[Image Credit: Angel Painting by Mary DeLawder]
At night I’m an angel. I unfold my seraphic wings and take flight from the roof of St. George’s Wharf. I glide free towards distant mountains, across blue skies, feeling the cool air ripple through my feathers. But then I start to descend; an invisible weight pulls me down. I always wake up at that point. If only life could be so easy. Maybe for someone else, though not for me.
I stood by the Thames, looking towards Vauxhall Bridge. It was a brisk day, though mild for winter. As I read the tourist sign, I visualised the Bronze Age bridge that once stretched out into the river, 4000 years before the present day bridge. The Thames would have been much wider then, and marshy. Maybe the ash and birch bridge connected the land to an island. It could even have been a sacrificial place for offerings to Pagan gods. If it were here, now, I would have offered myself to the river. I couldn’t help but feel that winter was closing in on my life, my days becoming shorter and bleaker.
It’s the same dream again; I’m an angel. Only, this time, there are changes. I’m standing in front of the pharmacy at St. George’s Wharf, and I unfold my angel wings. I fly upwards but a small, white package in my arms weighs me down. I want to fly into the freedom of the crisp air. But I get pulled back to earth.
It was day again, and the stark greyness of reality loomed over me. I looked down at the blister pack in my hand. Citalopram. My doctor told me to take the antidepressants in the evening, as apparently for most people, the sadness takes over at night. But the despair that I feel eats at me every day. My sole means of help are my daily walks on the pebbly strand in front of St. George’s Wharf. I call it, my beach.
I walked over to the rotten stump that in its glory days would have made up one post of many in the ancient bridge traversing the Thames. I felt that there was also mould clinging to me, as there was on the decayed wood. I wanted to escape the gloom, but I could see no light at the end of the tunnel.
“Are you alright there?” asked a man’s voice, behind me.
I turned. He was middle-aged, wearing a storm-proof jacket, and holding a metal detector in one hand.
“You looked so sad, I thought I’d ask what’s the matter,” he said.
“I’m fine,” I said. “I come down here to think sometimes.”
“Better watch your musings don’t get you carried away – the tide’s coming in.”
I looked out at the murky water. I’d sometimes wondered what it would be like to drown. To fall off Vauxhall Bridge into a strong current. Neither romantic, nor mystical, I would imagine. Centuries of anaerobic filth was enough to deter me from that line of morbid curiosity.
“If I get swept off, then it can’t be helped. I wouldn’t be missing much,” I said in an undertone. My words were whipped away on the breeze. The man’s eyes searched my face for a moment, before he turned and walked up the steps. I looked once more out at the Thames and felt a dark curtain curl around me.
I’m inside a luxury apartment at St. George’s Wharf, but within all the modern glass and metal fixings, I’m trapped. There’s been a terrorist alert from MI6 across the way. I can see men in balaclavas running amok outside. There’s carnage everywhere – bodies littering the streets, great fires. Then I see it. It’s a great dragon, cold and metallic. It’s crushing buildings in its path, moving towards where I am. But I’m stuck. There is no door. The only thing I can do is hide – roll myself in the curtain, hold my breath and pretend I don’t exist…
I went down to my place of solace again, my beach. This time I stood on the strand in front of MI6. In the legend, St. George fought a dragon – he was a great hero, the defender of England. What was I fighting? Was the dragon of my dreams someone in my life? Or my life itself? Perhaps it was a metaphysical thing – the blackness that was consuming me.
“Good day to you again,” said the same man from the day before.
“Hello,” I said. I stooped and picked up a fragment of shell. Then, with a sigh, I threw it out to the waves.
“That bad, eh?” he said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I answered, avoiding his gaze.
“It’s a warzone going on in there, isn’t it?”
I looked him right in the eye. How could he possibly have known about my dream?
Of course he couldn’t have. I was being melodramatic. I turned my eyes back to the pebbly shore. It must’ve been obvious on my face. Was I really that much of an emotional wreck that my expressions displayed the inner turmoil openly?
“I have a few things on my mind, that’s all,” I said.
“I know. I’ve been there myself. You want to throw yourself to the tide, but you can’t. You think of all the people you would hurt – you don’t want to cause them pain.”
I looked at the water and tears pooled in my eyes.
“It’s a good thing to worry about the people you love,” said the man. “It means you’re far from danger. You won’t do it.”
“Who says I wouldn’t? I’m not a coward,” I said.
“I didn’t say you were. But you are a house of cards. If one is pulled from the bottom, the whole thing will come toppling down.”
I wiped away my tears and looked up. “I’m not that fragile. I’ve just had enough of life. There’s nothing much to live for. Nothing seems to go my way. So what’s the point?”
“You know what your problem is? Your way of thinking. You get into this negative mindset and it sets off a chain reaction that pulls you further and further down. If you want to tie a boulder to your leg and throw yourself to the bottom of the Thames, go ahead. Feel sorry for yourself. But on the other hand, you could be a bit more resourceful. Every situation requires an appropriate response. And when times change, the response changes. That’s how people have survived for thousands of years. They adapt. Don’t be the boulder, be the water. It can freeze, boil, flow, crash – break all the rocks on this beach.”
I absorbed the man’s words, but I had no answer. All throughout my life, I had wanted to be the angel of my dreams; saving people, saving myself. Now it was my turn to be saved. I imagined the prehistoric bridge again. Ash and birch were flexible types of wood. They could bend, withstand restraint. I needed to be flexible and adaptable too. I needed to cross my own bridge over the stormy waters, not fall in.
I’m an angel again. The war is over. I’m safe. I’m here to heal the ones I love, not hurt them. Most of all, I have to heal myself. I fly free from my rooftop abode, and this time I don’t come down.
I went back to my beach, and I knew it would be the last time. I had the Citalopram in my hand. I didn’t need it anymore. As I brought my hand up and threw the blister pack into the waves, I thought of the man who had helped me to save myself.
I turned and walked along the pebbly shore, this time alone. Pieces of sea-glass littered the strand. They were wave-worn, rounded; adapted to a life drifting free to wherever the tide could carry them. So too could I.
I continued along the shore towards the end. The stretch of beach below my feet narrowed, the pebbles becoming more scattered, the pieces of shell fewer. The strand tapered into a triangular point where the water met the land. I let the waves wash over my feet.
Leilanie Stewart is a writer and poet. Her short stories have appeared in Weirdyear, Pure Slush, Linguistic Erosion, Pound of Flash, Mad Swirl, The Neglected Ratio, Ariadne’s Thread, Absinthe Literary Review, Sarasvati, The Crazy Oik, Stanley the Whale, The Pygmy Giant, Wufniks, Carillon and Monomyth and her flash story, Twenty Questions, was selected for the ‘Best of the Web’ Storm Cycle Anthology 2015 from Kind of a Hurricane Press. Recently, her novella, Til Death do us Boneapart, was published in Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine. Leilanie is also the Editor in Chief of Bindweed Magazine. She currently lives in Belfast with her writer and poet husband, Joseph Robert. Her blog is at: https://leilaniestewart.wo