The pale afternoon sun is stippled across the lane and paints shapes on our cheeks. The trees breathe the wind through their branches while leaves, tickled by the breeze, flutter and swim through the air. Dylan stretches his three year long arms with open fists, clutching at the sky, hoping to catch a prize. He stomps hard on the ground with plastic feet, spraying autumn through the air and onto our cheeks. I wipe the mud away and walk quickly, fighting the cold as it tries to goad me back towards home. The ground groans under our tiptoeing feet as Dylan gallops ahead towards the river, becoming a smudge of red and green mist. His silhouette evaporates into the trees.
‘Come on Mummy’ he says,
His voice battles with the whipping of the wind, but I know already where he will be. In a moment I see him, crouched lowly on the hump back stone bridge, dropping sticks into the water. He is spinning back and fourth racing the current to catch his sticks the other side. They slip from his fingers and dance their way downwards in the heavy breeze. I feel the wind cutting into my skin and watch it barge into Dylan’s game. Sticks start to tap against the rocks missing the creek. . Dylan starts to wail, little sobs echo through the trees and the leaves reply in whispery rattles. Tears are wiped from cold cheeks and he throws his arms high again, twigs cascading into the air. They fight hard against the weather, but it’s a losing battle. I wish I could change the wind, I think.
‘Come on darling’ I say and reach for his hand, he scuffs over, gold head hanging. ‘There will be plenty more sticks to throw at the park’, I say and I know it’s true. There will always be more sticks. Dylan nods, deserts the bank, feet hanging. We walk more swiftly now, Dylan singing, me humming along. I picture our song floating behind us along the path in a trail of smoke, and eventually becoming absorbed by the air. We stomp over blackberries bleeding their purple juices into the soil. Rejected by birds and plump picking fingers, hundreds of them rot along the bank. Dylan, still singing, runs ahead. The river bed is cracked and dry this time of year and is sprouting weeds like coarse dry hair. I imagine a time when boats trickled along down here as well as sticks and debris. I close my eyes and I can picture the reds and yellows of the canal boats. I can smell the fish, so fresh it stings your throat. Dylan looks too, imagining I guess. But it’s a different dream. ‘Mummy can we jump in it?’ He is looking at a mound of fresh earth, surrounded by shrubs. This one is thick and squelchy.
‘Alright, but be careful’, I say as always. But not really knowing what I mean.
Dylan jumps in and is absorbed into the earth, dark mud oozing over his robot boots snaking its way around the rubber, ingesting his feet. I watch him start to dance with himself; singing a song I don’t recognise. Dirt flicks through the air and starts to cling to his body, he rubs it like cream on his arms.
‘Lets build a castle’! he says. He starts sculpting piles of the earth into a large mound, digging deep for the moist dirt. ‘OK’ I say and I jump from the bank walk towards him.
And then he screams.
Dylan’s screams echo through the trees, rustling bushes, threatening to wake the roosting birds. It’s a curdling scream that stops even the wind for a moment. I am frozen with fear, looking towards my child and feel my legs moving beneath me. I am pouncing onto the large pile scopping him into my arms searching his face for the source of his pain.
He is frozen. But his pale face starts to move, ‘There’s a lady in the mud Mummy’.
The wind starts again, fervently breaking the silence. Leaves rustle and dance passionately around us. Dylan is still and looking down. I too look and watch as the leaves, red and orange as fire spread apart forming a hole in the earth. There is a naked blue body in the mud. She is lying still, draped like a blanket over the waves of leaves, baked frozen by the cold. I am frightened for her Blue lips and wet hair, which sparkles with ice. I am still when I gaze down and see that I am staring into my own eyes.