A Fluid Account of Romantic Love
You’re expecting a romance. It’ll be a short story, that’s all I can say. A five minute romance. Because that’s how long love lasts before it’s adulterated, if you ask me. You’re asking for a love story to grow from a sump. I am a sump; a grotty brown hole where the nasty stuff collects; industrial waste, turds, rats, and things that the supermarkets euphemistically call feminine hygiene. I’m a dark, brown slobbering pit. And no, I don’t want to hear
all that crap about lotus flowers sprouting from peat bogs. A sump is a sump, and that’s that.
But I wasn’t always this jaded. I was a paragon of good, clean nature at one point. Well, fairly clean. There might have been a few nitrates rolling around my banks, a stray pesticide here and there. That’s what happens when you grow up around farmers, isn’t it? True, I was never one of these pure mountain spring types. You know, all glitter and giggle as it frolics down the hills. No. I always had a dark streak in me, a thin line of discarded engine oil or a bit of rotten fruit here and there. Even so, I don’t deserve to be where I am today, wallowing in a shaft under the London underground catching excess rainwater and the outlet from the gents’ toilets.
And do you know why I’m here? Because I fell in love. I threw myself into that relationship heart and soul. That’s where romance takes you in the end. It throws you in the sewer.
If you take a cursory look in any encyclopedia, read up about romance; it’ll pretty much tell you the truth. It’s made up. A lie. Before the 12th century the romance genre didn’t exist. You can choose your own reasons why. Something to keep bored river-wives entertained, or to dupe pure-hearted gurgling brooks. Because sooner or later all the waterways of the world reach the same conclusion. Pollution.
It all started when I left the small canal that circulated the
farm fields, and began to make my way through the world. It was a winding, wriggling journey from agriculture to woodland and I loved the freedom of it, the way as soon as I was bored I had moved on to something else. I swam past silver birch trees, tall leafy ashes, fat oaks and gentle willows, under quaint little hikers’ bridges and over rich peaty soil. Sometimes the sun fell on my back, decorating me in golden spots. And when it did, well . . . I looked damn attractive, even if I say so myself. Other times, the rain would spatter down in large juicy drops, and I would gobble them up like grapes. There was just me and myself, rolling through the landscape, learning, seeing, expanding. I was riding a wave of youthful exuberance. Actually, I was the wave.
It was then, when I was at my peak, that I met him. Rock. (I’d roll my eyes here if I could, but how would you see them in this place?) Rock was, well, rocky. What else would you expect from a lump of sandstone? He was a creamy brown colour with fantastic contours which was probably why I fell for him. Or into him. Because that’s how it happened really. One minute I was chortling through a stone-filled creek somewhere near Epping forest, the next I was a spinning, whirling mess.
I think what happened was that I had hit a cluster of rubble in the bed of the creek, and as I rushed into it I lost my balance, so that instead of moving forwards and downwards, as I always did, I was suddenly hurled to one side. It was then that Rock caught me. Not that I was complaining at the time. Well, I’d never been caught by a
sandstone protrusion before, and it all seemed hugely exciting.
It was a whirlpool romance; passionate, intense, short-lived. Rock stood tall in the middle of the creek,
shining and glowing as I splashed his rutted skin. I span round and round and round him like a demented moth orbiting a lightbulb. I was mad about the stone, he made me feel dizzy and alive, and I never wanted to be without him. Well, it was the first time I’d ever belonged anywhere. Until then, I had always been drifting here and there, never really knowing what home was. And now suddenly, here was Rock offering me some sort of stability.
Sometimes I wonder what Rock saw in me. I suppose I made him feel special. I was like a status symbol that he
could puff himself up with. He could boast to his other stone cronies, “My girlfriend’s aqua, she’s got a whole stack of hydrogen and oxygen, and can twist herself into shapes you’d just never believe. (Blah blah blah.) Yep, I gave him credibility with the way I kept whirling about him, petting him and all of that. I don’t think I was ever really loved for who I was though. In fact, I often wonder whether he loved me at all. I might well have just been in the right place at the right time.
