The Woman from the Water: In which she returns

She rose out of the water in the middle of the afternoon. Her dress stuck wetly to her body and drops fell rapidly from the gathered gray fabric at her ankles. She immediately started walking forward not stopping to wipe the water from her eyes or pull the strands of hair from her face. The wind was her friend and moved the drops and strands to their place without her asking.

She walked steadily on the face of the water, the waves lapping at her heels and toes. How long had the water held her underneath? It would one day hold her again. But today it would have a break.

As she neared the shore, she wove through the few people pretending it was still summer and playing in the cold water. Perhaps they were the ones who would one day join her underneath the waves. Today, they did not see her.

Soon she reached the end of the water, stepped over the edge of the pier, walked down its full length, and headed into the streets.

She arrived at the train stop and walked up the steps, the long train of her dress now torn and black from trailing on the streets. It was almost rush hour and several other people were waiting. No one noticed her nor looked to check what was creating the growing puddle of water on the platform on a cloudless day.

Her train came. She got on and sat next to a window towards the rear of the car. The air-conditioned air raised the hairs on her arms. The water drops still falling down her back made her shiver.

She watched the buildings go by as the train moved north outlining the shoreline. It had been years since she had returned to the city. It seemed to her that the air crystallized into glass around the houses, trees, and people on the streets the closer she came to her destination.

The train made a stop, and a tall man with dark hair got on. He immediately noticed her, the only person to pay her any attention since she had come up from the bottom of the water. He looked fixedly at her, his eyes sweeping her form once – taking in every drop of water, every wrinkle of her dress, every curve of her body – and then stopping on her face. He looked straight into her eyes. She looked back.

“I know where you’re going,” he said.

She said nothing but kept looking back at him.

“They told me you would go back one day,” he continued. “Everyone’s been waiting, but they will still be surprised.”

“I don’t care if they’ve been waiting,” she said. “And I don’t care if they’re surprised. It’s not for their benefit that I’m going back.”

“No. No, it’s not,” he agreed.

She turned away from him and back to the buildings outside. He continued gazing at her from his seat just inside the train doors.

For years he had heard she would return and he had never fully believed it. But here she was now, going back to the place where everything had started. And he was the one who had seen her first. Nothing would ever matter more to him than this fact.

More stops came and went until finally the certain one was announced, and she stood up to walk to the doors. He stood, too, though he did not walk forward. He was motionless except for his eyes that followed her movement through the crowded train, hungrily and reverently taking in every detail of her. The train stopped. She turned her head to give him one last steely glance and walked out the door.

The air was warmer here, away from the water, and the cool air of the train had dried her almost completely. She felt comfortable as she went down the station stairs to the street. She reached the bottom and paused to look around. It had been many, many years since she had seen this street. It was a welcomed sight to her, though she also felt foreboding at walking down it. But that was what she had come for, so she breathed in deeply once, turned right, and started walking.

She passed shops that she had forgotten but that became familiar the moment she saw them. She passed buildings that had not been there when she had last walked on this street. She came upon the park where the end had started thirteen years ago. She looked intently through the trees as she walked passed, remembering the men who had surrounded her there and the women who had brought her to them. She remembered the men’s calm faces looking down at her. She remembered their warm, gentle fingers around her wrists. Would these same men be at the house now?

She saw the trees growing sparser towards the end of the park and sped her steps. She was almost there.

She came to a corner and stopped. She wanted to stretch out this last moment before she entered their world again. Thirteen years ago, they had dragged her from the house she was looking at now, only a few feet away. Now she was returning just as she, and everyone else, had always known she would.

She was not afraid and she was not worried. This was all at the proper time, and there was nothing and no one who could stop what needed to come. This was as it should be. This is where it had ended and this is where it would start again.

She walked forward with the steadiness and sureness with which she had come out of the water some hours before. She soon was before the house and could clearly see the people inside. They looked calm, unhurried, carefree. If they were waiting for her, they did not show it. For them, it was just another day of life.

As she crossed onto the path leading up to the house, she felt the breath inside her shift and her heart give one double beat. She inhaled deeply and smelled the sweetness of the flowers growing amongst the grass and the rich wine upon the tables inside. She opened her eyes wide at the aromas she had been without for thirteen years. She felt a flash in her soul and she jolted forward to go quickly up the stone steps. They had put her beneath the water long ago, but now she was here. They would know.

(What the Water Gave Me,
by Florence + The Machine)

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