This is the first story in my Fifty Tales of Fiction series. Hope you enjoy!
Image by Photokanok, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net
It used to keep me awake at night, the waterfall.
Like a clock, whose ticking is never noticed, day in day out, I never thought of the waterfall until I rested when, upon closing my eyes, suddenly all I could hear was the splashing of water on rock.
I would keep my eyes tightly closed. I would throw the covers on over my head in spite of the heat, but there was something about the call of the waters that took on a new quality each time I turned away from it.
It was as if the water found a new way to reach me each time I tried to block it out.
I would get up, walk around, pad about the apartment in my bare feet and pyjamas, but as I entered each of the rooms in turn, the waterfall would follow me.
“You couldn’t sleep again last night,” my wife would say to me in the morning times. We would be sitting, hunched over the breakfast table and she always caught me right when I was pretending to be immersed in the paper.
“It was too hot again.”
“I left the window open for you.”
“Yes I know,” I would say.
“Then why did you shut it? If you were too hot?”
I tried not to look at her. I didn’t want to talk about it, I knew I’d never be able to explain to her in a way that she could understand.
“It’s nothing,” I would say, then I would get up and wash my cereal bowl, and stare out into the garden, listening. The silence would only ever be broken by the birds, and I wondered if they knew and if they were talking about me. Ridiculous the things one thinks about so early in the morning, like birds talking.
One night it got so bad that I couldn’t restrain myself.
It was as if the waterfall had been steadily growing louder and louder each night, but in reality I knew that the sounds had been the same, that it was my resolve being eroded away by my conscience like sand on a shoreline.
Getting up, I went over to the window. I saw the moon, low and pale, shining through gaps left by the great waxy leaves of the banana trees. I remembered then, a childhood friend of mine. She used to say that seeing the moon through a window brought bad luck. I wondered then, what happens after the bad luck has passed? If I keep seeing this moon through this window, will the bad luck stay with me forever? Will it pass the instant I stop looking for it, or if I open the window and see the moon with my own eyes will that break the spell?
I went away from the window then. I slipped on my brown, soft shoes and left the bedroom. In the hall our dog was lying asleep in his basket. I watched him for a moment; watched his fat, furry belly swell and then deflate like a bagpipe. I wondered what he might be dreaming about, if dogs really do dream at all.
I crossed the hall through the sitting room and unlocked the patio doors. There was no breeze at all outside, just that jungle-edged stickiness that seemed to trap the night’s smells in its folds.
I took a deep breath of night air; all those scents, of the trees, of the soil, of the threat of rain. I tried to enjoy that breath but the waterfall was calling to me so urgently that I couldn’t rest and enjoy the moment. I exhaled and headed out across the patio, parting the huge green leaves with my hands so that I was now walking through the vegetation to that secret place.
The moon watched me from over head. It followed me and made a path for me in turn to follow. Up ahead, I heard the waterfall chiming out, and now there was an excitement, a hunger in its voice. It knew I was coming to it. I knew that I was only a few last feet away now. I turned to look back over my shoulder; I gazed up towards my bedroom window but the light was still off so I continued.
I pushed through where the leaves grew thickest, then there I was.
The waterfall was beautiful under the moonlight. Where before its call had been urgent, and plaintive now it sang. The sound was golden; the spray glittered as it passed into the faint light and out into the night. When I felt that spray on my hands, my face, and my body, it was as if a halo was covering me, and nothing bad could ever happen again. That was when I reminded myself that it had always felt that way, even after she had died when I would return to our hiding place to wait for her.
I walked on the slippery rocks that surrounded the waterfall like a borderline. I found the path that snuck in behind the wall of water, and even though I tried to be careful I could fell the stray jets splashing out, soaking my nightshirt.
I came to the cave mouth and slipped inside. It was pitch black, warm as a sauna in there. I sat down on the ledge; even in the darkness my hands knew how to find it, and I waited.
In this time, I tried not to let my mind wander too much. I tried not to think of my wife, or our dog, or the apartment. I put all thoughts of work out of my mind. I knew I would get no sleep tonight and I reconciled myself with that as usual. All that mattered now was that I cleared all my thoughts away, that I pushed them to one side, like a pile of papers on a desk.
Then the light came. It started faint at first but it progressed and I watched it shimmer its way towards me, keeping an eye out all the time for the sign of a foot, stepping out of the cloud of light.
There it was. She stepped out and looked as lovely as she ever had done when she was alive, lovelier even now after her death of sorts.
“You came then?” Her voice chimed out to me, she was so close now that I was entirely lost in the warmth of her light.
“Yes I heard the waterfall,” I said.
I saw her shake her head in that airy way she always had. Her yellow hair swayed and fell over one shoulder.
“You look beautiful,” I whispered to her. She smiled, and her hand pulled down one side of her dress at her breast to reveal the knife wounds that had gouged out her heart.
“Even this?” She asked me.
“Even that.” I replied.
“Does your wife know you’re here? Only, I thought you said that last time she got suspicious and—“
I shook my head.
“No, no she’s asleep I promise,” I took her hand, or at least I tried to. She saw the gesture and placed hers in mine.
“Your husband died last week.” I said, and I felt her shiver a little at the mention of his name.
“He hung himself with the cord from his sweatpants.”
“The prison guard found him on Sunday morning.”
We were both silent for a moment.
“He never knew it was you. I never did tell him,” she said to me after a while.
“Do you think– “ she hesitated, her bright hands flew up to the scars in her chest.
“Do you think, now that’s he’s dead, that’ll come back?”
Outside the cave, rain was now falling in torrents; a sudden cloudburst that joined the waterfall and made it swell, its flow swept this way and that by violent gusts of howling winds.
“I hope Jenny doesn’t wake up,” I said, before I noticed that she had placed her hand on my shoulder. I could not feel the touch as I once had done, but I did feel it.
“Do you think he’ll find us?” She said again.
I looked out at the rain and felt now how safe it was in the cave, and how strange a world beyond it.
“I really don’t know.” I said at last, and thoughts entered my head, about the gun in bedside cabinet, and what it might feel like to leave everything behind.
“I won’t let him hurt you ever again,” I said,
and at that,