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Image by The Blowup

‘Thames Path’

Picture if you will the broad sweep of river cutting a dark swath through the heart of London. 

Wordsworth paused on his way to Paris to gaze at it; T S Eliot ventriloquised it; Conrad took rooms close by it. 

This too is one of the dark places of the Earth. 

The couple leaning on the balustrade viewing point by Hammersmith Bridge had been talking about literature, in the desultory way of two people so familiar with the other’s ways that their every snatch of conversation felt like threads picked up from some earlier exchange, part of the weft of an unwieldy tapestry of language they wove between themselves, decades in the making and still full of dropped stitches, loose ends. 

Right now they were looking for seals on the far bank. They’d heard there was a family with pups, but could see no sign. 

Only a heron at the water edge, elongated and patrician. A cormorant unfurling its wings like a black umbrella. 

She took the chance to start.

The common cormorant, or shag

Lays eggs inside a paper bag 

He was pretending not to join in. She never could remember the next bit. Something to do with buns. 

The river was moving rapidly now, the outgoing tide accelerating. They noticed it at the same moment. A reassurance. 

Currents swirled in dark arcs, a wash of ink-black. Light glancing on the surface a distant confetti. 

They watched the scullers glide soundlessly through the water, defying the tide. The blades struck and sliced, creating small eddies, muted by the thrum of planes passing overhead in their long descent into Heathrow. 

Beyond them, on the far bank, rose the four-storey edifice of the old Harrods depository, now flats, topped with two, wholly superfluous cupolas. He’d had a Saturday job there, loading boxes. That was before she knew him. 

Further on, towards the bridge, shrubs and trees made dense thickets above the water-edge. The distant forms of joggers slipped in and out of view: coloured cut-outs now glimpsed, now gone.

The path behind them was getting busier. Cyclists steered deftly round the chicane past Riverside Studios and under the dark metal span of the bridge. Beyond it, where the path widens into Lower Mall and the tables of the Blue Anchor line it on both sides, power walkers with Air Pods declaimed the drama of their lives. 

In Furnivall Gardens, the affluent mothers of Chiswick spilled from the Elder Press café, breakfasted and clutching lattes to go. Determinedly oblivious, they hadn’t noticed the couple who’d queued for chai an hour before, drunk it on the pavement outside. The woman was even yet examining the bruise of their privilege, their comfortable hegemony. 

She’d distracted herself by watching the weeping willow lashes twine against the blue of the sky. Focusing her gaze without recognising, without naming. 

At length she’d turned, allowed her gaze to settle on the houseboat, tucked between Chiswick Mall and the Eyot, squat and dark and hiding in plain sight. She was conscious of noticing it for the first time. 

Everything felt temporary. 

This too is one of the dark places of the Earth. 

Recently retired and based in the UK, Julie Runacres taught English language, literature and creative writing at schools in Oxford and West London. Writing poetry and short prose, her work has appeared in journals including The Storms and Long Poem Magazine in the UK, and Twyckenham Notes and Artemis in the US. 

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Julie, I love your images of the river. You create an atmosphere, a little mysterious, right at the start.


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