River Boy

River Boy

I was eight years old when my mother threw me into the water. She thinks I’m dead. Wrong. I survived. Today: ten years later. Adult man. I mean: a man’s body, with everything one needs. It’s good--really good to grow up. One becomes stronger. No more little boy who’s frightened. No more doctors. They said: autistic. An error in the genes. They have said it and repeated it. Relentlessness on their part. I don’t like definitions. Consequently, I won’t try to define myself. I will only say this: I am multiple. On a perfect day my skull is the vault of the universe. Protean cosmos. Metamorphoses guided by the leading thought of the moment. Every element being a variable, the possibilities of combination are infinite. Or nearly so.

I carry the world inside my head. All the places, all the images. And words, thousands of them. A continuous flow organised in such a way as to make it understandable. I’ve appropriated language. At least in its silent guise. Silence: I will explain later. First the words. For this I need to introduce he who initiated it all: Dad. He lives on a boat. Not possible otherwise. I mean, without Dad floating on the water, always, I would have drowned. I can’t swim, never learned to. It doesn’t matter. I look at the water. I watch it licking the riverbanks. It’s docile, carries the barge which is like the belly of a mum. Inside, what he calls his treasure. Books. Enough to forget about thirst or hunger, to forget about everything--except to read them. Sometimes one will warm its pages in the sun, because we chose to take it outside, invited by the kind weather and the buzzing of insects.

Dad: he deserves this name. Deserves it more than the real father. The real father contributed to my conception. That’s all. Afterwards, he talked, displaced a lot of air, acted in ways unintelligible to me. I couldn’t understand whatever it was he wanted from me. Him--and the others. Men, women and children. Life-size puppets. Bodies whose actions were dictated by precise rules. A rigorous mechanism. They circled me with questions. These not addressed straight to me, but suspended somewhere in mid-air. Directed at me, their subject, yes, but not their counterpart in conversation. Their life evolved with the questions, through them. A double-sided existence. One side strewn with question marks, the other devoted to a crowd of people. But there too, in between trivial sentences--of major importance to them--domestic concerns would interfere. Worries of which I claimed the main part. My place: somewhere between a weight on their conscience and a ball and chain clasped around their ankles.


I found him standing at my desk this morning, hands hovering over the keys of my old typewriter. His movements were slow and precise, despite his obvious tension. He had that expression of sheer intensity and complete focus I’d noticed before, whenever he discovered an object and decided to figure out its workings. Curious to find out what would happen next, I quietly walked to the sofa and eased myself into its comfortable familiarity, waiting. Eventually he pulled back the chair, sat down, adjusted the height and then fed a blank sheet of paper into the typewriter. It was like watching a very good actor taking on a new role – there was hardly any hesitation. And for the next couple of hours or so, the increasingly fast clicking of the keys was the only sound.


My mind is attempting to conquer order. Yes, I think that’s the appropriate word. Before, I carried chaos inside me. I was spitting it. To the children’s babbling, to the adults’ serious conversations I would oppose inarticulate sounds. Even when locked up in the bedroom’s dark, the voices would creep through the wood. That’s when I answered. But the world refused to lighten up. They all thought my head was empty. But it was more like an untidy room. A jumble. I didn’t know then I wanted silence. “Then” feels like a long time ago. But the memory is there. Faithful. I’ve decided to let it speak--express itself. Though it totally lacks good manners. Please excuse.

So. At the beginning silence didn’t exist. The world was saturated, too full of grime-coloured sounds. An infinite variety of noises. Never really detached from one another. More like a slump. Murky. A constant auditory aggression. That’s where the fear came from. One could say I was born with it. Swathed in its colour, its smell. I’ve read what people have written about hell. And I say: this too was hell. No fire, no burning. Only blackness. That is the colour of fear. A kind of black which isn’t night, which is cold and noisy. And even though my mother would always leave a faint light on in my room, it never stopped this darkness.