The relationship was doomed from the start. Any fool could have seen it. We were just too different. Two separate entities made of completely contrasting substances. The first problem was of course that I became bored. Well, who wouldn’t? I mean Rock just couldn’t seem to get off his sandstone arse at all. There was I, all young and full of life, now trapped in what was becoming an obsessive circle going round and round an immobile lump. I wanted adventure, to see new worlds. But he was
having none of it. As far as he was concerned, life happened where he stood. I kid you not, Rock really thought the whole world turned round him! Of course I
started to resent it, and I daresay on got on at him about it. Perhaps I did slam into him a bit too hard at times, chipping off bits of his armour as I did so. Then the bickering began. He complained that I was continually cutting him down, eroding him. Well, of course I was, he was preventing me from making any sort of forward progress, wasn’t he?
Now I look back on it, I’ve no idea what I saw in the boulder. He was coarse and hard, utterly inflexible too. He just wouldn’t give way on anything. And then I noticed that all this abrasive action between us was taking its toll on me too. I was getting siltier by the day. My complexion had changed entirely. Gone was the clean sparkling face of my youth. My skin looked dull and dirty.
It was then that I thought about leaving. I spent quite a while trying to work out how to extrapolate myself from the situation. I mean, once you’ve got yourself into a rut like that (and I by then I had dug myself into a very deep groove in the silt and sand) it’s tough to get out. I wondered how I’d survive without Rock. Many times I
woke up dripping with fear, dreaming that I’d wind up floating lost forever. Rock at least gave me some kind of direction, even if it was always anti-clockwise.
Then one day, it happened. Just like that. One minute I was touching Rock’s skin, the next I was gone. And once I had left, there was no turning back. I remember the initial feeling of dread as I hurtled along the creek. I cried and cried, great rivulets running down me. I looked back once. Rock was still standing there, impassively watching
me go. He made no effort to follow me, not one step. I must have meant nothing to him at all.
The landscape changed with time. The creek became a river. I swam alongside ochre fields of grass, the blades flattening in clumps as the wind struck them. I often wondered if the relationship between air and grass was any better. Whether the pair of them had some sort of secret to make it work. Gradually, I got used to life without Rock again. I began to take pleasure in the myriad of vistas I saw, and my freedom to be spontaneous, or follow my
intuition. I revelled in my own company too. Never being restricted by anyone else’s stick-in-the-mud habits was a
But what I hadn’t realised is that I was carrying something. All the broken bits of sandstone were still inside me. Well, that’s an exaggeration I suppose. Some of it got left along the way. But some of it didn’t. Those deposits had a deteriorative impact on me. And as time went by I noticed I was getting slower, sluggish even. I was also getting wider and less attractive. Unpleasant things began to grow inside me. Diseases and contamination wove inky paths through my being.
Because I didn’t feel energetic any more, I became very dark, so dark the outside world was nothing but an obscure shadow on my surface, which is why I didn’t notice the direction I was headed in. Basically, one day I took a wrong turning, and before I knew it the sky and the trees had vanished and I was surrounded by a thick, stinking pitch. Yep. I had turned into a sump in the London underground, the kind of future any body of water shrinks from. In the beginning it was awful. Every time a train rattled overhead, I would shake from head to toe. My appearance became unbearable. I gave up. Hence the ugly parasite-laden gulch you see before you.
I often think to myself, if I hadn’t fallen for Rock, if I hadn’t become all muddy and full of sandstone debris, would I be here? Or did it start earlier with the odd nitrate and the engine oil? Did that early corruption send me on the path that drove me into Rock’s embrace in the first place? There are those that say we create our own realities, that we have the power to become whatever we want. Yes, even waterways have self-help gurus, I’ll have you know. They’re often smug elder trees or cocky horse chestnuts forever banging on about the great potential of composting filth. But I mean what does a tree, with their great long roots and their skyborne trunks and their chlorophyll, know about the suffering of a liquid? Nothing. Not a dicky bird. I’m telling you, there are no flowers about to blossom from this mire. For me it’s over.
