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Dinner at 'Gaststätte des Flußmädchen'

by Alex Dally MacFarlane

Our food arrived quickly. My wife, still not quite well, had only ordered bread and water. For me, the waiter presented a plate of spaghetti with fish in a creamy sauce.

I twisted a mouthful onto my fork and, on eating it

--saw a woman, pale hair falling waist-long down a tall figure, standing atop a cliff with a fair-haired man. They argued. The river rushed past below them, frothed white by rocks. The woman shouted of secret wives and lies, and threatened exposure.

The man pushed--

tasted something good, I think, but barely remembered it after the strength of the hallucination. Trying to ignore the residual unsettled feeling, I ate a chunk of carp.

--and she fell, screaming. Cold struck her hard, so hard, or was that the rock? Flailing in the water, light and dark playing havoc in her eyes, her mind, and pain spreading from her chest. Water against her.

Water wrote eddies of curiosity across her skin as the pain slipped away. A whisper in her ear. A greeting.

The water is home now and the rock your seat, said the river. Sing for me, maiden, sing sweet songs, sing to fill me--

"Rob, are you all right?"

I realised it was Susan talking. "I... don't know. I think I might have your flu."

Concern coloured her voice. "You should try to eat a bit more. Then we'll go back to the hotel."

Nodding, I ate more of the pasta.

--A song on a stormy evening. A small fishing boat tossed by waves, fighting the white.

The teenaged boy paused in his terror-screams. The song laced his ears, stirred thoughts of home, bed, love.

He felt nothing as the rocks sliced his boat to pieces, as the river tongued him downwards. As the maiden wept.--

"We should go," Susan said, and called for the bill.

Several minutes later we left. I stumbled into the street, as if feverous. The husband's face lodged in my mind. And I thought of the woman, trapped in the river.

"Tomorrow," I said, "we need to visit the Rhine."

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