its way into me and devours all these things. It takes me in as I take it in. I am part of its murkiness and it is the murkiness inside me. It pushes out light and dark and pain and rapture until I am floating in a silent green sky leaving behind nothing but a bright red trail from the back of my head.
First a cut then a flow, the river soaks in.
A small light penetrates the darkness. At first it’s a pinpoint then it slowly grows and stretches into a square. The smell of shrine incense around me. I’m in a chamber under the sea. I’m breathing water, inhaling seaweed, fish and brine. There is a slight rustling sound… Just to my right…