Photo: Sue Vincent
It would be a long day of hiking to get to where she was going, but that only meant she’d have all those hours to herself. Time to cherish. Laura rarely had alone time now that she was taking care of three little ones. Four, if you counted the one who was adult in years but child in coping.
The others were coming by van and bike and car, and at least one that she knew of was likely to arrive by horse. Like spokes on a wheel, they where converging onto the place that had birthed and maintained their connection.
They were barely taller than grasshoppers when they had made their pact. The icy waters of the stream that slid in mirror-like pools sewn by white foam amidst the forests behind their homes, were known to either meld souls together or break them. They were adamant to have theirs fuse.
“Friends for life!” their reedy voices had risen breathless in the cold that needled every part of their unclad bodies. Only their palms, holding on to dear life, gave warmth.
Not one of them was going to admit that the submersion ritual had sounded better in the stories. Not one of them was willing to allow their fear or blue lipped trembling be the weakest cog.
“As one submerged, as one emerged!” they had cried and dipped and clung and sprung up in a sputter, pausing just a moment to stare in delighted disbelief at their hands — still in an unbroken circle, vow completed, magic done — before scrambling out onto the banks and into their awaiting piles of warm clothing.
It was unlikely that none of their parents had noticed the simultaneous wet hair and mossy, muddy patches. The river was off limits to unsupervised young. On any other day they would’ve been subjected to interrogation, yet none of them had been told off and not a one was punished. As children they’d believe themselves successfully secretive, the magic camouflaging the blatant disobedience.
As a mother now herself, Laura leaned toward believing that the real secret was the adults’, who must have seen the rosy cheeks and glowing eyes and realized the true magic of shared friendship. She found herself smiling at the memory as she walked across moors and over hills, through copses and sheep-speckled fields and bubbling streams and into the forest.
As she neared, her breath lifted and tightened in joyous anticipation. It was hard to believe it had been thirty years. They’d kept in touch all those decades. Through many moves and schools and colleges, through marriages and births and loss and celebrations — they wrote and called and saw each other in all manner of combinations. But this was the first time in a quarter century that they would be all of them together in one spot.
To submerge and renew the magic. In the stream.
From the distance came the clop-clop of what had to be Timmy’s draft horse, mixed with Sally’s giggles and Benny’s tenor mingling with Robin’s guitar strings and Bonnie’s soprano. A faint whiff of smoke filled Laura’s nostrils. Good! No frozen buns this time!
She reached to straighten the bathing-suit strap under her clothing. “As one submerged, as one emerged,” she whispered, lengthening her stride.