The Fog from the River



The Fog from the River

My room was strangely dark when I woke. I checked the clock. 7:30, my usual time for waking. I opened the blind. I could barely see my neighbor’s house through the fog, but nothing else.

I showered, had a coffee, and left for work. The fog had lifted somewhat. It was clear down my street toward Yonge St. where I catch my bus. I turned and looked the other way. Up that slight hill toward Mt. Pleasant Road, the fog lingered.

I flashed back to my boyhood, on the street I lived until I was seven. It was in England, on Langley Way in West Wickham, Kent, then as now basically a southern suburb of Greater London. I was a boy looking up the hill of Langley Way. There was fog, and that’s how I still remember it. I wondered what was beyond the fog, and thought there was little there, only a vague small park, a pub, and somewhere beyond, where my grandmother lived. Down the hill was where I went to school, and West Wickham High Street, and that’s almost all I remember of where I used to live.

I thought about going to work but instead went the other way into the fog.

It was still thick, almost to the ground, but waved around, up and down, occasionally revealing parts of trees, houses, the road, parked cars.

I heard some boys across the street. They too were walking into the fog. They were about ten-years-old and wore matching hockey jackets. “Boys,” I called to them, “this fog is too thick. It could be dangerous. You won’t be able to see the road when you reach it. You have to go back.”

“Shut up, old man,” said one of the boys, and the fog enveloped them.

I shuffled cautiously into the miasma. I could see my feet but not my hand in front of me. I walked further than I thought it would normally take to get to Mt. Pleasant. I saw nothing, heard nothing, but there was a smell, like rotting seaweed.

When I finally emerged from the fog, I was no longer in Toronto. It looked like Langley Way. I turned and looked at my boyhood home. I thought I saw my brother and sister looking out the window of our parents’ bedroom.

Up the street was a boy, wearing shorts and a school cap, looking up the street at a cloud of fog spinning at the top of the road. I walked toward him, and he turned at the sound of my footsteps. The boy was me.

“Hello,” I said, and flashed to a memory that had remained hidden until now. I remembered a strangely familiar man. I hadn’t been scared; he’d seemed somehow nonthreatening. I remembered nothing else.

The boy looked at me, then up the street, then back at me. He said, “My great-grandfather died in the fog.”

I felt a little uneasy as I remembered more. Stories from my father. And somehow stories from my grandmother even though she had died when I was no more than three. The memories were conflating. The more the little boy, me, talked, the more it came back to me.

“He died in Balham,” said the boy. “He was hit by a bus on Christmas Eve.”

I remembered talking to my dad years later about it. The little boy knew most of the story. His/our great-grandfather Ernest George never lived anywhere near Balham. But he’d had a female “friend” who did. Dad remembered an “Auntie Jessie” when he was a boy and, coincidentally, Dad worked near Balham when he’d started his teaching career. One day about 1950, an elderly woman went to Dad’s school, introduced herself to Dad as “Jessie”, and invited Dad to visit her for tea in a couple of days. Dad went, and the door was answered by a younger woman who looked a lot like Jessie and a bit like Ernest, and said Dad wasn’t welcome there. He never followed up on that, never saw them again. I think we figured out what that was all about. On Christmas Eve 1928, Ernest was visiting her and had been accidentally hit by a bus.

For no particular reason I could ascertain, the boy and I began walking up the street toward the fog. This I didn’t remember.

At the top of Langley, where it meets Pickhurst Lane, was the pub, the Pickhurst, which is now a steakhouse. It still has a large parking lot, surrounded by a brick wall. The fog was thick, and I felt for the wall, never found it.

The boy and I, me and me, I and I – we emerged from the fog, which still hung in small clouds and wisps, slashes and ribbons, dirty white wind. I looked at a road sign: Balham High Road. Christmas in 1928 in London never had the same festivities we have today, but I knew where we were. I think the boy did as well. We were both beyond memory.

I’ve seen only one photograph of my great-grandfather; presumably the younger me was in the same situation. It had been Ernest in 1914, twelve years before, but the face was so imprinted on me I knew I would recognize him.

