Jared stared into the water, hypnotised by the gentle movement, the foliage of bordering plants resting on the surface being washed to and fro, the distorted reflections of the world, the occasional bubbles surfacing from some living creature in the depths. Slow, gentle movements today. Sometimes after heavy rain, the water would be clouded with silt from the fields, the level high, the angry swirling threatening to overrun the banks. Jared couldn’t watch that for long. But when it was soft, like today, seductive, inviting him to enter the coolness, to feel the liquid cascade over his skin, to become part of the natural flow, then he could sit for hours, just watching.
“Hi.” The voice intruded his study. He continued to watch the water. Whoever it was might go away. “Mind if I join you?”
Yes. I do mind. Go away. Jared made no outward response.
Apparently taking silence for assent, the girl sat next to him. He shifted slightly to create more space between them. It was ruined now. Though she didn’t speak, he could hear her breathing, feel her eyes on him. Now he wasn’t waiting for bubbles to break the surface of the water, he was waiting for words to break the stillness. He wasn’t watching the waving of leaves and stems, he was watching her legs as they dangled over the river bank next to his.
Sighing heavily, he got to his feet.
“Don’t go,” she said. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
You didn’t mean to, but it happened. “I need to go, anyway. Things to do. Enjoy the stream.” Take care of my water.
“Right. My round,” Paul said. “Same again?”
Jared nodded and Paul went off to the bar. Jared leant back, resting his head against the ornate wooden screen that separated their table from the next, his ears tuning in to the hubbub of conversations all around him.
“I swear to God, he was about to jump.” The voice coming from the other side of the screen was familiar.
“No!” The other girl was shocked, but there was something more. Fascination? “What did you do?”
“I tried to speak to him,” the first girl explained. “But I couldn’t get him to respond. He must have been so wrapped up in his depression, he probably didn’t even hear me.”
“So then what?”
“I sat next to him. Honestly, who sits on a muddy riverbank? I’ve had to chuck my jeans!”
“I hope it was worth it.”
“Well, I couldn’t think of anything to say. So I just sat there like a lemon. Then he got up and left.”
“Wow! You saved a life today!”
“Well, maybe. I mean, I don’t know for sure. But he certainly didn’t jump in the river today.”
You thought I was going to jump? And now you’re making yourself a hero? You ruined my morning! Jared stood, ready to find the owner of that voice, and her vacuous friend. He had so much to say.
“Here you go mate.” Paul’s voice cut through his intention, and the full pint in his hand stopped Jared’s movement.
“Cheers.” Jared took the glass and sat back down. What could he possibly say that would change her mind?
His conversation with his friend wound through familiar topics and comfortable silences, but in the gaps the two girls’ voices intruded intermittently. God, they’re irritating! In the back of his mind, a variety of cutting comments came and went.
“Yeah, I know, right? I mean, who still wears skirts like that?”
Who’ve they got their claws into this time?
They laughed. “And she thinks she’s something special. Have you seen the way she behaves whenever Gary’s in the office?”
“Only time she lets go of her resting bitch face!”
Resting bitch face? Is there a male equivalent? Do I have it?
“I bet she’s never saved a stranger’s life!”
Nor have you.
“What do you reckon?” Paul’s voice brought Jared back.
“What? Sorry, miles away.”
“Cup final? Who’s gonna win?”
“Have you heard the expression ‘resting bitch face’?”
“Heard it? I lived with it, mate.”
“Sara? Yeah, she always did look quite miserable. I just thought that was ’cos she lived with you.”
“Cheers for that.”
“Seriously, though. Is there a male equivalent?”
“I guess. No idea what, though.” Paul took out his phone, and seconds later showed the screen to Jared. “Looks like it. There you go—resting dick face.”
Jared scanned the search results. “Better than the alternatives.”
“What brought that on?”
“Your trouble is, you think too much.” Paul laughed. “Time for another?” He indicated towards his almost-empty glass.
“Nah, I think I’ll call it a night.” Jared drained the last of his drink and stood. Paul followed suit, and they made their way to the door. Jared glanced back at the two girls, still engrossed in their conversation. On an impulse, he walked to their table.
“People can’t help their natural expressions,” he said, “but they can help judging people.”
The two girls looked at him, shocked. The girl who’d interrupted his morning seemed to recognise him, but before she could say anything he held up his hand. “I was not about to jump. I was not depressed. I was enjoying the peace and quiet, appreciating the natural beauty of the river. You jumped to conclusions and ruined my beautiful morning. Just as you jump to conclusions about other people, other situations. Learn to enjoy more, and judge less.”
He turned and left.
“Wow!” the first girl turned to her friend. “How rude!”
“After you saved his life, and everything.”
“Right? Talk about denial.”
Jared closed the door of the pub behind him.
© 2019 Karen Ince
Karen is a writer and teacher living in Kent. She has written for the stage, several non-fiction books and a variety of short stories.