Bristol Prize

Extract from 2008 winning story ‘The River’

July 21, 2008   screenbeetle

‘The River’- Rebecca Lloyd


              I didn’t know my grandfather had started fishing for eels again until the Landlord of The Ropemaker beckoned me one afternoon as I came home from work. “I’ve banned him from the walkway, and you should look after him better, Miss,” he warned me. ˜He pulled up a whooping great thing and my son had to help him with it. They lost it. The old geezer said he’d gladly have gone down with it.”

˜That sounds like him,” I said, looking towards our house. ˜How big was it?”

˜Girth of a drain pipe, according to my boy.”

Grandpa was on the balcony as I came in, looking down into the water at the floating island of rubbish that docked for a short while between our house and The Ropemaker. ˜We never had rubbish like this down at Tilbury,” he said.

˜It’s all the trash from the city, Grandpa.”

˜Where do you think it goes?”

˜Down to the sea, I expect. You were fishing again. You said you were done with it all.”

˜Tide’s coming in fast, look.”

At high tide, water slapped across our balcony floor and wetted the windows. In violent weather, you could feel its force as it struck the house wall below in swelling waves, and pulled away and struck again. There was a drop of some twenty-five foot between tides, and at low tide, the foreshore was exposed for as far as we could see in either direction. We liked the sound of the river’s brown waves rolling upwards as the tide came in again, they made the pebbles gleam, and deposited their foamy edges in a ridge of scum as they reached out again for the river walls.

“Next door said you were fishing.”

˜I was just checking that there really are big fish up here so close to the city. That kid from the pub had an eel bucket. So I was curious.”

I’d been busy with my exhibition and forgotten the long hours my grandfather spent alone, forgotten to tell him how much I cherished him. I stared at the scores of plastic milk bottles moving serenely in the white rubbish island. ˜Did you eat something?”

˜Couldn’t open the biscuit packet. Could no more open the bloody thing than get out of my own coffin,” he muttered.

Grandpa used to dream about his death. I’d glimpse him sometimes through the patchy mirror above the stove when we got up in the morning, and terror was clear on his face. ˜You can warp a persistent bad dream,” I’d told him. ˜If you think about it angrily, you can take your anger with you into the dream and change the course of it.”

˜I’ve never heard of that, Maggie.”

˜Try it with the dreams you have. Tell yourself you just have to reach your hands up and push the lid off, and in a minute you’ll be out again and free.”

˜And tell myself I’m not on fire alone in a dark place amid horrible music?”

˜Tell yourself that before the coffin slides behind that creepy curtain that doesn’t even sway, you burst out and run through the crematorium laughing.”

˜That’d be funny,” he said, but I could hear him thinking it would make not a jot of difference to the real thing. He made out it was working for a while to make me feel better; inventing moments in his dreams that I suspected weren’t true, ˜… and I was flying above the library at Tilbury and I could see the river below me, all curving and glinting in the sun.”


˜It was glorious, Maggie. As I flew in the vaults of the church I could see dark figures below with their hands raised up, and they were all hissing with anger. And then I flew over our old house with the concrete yard and the outside toilet.”

˜I’m sure you did. But Grandpa, when you die, you’re free from that very moment. You don’t know anything then.”

˜Maggie, it’s not deadness itself I fear, it’s how they fiddle and fuss, where they put you and what they do to you; they take away a man’s uniqueness.”

˜But you won’t know.”

˜Of course I’ll know. I know now, unless you can do something about it for me.”


The 2008 Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology featuring all 20 shortlisted stories is available now. To order a copy please click here


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