An elderly man walked down the hill from Clapham toward us.

“Ernest!” I called.

“You can call me Ernie,” said the man. He weaved a bit; he’d obviously had a drink or three. He looked so old; I knew he was sixty-five when he died, old for his time. Things have changed since then. I’m now as old as Ernie was then, I have at least another twenty years. Ernie never had the chance. Especially considering he was going to die that night.

The boy took control, told him what had happened, and what would happen. He finished with, “You can’t cross the street. Jessie’s not worth it.”

Ernie laughed. “Well, she really is, son. Have you met my wife? I’m not serious. She’s a fine woman.” Ernie laughed again. “But I believe your story. This is too ridiculous to not be true.”

A bus went past, far too quickly considering the fog.

“That was the one,” I said.

Ernie laughed. “I’m so happy to have met you two. I think you’re right. Strange times. I have a story to tell you. My uncle Frank was in the British Navy when the Brits had finally understood that slavery was wrong – how long does that take? – what idiots we’re descended from – and Frank was in the navy off the coast of west Africa, fighting against the slave trade. I’m very proud of him for that. I met him a few times, and he was a very nice man.”

We waited for him to continue, but he didn’t.

“I don’t know why I told you that, boys. Let’s walk.”

We walked up Balham High Road toward Clapham, into the fog that hovered at the top of the hill. We came out of most of the fog at Clapham Common, but what remained began to swirl.

I’d been to Clapham Common and environs when I was a kid. It looked the same. It has been the same for hundreds of years.

“I know a pub,” said Ernie.

We followed him. Judging by the dress of the people we saw; we’d gone back further. Ernie was a little manic. I thought of Uncle Ernie, Keith Moon, if you know that reference.

We went into a pub, the Rose and something, I didn’t look at the name more closely. Ernie zeroed in on a man in the corner of the pub, sitting with a group of hard-assed men. “Frank!” he said.

One man looked up. “Who are you?”

“Come over here,” said Ernie.

Frank George, who was so many great-greats before me I couldn’t figure out how many, came over to us, and the three of us told him the story.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Frank. “But I believe you. Why not, given what this chap is wearing?” He looked at my suit and chuckled.

Ernie and the little boy (me) and I sat with Frank and his buddies, and drank a lot. Not the boy; we’d never do that. He was fed until he fell asleep. But Ernie and I drank. I drank until I passed out.

I woke up. I was moving back and forth. There was Ernie. There was the little me. We were in a wooden room. It was the hold of a boat. It was dark but had moments of light that seemed foggy. I got up and went up the steps. Ernie and the boy followed me. There was someone there. He tried to push me back. I swung at him, connected, knocked him down, went past him. I was on a deck. Ernie and the boy were behind me. We were on a river, presumably the Thames. Several sailors came toward us. Pressgang, I thought.

I saw Frank behind them, doing nothing.

I ran to the ship’s railing planning to jump off, and then thought of the boy and Ernie. I paused for too long of a moment, and the sailors grabbed me and threw me to the deck.

“Frank!” said Ernie. “What is this? You need to pressgang men and boys to fight against the slave trade?”

Frank laughed. “Against? That’s not going to happen for twenty years or more, if ever. We need to make money, and we need sailors. Take them to the hold and keep them there until we’re out to sea.”

I looked at a ship passing by us on the river. At the railing were three small boys in hockey jackets. I heard muffled cries until the ship disappeared into the fog


William Kitcher


 Bill’s stories, plays, and comedy sketches have been published, produced, and/or broadcast in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Czechia, England, Germany, Guernsey, Holland, India, Ireland, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, the U.S., and Wales. His stories have appeared in Ariel Chart, Fiery Scribe Review, New Contrast, Helix Literary Magazine, Granfalloon, Defenestration, Pigeon Review, Yellow Mama, and many other journals. His novel, “Farewell And Goodbye, My Maltese Sleep”, was published in October 2023 by Close To The Bone Publishing..


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