Footprints in Water
by Robert Barrett
On Christmas Eve, she fell; sucked downwards through the angry, screaming wind, head first, through two miles of unencumbered sky, and no thought can take root, only the biting of the seatbelt across her stomach. A white sandal flicks from her foot, like a scrambling dove, whipped heavenward, and there is no fear and no regret in half a minute of time, only, this is happening now and this is happening now. Spinning, falling; a tightening noose round her midriff, she gasps for breath, and below, and beyond, a foggy, greenish, hue, like mounds of broccoli, or cauliflower; if cauliflower was viridescent green. Green. Green. Green.
Days fall away. Light comes through the tops of trees, a golden crown with spears of platinum, spiking. They flicker on her eyelid. She hears the plane’s engine buzz by her head. Small and intense. Stop. The buzzing starts again. Stop. A tickle on her cheek bone. A hand comes to swat it away. It is her own hand, she finds. She gets to her knees and sends her hollow voice into the trees. It comes back. It says, you are alone.
A girl in a yellow and green polyester mini dress with one sandal and a bag of boiled sweets that have fallen ten thousand feet from the ripped fuselage of an aeroplane through the canopy of the Peruvian rainforest. She places a sweet in her mouth.
Her left eye is swollen shut, the other blinks against the light. She pushes her shoe in front of her to check the ground ahead; for snakes. Her ears become her eyes. Macaws screech. Jaguars slither.
Her mind offers a perfect sentence:
I lost my glasses when I fell out of the aeroplane.
She laughs. Ridiculously. Another sentence:
I lost my mother when I fell out of the aeroplane.
She hears the gurgling of a spring; trickling water. She drinks. Remembers her father’s words to her as a little girl, ‘follow the water, for springs becomes streams. And where there are streams, there are rivers.’ Soon, she is wading waist-deep, a slow push, slish, slosh. At night she shivers on the bank, raindrops rinse through the nothing of her polyester dress.
When the girl with one shoe cannot go on, there is no one to tell her that she will go on, floating mid-stream, in the fast flowing flood, her belly swollen like a gourd from drinking river water against hunger. There are no footprints in the water and she leaves no trail behind. She gives herself to the river, as we all must do, and finds the footprints instead, in the soft sand of her imagination. The tracks of the words a child hears. The imprints of a parent’s love. When she sees the boat, on the eleventh day, she runs her finger-tips over the smooth cedar of the gunwale. Only then is she certain that it is a boat: ‘because where there are boats, there are people.’
Robert Barrett lives in Wicklow, where he writes flash fiction, plays, and short stories. He won first place in the RTE PJ O’Connor Awards in 2017 and 2020 and his work has been published in the Fish Anthology, Bath Flash Fiction 4, The Incubator, New Flash Fiction Review, and on RTE Radio 1. He was shortlisted for the 2021 Bridport Flash Fiction competition and was a runner-up in the Fish Flash Fiction Competition in 2015 and 2016. He is co-editor of @splonk1. You can find him on Twitter @barrettrob.
Detail of photography by Steph684 via Pixabay.