In recognition of World Rivers Day, an extract from our first book ‘A Collection of Words on Water’, in which Jude Rogers glimpses a kingfisher on the River Llwchwr.
Wood engraving by Robert Gibbings
Last summer, the sun low in the clouds over the Reverend James, we went down to the river for the very last time. I could walk there in my sleep, I said to him, narrowing my eyes, trying to ease a smile from his cold, weary mouth.
It’s like this.
My front door, turn right. Past the boys that I used to babysit, smoking fags in the bus shelter, and the house where the dog, now long gone, had me screaming blue murder in my little red coat. Then turn left. Past the path, now grown over, where Grandpa would fill bowls with blackberries, and his house, only Grandma now, peering at us through its pebble-dashed eyelids. Down the hill where I’d toddle, past the pub where I’d land, over the road, nearly there.
The path behind the houses, the mud and the leaves, and then, there she is: the long, wide, sandy ribbon stretching north to the mountains, its mouth opening opening here to the curve of the Gower.
In Welsh, I told him the first time, this is not the River Loughor. It is the River Llwchwr. You blow those double ells with your tongue behind those sweet little teeth. You say the double-yous like the hoots of an owl. You purr that last arr like Eartha Kitt after a night on the Buckleys. He would try to, then laugh, burying my head in his shoulder.
Then, we would walk. We would look across the estuary to the cockles of Crofty and the chimneys of Bynea, and then return to our shore. To the boating club where I would wait, as a young girl, for the arched arms of boys to fall over my head. To the bench where my first boyfriend kissed me as the wind hit the water. To the ruins of the castle where, over the years, I’d look out like a look-out, thinking of the Romans and the Normans who had treasured this land.
We had stood there together once, I remembered, braving the rain. Today, it is clear, but we can’t see what is coming.
We let the light take us. It takes us upstream. I think about what would happen if we carried on. We’d see the river reaching the eleven arches at Bont, and the land that had once held the church of St Telio’s. If we made it further, we’d find the underground lake where the Llygad Y Llwchwr would blink us its welcome. The Eye of the Loughor, drawing us beautifully into the blue.
But this is old news to us, as we are to each other.
The river sits flat and heavy, and our hands set in our pockets. Maybe this is just another rivermouth, I think, as I look out at the water. Maybe this is just another way that it ends.
And then the kingfisher comes.
He sees it first, a tiny flash of blue on the edge of the marshes. He gives me his hand, and slowly I come.
We stand there, still as statues.
The flash comes again.
It’s lovely, he says, like a rainbow in flight. I watch it move, phosphorescently, and our fingers clasp tightly. One last shimmer he gives us, one last beautiful dance in the afternoon sun. And then, as soon as he appeared, he flies away.
I remember us looking at the space, our hands slowly unfurling, the eye filling with water, the mouth full of tears.
The place where he once flew lies empty now, like a memory rubbed clean. I walk here in my sleep. Sometimes, you are with me, sometimes I am alone. I turn back to the river, this time, by myself. No kingfisher has come yet, but the river is always here, its eye, its mouth, and its heart still opening and living. They promise me everything.