Then, that day: a long trip. “Long” is a stretch of time one cannot measure. Confined atmosphere, loaded with anguish. The father didn’t say a word; the mother’s voice was heavy with sobs. I never understood the reason for her crying, particularly in the light of subsequent events--all premeditated of course. As for me, I had reached the threshold of panic. Voiceless. Fear had burrowed its way through me during the past couple of days and had worn out my vocal cords. Voiceless then, every line of my face receding to its edges. (I didn’t know this at the time. It’s only later, urged by curiosity, with the help of a mirror, that I saw for myself.)

Night was everywhere. Night, with its artificial lights there to hurt the eyes. And the luminous dots passed us by, became scarcer. I could still see them out of the corner of my eye when we slowed down. Hesitantly--with occasional jolts. A shining and calm surface, somewhere close. For a brief moment my gaze rested there. Two doors opened. Do not move, make yourself very small: my instincts turned out useless. The muscles of my face were painful. Until, suddenly, I was flying. There was nothing else. No more shouting. The end of memories.


I had to make him throw up the water from his lungs. I’d never seen anything like this before: he hadn’t even put up a struggle. When I fished up that limp little body--rather small for his age, I told myself later on--I thought there was nothing I could do. I thought it was too late. His face looked so serene--and pale, with bluish shadows. I wondered. What was this all about, this kid fallen into the water? It was on the radio the next day. And what I heard made me angry. So that’s what it was, eh? Bullshit.


When I came to realise Dad wouldn’t hurt my ears, I discovered this: safety. Fear disappeared. Slowly. Because of the way he looks at things. Him sitting on a chair, on the sofa. Me standing. Drawn towards that which covers the inside of the barge. That day, Dad put a book on the table, added a gesture in my direction. A beckoning. It didn’t weight much. It was soft to the touch. From the freshly turned pages there rose a new smell. A warm scent that tickled my nostrils. I looked at the black characters. Couldn’t take my eyes off them. After a while the letters, whether they huddled together in little groups or not, connected themselves to sounds. Memories of sounds. A meaning attributed to every word. They talked to me, silently. During the next twenty-four hours, stacks of books grew on the table, not without certain acceleration. Dad didn’t interrupt me. Not once. He was watching. That evening he didn’t go to bed. He waited until my exhausted head touched that improvised, papery pillow.

It has always been like this. Dad leaves me in peace. Never tries to talk to me. He knows it’s not necessary. Not like the others, before. And I have a choice now. The future is at my disposal. A pleasant road lined with trees perhaps.


His mother doesn’t seem to be getting over it. Tormented by remorse, they say. And this, even though public opinion absolved her. Despite her acquittal. There’s even talk of sectioning.

We do receive the newspaper on the barge. He knows.


My mother believes she killed me. Because Dad never told anyone about me. No one knows about my second birth. My chthonian birth. Through mud and silt and water. A true entry into the world.

My mother. I am thinking of something simple. I used to dream. A blood-shedding vengeance. Highly romantic appeal. I have dreamed, yes. Now I’m thinking. Subtlety of the game. A game where the main stake would be her conscience. A letter. This. To make sure she knows. Maybe then I’ll be free. Completely. Because I will have rearranged our existences. And the immensity of the world will be within my grasp.

B. Anne Adriaens currently lives and writes in Somerset, Britain, after years of wandering through different towns, cities and countries. Her work tends to reflect not only her interest in alienation and all things weird and dark, but also her concerns about pollution, diversity depletion and the environment in general, depicting a world where society as we know it has collapsed. She’s recently finished a dystopian novel entitled Songs of Dereliction and is putting together a poetry collection exploring the many places where she’s lived. She was also awarded the title of Frome Festival Poet Laureate 2017.

B. Anne Adriaens

Online, you can contact her via Facebook (under B Anne Adriaens) 

You will find (among other things) photos of the places which inspired her on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/b-anne-adriaens/.

Blog entitled Notes From An Exile, under the pen name Nuala Rayne: https://nualarayne.wordpress.com/

Flash piece The Rabbit That Wasn’t There in Helios Quarterly, Vol. 1, issue 2

Prose poem CWM in The Bees Are Dead (B.A.D., 15 November 2016): http://www.thebeesaredead.com/poetry/cwm-adriaens/

Two eco-poems, Flotsam and Ode To Legoland to appear in Plum Tree Tavern later this month.

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