In a Farmhouse, Next to a River

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He wakes up with his hand clasping a red silk ribbon, the kind you would find holding back the hair of a small girl. His hair is wet. He wakes up next to the river with a pocket full of ribbon and the sound of water. He takes his hand out of his pocket and opens his eyes. He hears a barking in the distance, behind the sound of river water passing. The man remembers staggering, stone drunk, towards home and falling asleep in the woods by the river. There is a small sign remembering the farmhouse that used to stand on the banks of the river. He remembers drunkenly thinking last night that the ghost of a house was as good as a real roof. He rolls his eyes at himself, smirking, as he gets up to walk home before work. Dropping the ribbon, he looks for the dogs he heard barking.

[private]The man notices during his shift that his hearing is off, as if water were trapped in his ears. He shakes his head and notices his hair is wet.

After work he goes to a house where there is music and drinking. He talks to a girl in smirks. Alone, and late into the night, the man walks home. He stops on a bridge to piss in the river. He puts his hand in his pocket and finds a red silk ribbon. His drunken senses are confused as he sways forward and falls unceremoniously into the river. He hears a girl’s laughter and stands up to look. He can’t see her, even though the sound moves closer. He starts to swim clumsily towards the shore.

He wakes up with his hand wrapped in a red silk ribbon. He blushes and scolds himself while sitting up. He remembers falling into the river and a girl laughing at him. He vaguely remembers seeing the girl after he reached shore; he remembers the girl being very young, but it must have been a dream. He staggers to his feet, tossing the red silk ribbon at a patch of moss next to the river. He shakes water from his hair and walks along the river road home. On his walk he can feel echoes of the girl’s laughter.

That night he stays home and falls to sleep early. Deep in the night he is woken by the barking of a dog. It is a furious barking and he opens his door to see if anything is wrong. Not seeing a thing he walks outside. It’s a beautiful and warm summer night with fireflies lighting the tops of trees. The man walks to the end of his road and keeps walking. He decides it’s a perfect night to just walk. The barking is unimportant but persistent as he moves down the river road. Underneath the barking and slow sluicing of the water the man can hear footsteps. He waits to let the footsteps overtake him but they continue, and come no closer. He stops and sits on a park bench next to the river. Pushing back his wet hair he sees a small girl just beyond a break in the thin line of bushes that separate the sidewalk from the bench. She stands still, watching him. He calls to her as she reaches behind her head to untie a ribbon.

He wakes up with a red silk ribbon tied tightly around his wrist, angrily cutting into his skin. He vomits and angrily tosses the ribbon into the river. He spits up more water and stumbles clumsily away from the riverbank and the old farmhouse.

At work, filling a glass of water, he turns and vomits violently into the sink. He stands to look up, tries to smirk, and explains he had a late night out. He is sent home. In his bathroom the man vomits up more water. He reaches into his pocket and finds a red silk ribbon. Throwing it into the toilet he watches the water slowly wrap around the ribbon and carry it down. He vomits again. The man wakes up next to the toilet, covered in vomit-water. He stumbles awkwardly out of his front door. He is dizzy and so thirsty he can barely move. He staggers towards the river and drinks until his stomach feels as dense as cement, as taught as a water balloon. He hears a girl’s laughter behind him and turns to see her untie a red silk ribbon from her hair and step forward. She quickly loops the ribbon around his neck before she pushes his lolling head under the water. He struggles weakly against the girl. The man drinks river weed and muddy water as he dies, his neck wrapped in a red silk ribbon.

He wakes up with his neck wrapped in a red silk ribbon, the kind you would find holding back the hair of a small girl, the kind of girl who would have lived in a farmhouse next to a river, with busy and bedraggled parents and a few dogs, who would drink from the river’s cool waters. He could picture this small girl, hair blowing softly behind her, as she chases a man towards a river, through vines and low bushes, her dogs barking at the river’s edge. He could see the hands of the girl untying a ribbon from her hair and looping it around a man’s neck, holding him underwater as he shakes frantically to breathe, as he takes in water and river moss through his nose and mouth. The man clasps the ribbon and all he can see is this girl; he pushes his desperate face beneath the cool waters of the river to breathe in weed and mud. As he murders himself he can see, resting in the red clay, the tiny finger bones of what might, once, have been part of a small girl, the kind that would have lived in a farmhouse next to a river.[/private]

Charlie Geoghegan-Clements lives in the south-eastern United States where he is learning that nothing said about friends is ever true. His recent publications have been in Versal and Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web.