It was only when he sat down on the garden wall that he realised how close the river was. Less than a stone’s throw away. The idea of playing a ball game on the patchy stripe of grass between the house and the river seemed uncomfortable - one would fear that the ball would fall into the river and be irretrievably carried away by the current.
There was traffic noise coming from across the river, but the road was invisible behind lush trees and the bushes that seemed to grow from the restless pale turquoise water. What if the river comes still higher, he wondered.
“What if the level rises above that?” he asked.
“Oh, that happens,” the other one replied. “Actually, it happens quite often. Last year, the waters came up to about this point,” tapping his open palm on the bright fresh yellow coating of the house, at the level of his hips. “You just mustn’t keep valuable stuff in the basement.”
If one was able to hit the water throwing a stone, it wasn’t possible to reach the opposite bank with a second throw. The surface of the water was wide, with turbulences rising from below, like the backs of invisible animals, pushing away, and carrying on and carrying away with the current.
“I like the house,” he said, hesitant.
“It’s a good house,” the other one said, tapping the wall again. “Resisted floodings of almost a whole century.”
The river was surprisingly silent. Although the current seemed rapturous, there was no sound coming from the water. All he felt was freshness on his face and his bare lower arms, this had been the first thing he noticed when he got out of the car.
“And these are elderflower,” he said, nodding to some of the bushes on the edge of the bank.
“They are. You can cut them down if you don’t like them. You can cut those scrubs over there, too. They’re blocking your view of that part of the river.”
“They’re nice,” he replied after a while. It was true. The scrubs didn’t look healthy, they had suffered from the earthworks that had been carried out in the garden. And they did obstruct the view of the opposite bank, of the wooden railing that secured the promenaders who paused there, resting their feet on the lower beams, gesturing towards the yellow house. He certainly would never cut down an elderflower bush, and the other bushes would recover soon.
“Can I make a picture?” he asked, producing his phone from his jacket.
“Sure. You’ll find me inside if you need me.”
He was alone with the river, the sun, and the wind that seemed to be just coming up, rustling the leaves. The breeze didn’t make a difference to the gush of the waters in front of him. For a moment, the relentless violence of the silent streaming scared him. He turned around. The house was still there. One of the windows to the basement had a cat flap. