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dear helen

horror section
THE LITTLE WINDOW

It was a very long time ago, but the memory is still sharp. It is probably the thing I remember most vividly from my childhood; many things, I preferred to forget. It was a Saturday morning and I was wearing a green school gymslip. I still don't know why. The May blossoms hung over the khaki water of the canal; the sky reflected in it was a hollow blue and white.

I squatted on the edge of the towpath beside the bridge, built from gun-grey stone. Bramble bushes climbed over it and rushes clustered at its base. I was ready. Feeling guilty, I took my brother's precious toy Viking ship, which I had been forbidden to touch and launched it into the water, where petals drifted white and pink upon the muddy surface. The loose, untidy granny knot I had tied to its prow was a wispy sliver of grey-white on the surface.

Kneeling, I saw the depth of the sky reflected, which sent me dizzy. My knees hurt from the cold of the bricks but, as I shifted to ease them, the string slithered out of my hand and the little boat drifted away.

I stretched out a small hand desperately and toppled face-down into the water. We had always lived by the canal, but I had never learned to swim. As I struggled for my life, I could see the pink weeds growing out of the canal's grey sides, stretching out their feeble, leafy fingers. But they couldn't help me!

The water gushed through my mouth and nose, flooding my ears and throat. I was choking. I felt a slimy weed on my tongue; my arms and legs felt like stone, dead and heavy from thrashing about in a losing battle.

I sank down until only my eyes could see over the thick surface, slippery with decaying petals, then bobbed up again to the real world above.

I screamed, but no one came. Then I sank again, praying one little prayer I had learned at school. My eyes were bursting, my chest tightening and, in one terrible adult moment, I realised that I was dying. Now I seemed very far from the bridge, leaving it fast, streaming away from everything I knew.

Suddenly, I was conscious of spinning white, tossing in a world of white foam. A hole appeared in front of me. The hole of the bridge? I was whirling towards it, being sucked into death and through...

I knew it was Spring. A bright, lovely day. I flew high above the khaki water, my feet touching the top of the May bushes. I was happy, relaxed, amused, adult, enjoying the trip. I remember feeling detached, disinterested, watching what was happening below me. A group of men stood on the bank. They had pulled a little girl from the water with a boat hook. She was dressed in green - a small girl with plaits. It didn't bother me at all that I was looking at myself. I was detached from life...

After experiencing that wonderful flight, I remember nothing else until I came round and discovered myself on the old leather settee in our living room. Later, I sat up and brought up amounts of muddy brown water and even a piece of weed into the crock bowl held before me.

I was labelled 'the miracle child' and, three weeks after, my grandmother had a shock. One of my rescuers told her that I had 'given them a real turn'. As they carried my small, lifeless body up the bank, they heard a voice saying, "Why did you bring me back?" When I think of that now, I'm sure that life after death must be pleasant. That early incident gave me some courage. I know that going is pretty unpleasant but - after? I think it must be all right.

The Price of Beauty

The Price Of Beauty