I’m sitting on the balcony, feet up against the cold railings and my phone in my hand. The brown water of the River Lune rushes to the sea three miles away. It’s just stopped raining so the river is high; the small island the seagulls normally congregate on is submerged, so instead they shudder on a swaying tree. Thick branches, plastic cups and an empty life raft have hurtled up the river. My phone hasn’t made a sound all day.
It’s mid-afternoon when the woman grabbing onto the car door floats down the river. I do a double take. She’s lying with her face to the sky, both hands grabbing onto the edge of the frame, not with any difficulty but with the coolness of someone trying not to throw up on a rollercoaster.
I clear my throat; she doesn’t react. I make a loud, wordless noise, and this time she tilts her head in my direction and waves. She drifts by my balcony but soon stops dead above the seagull’s submerged island. Her relaxed expression turns into a scowl.
‘Do you need help?’ I yell.
‘No, I’m perfectly fine,’ she yells back, smacking the car door and kicking her legs underneath the water. She turns onto her front, running her hands along the underside of the door.
I drop my phone in my pocket and lean over the railings. I look around for a rope, but all that is nearby are three orange plant pots filled with dead soil.
‘This is your fault,’ she yells at me.
She’s tugging at the handle of the car door, eyes closed and creased.
‘How is this my fault?’ I yell.
‘I had forgotten I was drifting,’ she yells. ‘I was holding on to my car door, drifting along in my own little world and then you made me remember where I was.’
The seagulls laugh at the woman, nudging one another’s wings. Suddenly they all turn their heads, hearing a call from the sea and fly off.
‘Why don’t you swim to the shore?’ I yell.
‘Because I’ll lose the door you moron,’ she yells. ‘I was driving in my car on a journey somewhere. I think I was going up. Then I had a crash and fell into this river. But I still had the door, so I’m holding on to that.’
I feel my phone buzz in my pocket, so turn from the woman and pull it out. It’s an email; two for one Tuesday on pizzas. I squeeze the phone in my hand and hold it over the railings.
The woman submerges her head, leaving one hand on the car door. The white crests of the brown water choke her wrist and the car door lurches back and forth. She’s been down for a while; her hand’s purple.
Then she comes up, gasping for air. The car door rocks off the island and moves slowly with the current.
‘You look like shit,’ she yells, her hair splayed like seaweed across her shivering face.
As she races towards the sea, I can hear the gulls laughing in the distance. I watch her disappear around the bend, behind the blue railway bridge. She may make it to sea before the tide swallows her back down the river.
The only thing left to do is put my feet on the railings, trying to come up with a witty insult in case she comes back.
Andy Cashmore has had flash fiction published in numerous places, including the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2014 and on InkTears. He participated in a writing project called Writing Begets Writing, where he taught a creative writing masterclass to mental health service users so they could be published in an anthology which Andy was also published in. Andy once wrote forty-five stories in a day for charity and is currently involved in the short story project '13 Dark'. Although a big Murakami fan, if you want to grab Andy's attention talk to him about anything Final Fantasy.