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Down By The River

‘Down there?’

‘Yes,’ she nodded, ‘down there. Follow me.’

We padded down the track together, lost from sight of the road that was now hidden behind the old school wall. The smell of hops and the clanks and machinery noises from the brewery faded in the soft night air as we passed the ancient grassed-over remnants of a graveyard, down through the trees toward the riverbank.

I could hear the water lapping at the river bank as we broke clear of the trees and found the path. Thick fog was rolling in from the sea and we couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. All that existed for sure, all that was in the whole world, was the cinder track with the rough grass at the edges.

And Ellen Wiley.

And me.

Walking hand in hand along the riverbank, shrouded in fog, we came to a picnic area.

She turned, ‘Here.’

‘Ok,’ I said, then ‘You sure?’

‘Yes,’ she said, smiling. ‘Sure.’

The picnic bench was beaded with dew, but it was a good height and Ellen laughed as she hitched herself up onto it, ‘It’s damp,’ she giggled as she pulled off her pants and lifted her skirt.

I watched her.

‘Come here,’ she said, arms reaching out.

I unzipped myself and lay beside her on the bench and, quickly, we began to make love.

Two kids lying together on a bench, by a river, in the fog, the gentle whispers of the riverbank, the creaking of the old staithes, the faint roar of traffic up on the motorway. Just Ellen and me, with the fog hiding us from everything.

‘James,’ she whispered, as we made love, then giggling ,’Oh, Jimmy,’ and then whispering, ‘Oh God!’ and our words and whispers and our breathing was echoed by the sounds of the river and the riverbank, and all was muffled and echoed in the fog.

I heard whispers.


Ellen’s eyes opened, head still turned a little to one side. She looked up at me.

‘Hey,’ I said, kissing her, and she kissed me in return.

But we were both listening now.

We paused.

‘Can you hear something?’ she whispered.

My silence answered. I slid out from her.

‘James, I’m scared,’ she whispered.

The fog hid everything from us, except the faint sounds of sighing and whispers.I pulled up my pants and she clambered off the bench, straightened her skirt.

‘Should we go?’ she asked.

‘Yes, let’s go,’ I said, and she nodded, relieved; we headed back through the trees, hand in hand, toward the smell and clank and the arc lights of the brewery.

And as we passed through the graveyard the whispering fog grew louder, more insistent. Holding hands, we began to run, past the ancient carved stones, past the lamps and the smell of the brewing hops, and we ran and ran until we came up to the road, the streetlights, the security of the houses and the higher ground where the fog began to clear.

We slowed to a walk, breathing hard, laughing with relief. ‘What was that?’ she asked, giggling and shivering all at once.

‘I don’t know.’

‘Do you think it was ghosts?’

I shrugged, ‘Maybe‚Ķ’

She giggled again, nervously.

We walked on, hand in hand, until she stopped and pulled me into the shadows of a dark doorway where, standing, we completed our lovemaking. Then, relieved, exhausted, we walked arm in arm back to her place.

Ellen was sixteen, orphaned a year earlier, she lived alone. I was fifteen, troubled, desperate to escape a past I’d shared with no one but her. We were each others’ first lovers and it was all fresh and new.

Opening the front door, we walked along a narrow corridor and up two flights of stairs to her rooms. We went into the kitchen. She opened the fridge and took out some cheese, put bread in the toaster, while I filled the kettle to make tea.

After supper we went into the bedroom, undressed and climbed into her bed, exhausted, lying face to face, mouths to mouth, lips touching.

She whispered, ‘Lift up,’ and I raised myself as she slid a leg beneath my waist, the other wrapping around me.

‘Goodnight,’ she whispered again.

I slid inside her.

‘Goodnight.’ I kissed her snub nose.

Quickly, we fell asleep, wrapped around and inside each other.

Safe from ghosts.

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