Once, I thought I saw Rock again. He’d become so small and eroded I couldn’t tell if it really was him or just my imagination. I felt a pang of guilt when I saw him in that condition. Was it me that had started off that process? Perhaps it wasn’t Rock at all, but a stone that looked like him. Anyway, I saw him being dragged along the floor of
the sump by the current, and I remember thinking, “Ha! Someone wrenched you out of that creek bed and got you moving in the end, eh? You must have really loved them to follow them. Not like me.” But before I could get close to him, he was gone. I couldn’t see whether he sank right to the bottom, or whether he had found a secret way out of here.
Life’s a funny business though. Especially if you find yourself in the waterways. Because you just never
know what’s round the corner do you? You asked me for a love story. A romance. So I told you. But what I didn’t realise is that while I was talking I had begun to move again. I’d spent so long hanging around and stagnating that I’d presumed I couldn’t go anywhere. But all this chit chat must have stirred something up, got my waters churning. You see, there’s a grille up ahead, and I’m sliding towards it. I’ve no idea what lies beyond it. A swamp? The Thames estuary? Now that would be something wouldn’t it, if I could go out to sea?
Oh. I can see. For a moment there, a flame of optimism flickered in this dingy cavern. But I see where I’m going now. Hmph. A reedbed. Yep. That just about sums it up doesn’t it? That’s my destiny. I’m going to wallow in the murk under a bunch of wittering rushes for the rest of my days. Still, at least there’s some sky over me, a bit of
light here and there. Nice to feel the breeze over my skin, ooh, I’m rippling!
Now, I’m just trying to remember if I know anything about reeds. I’ve never had much of a relationship with plants, and I don’t really trust them to be honest. I heard somewhere (probably from one of those supercilious elders) something about symbiotic relationships between plants and water, partnerships where water nourished the
plants, and the plants purified the water bringing it back to its former unadulterated glory. I dismissed it as pure codswallop, more of that romantic drivel that hoodwinks the innocent and turns them into slaves. I mean I’ve had a
run in with green stuff – algae it was – but I didn’t see too much clarity or purification going on. It looked more like abuse to me. Algae is one of those insatiable ‘takers’ and I was lucky to escape the encounter. I’ve stayed well
clear of plants ever since.
I’m not quite sure about reeds though. I mean on the one hand they’re choking the bed here (what is it with plants and suffocation fetishes?) But they’re a friendly bunch, much more accessible than those lofty trees in their wooden towers. I quite like circulating among them and hearing their stories (they whisper a lot of interesting secrets, reeds do, stuff they’ve picked up from other bodies of mature water like me). And do you know what? The reeds love my silt deposits. Isn’t that weird? It looks like they can’t get enough of it. In fact, they seem to love all the crap inside me. Even I don’t love it, so how can they? Perhaps I’ll stay here a while. See where all this goes. I don’t believe in the perfect relationship any more, but some pairings are definitely better than others.
Still, it’s not exactly inspiring is it? What of love and romance and all that? Do the reeds really love me? Or am I just convenient? Are they just sucking out what they want before they discard me? And what about me? Could I love them? If they weren’t cleaning me up, would I hang around? Perhaps I think about it all too much. Perhaps I’m
finding a whole bunch of reasons for things, joining one analytical dot up with another, when in fact it’s nothing to do with analysis. You see, even though there are plenty of selfish logical reasons why I get on with reeds, and even
though we might not get on forever, right now I have a good feeling. Something else has bloomed out of our exchange, a by-product perhaps. A feeling that I might go as far as to call love.
But I’m getting carried away. No really, I’m getting carried away by the force of gravity again. Bah! Just when I thought I could be happy, I was yanked out of my comfort zone. But that’s the nature of water. It never stays in one place for long, and if it does it gets ugly. Hmm. Perhaps I’m finally starting to get to know myself eh? I’m out of the dark. Out of the sump. Yes. And I’m moving, living, changing. At last I’m seeing more to life than romantic relationships and obsessive couplings. There’s sunlight and stars and moonlit nights. There’s life flowing, and the
mystery of how and where to. There are other magical worlds and other adventures too. And those are the places that real romances lie in. For me at least.