Darkwater

I am clumsy, but I am not patchwork.

They do not call me by what I was named because what I was named is not a good version of what I am, so they call me Raggedy. They call me Raggedy because I am clumsy and because I have been sewed on and I have been fixed and repaired and healed. I am Raggedy because I am clumsy and because I do not mind being clumsy.

What I am and what I do are different.

I like to look out over the Darkwater, from on top of the hills, sitting in the branches, watching as the current drags the river down, away, away, away from us. The houses burrow into the trees, curling up and away through the trunks and around the branches. They climb as high as the leaves.

The fairy lights float atop the Darkwater, not leaving with the current, but moving, swaying, crossing whenever they like, however they feel. Left, some go. Others go right. More still move up and down. Some dance across the river. There are a few, just a few, that do not move at all. They are all wonderful, and they all reflect off the surface of the Darkwater.

I have heard the stories about the other side of the Darkwater, and I believe them but I am not sure I want to go. They tell me it is not scary, that it is just another place, like this, but not here. That there are people and homes and lives. And I believe them, but here I am, on the West of the Darkwater.

I prefer the stories, I think, to the actual crossing. I am young and I am cautious and I believe them when they tell me the truth, but I do not yet want to leave this place.

Here, there is comfort. I know what I have here and I do not know what I won’t have over there, and so I worry about leaving.

From here, from this particular here, in this branch of this tree, I can see the long path to the Darkwater. It ducks under many bridges, and it stretches a long, long way, but I can see it.

It meanders almost to the horizon, the Darkwater pressing against the sky. There is, I know, a tiny stretch of green on the other side of the river that I can see in the day time. Now, with the sun down, I could not show you where it is, but I can point it out to you now so you can see for yourself in the morning.

This is what ‘believing’ is.

As I sit and wonder about exploring the Darkwater, I can hear the jingling of bells. They sound like golden rain. The wind blows through the branches and I begin the short climb down.

I throw one of my legs over the other side of the branch, and then the other, and I am facing the other direction. Above me, another branch. I hold it, stand, and shimmy my way back towards the trunk. Someone emerges from inside the tree, out onto my branch.

I know this someone, their round shape, the way the soft white light of the moon splatters on their body.

‘Raggedy,’ they say, looking at me as I shimmy, on my tip-toes and my tip-fingers, the bottom branch growing thicker and down and the top branch growing thinner and up. I am stretched as much as I can stretch and I can feel stitches on the back of my left leg pulling.

‘Raggedy,’ they say again, ‘you can just walk.’

I know I can just walk, but I do not like to and I do not want to fall.

‘I know,’ I tell them, and I continue until I cannot continue anymore. I had to stretch some more to be perfectly safe, to reach the part of the branch where we can both stand beside one another and have enough space. I have etched a small line into the wood where I am happy to stand alone.

They are standing on the wrong of that edge and I do not want to step around them. They want, I am sure, to step around me. They step slightly to my left, and then slightly to my right, while all I do is sway in the breeze.

‘Can I get past?’ They ask.

‘Yes,’ I say, but I do not move.

Gently, as hard as they’ll allow, they push me over to the right side of the branch a little, and I move where they want me to. My foot presses against a fold in the bark of the tree. This is where I will hold myself.

They do not push me any further. Instead, they step around, moving towards the end of the branch, towards the leaves. I turn as they do, watching as they make their way.

‘I like the Darkwater,’ I said. ‘I come up here to watch it.

They sit, paying more attention to themselves than to me, and they look out over the hills too. They are kicking their legs against the kick, swinging them back and forth and back and forth. I do not ever do this.

Then, after a minute:

‘I’m sorry?’ they say.

So I repeat.

‘I like the Darkwater. This is where I come to watch it.’

They nod, their legs stopping for a moment.

‘I like the breeze,’ they say. They look left, away from the tree.

I should leave, I know, but all I do is step away from the fold in the bark. I stand in the middle of the gentle path that many, many rough feet have left rubbed into the branch, and I look towards them, sitting quietly and patiently and they look, for a minute, like me.

‘Good night,’ I tell them after a while, and I turn quickly away, down the path, nearly tripping to the left, and I bump into the hole that leads into the trunk.

I do not see if they look back, but I think I will think, for a long time, about whether or not they did.

This piece was supposed to be published in issue five of Grouch Magazine but they didn’t contact me again. For more of my fiction: Gift Horse. The Sleep BankerLet me know if I should serialise an old novella.