A Day on the River

“Gerald dear, are you sure this boats safe?” asked Winifred Cottershil, tightly gripping both the port and starboard rail of the tiny rowing boat with her fragile porcelain hands.

The short-armed man in the striped boating jacket opposite her plunged the two wooden oars into the lake and dragged them, with no small amount of effort, through the water. His bespectacled face was flushed red and the sinews of his neck were pulsating at an alarming speed.

“Yes, yes Winifred,” he panted, “George Basildon has assured me that it’s quite safe. In fact he’s even take Jane Ashworth out in it on occasion.”

“Well,” said Winifred, “If Jane’s been out on it then I suppose…”

She trailed off as George raised the oars out of the water, pushed them back to their starting position and lowered them down into the water once again, this time releasing a short, high-pitched squeal as he fought to propel the boat forwards. A small vein had begun to throb on Gerald’s forehead, between his eyebrows, and Winifred imagined her diminutive date’s head exploding all over the beautiful tray of tea and sandwiches that sat, poised precariously, between them. What a waste; they had taken all morning to prepare!

Breathing heavily now, Gerald reached for the kerchief enclosed in the top left-hand pocket of his red and white jacket. He brought the cooling silk to his sodden brow and mopped up the sweat beads delicately before folding the kerchief back up and replacing it to his pocket. He cricked his neck towards the small island that lay in the centre of the lake, some eighty metres in the distance, and turned back to his oars, still wheezing and wincing.

“Gerald,” said Winifred, “We don’t have to get to the island, you know, we could always have the picnic here, it’s such a lovely day. Or we could even row back and have elevenses at the King’s Arms.”

“No, no. That simply won’t do,” replied Gerald. “I promised you a picnic on the island, and a picnic on the island is what you’ll get.”

With a renewed vigour Gerald raised the oars, ready for another attack, but was distracted by Winifred’s sudden screams.

“Water! Gerald I can feel water. My feet; they’re all wet!”

“Nonsense,” replied Gerald, but he looked down to discover the water sloshing over the top of his deck shoes, and it was rushing in fast.

“Aargh,” he squealed, “We’re sinking.”

“Well do something Gerald, quick,” screamed Winifred, “It’s ruining my dress.”

Gerald got to his knees and frantically scrabbled around for the hole in the keel of the boat.

“I think I’ve got it,” he gargled as the water continued to rise. Gerald kept his small hands pressed to the hole in the keel. He looked up – Winifred was nowhere to be seen.

“Winifred,” he shouted. “Winifred!”

When no reply came, Gerald rose to his feet, flung off his jacked and dived head first into the lake, leaving George Basildon’s boat to disappear, unhindered, into the murky depths of the lake, with nothing but a floating tray of the finest English tea and freshly-made cucumber sandwiches to mark its final resting place.

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Tim Waltho

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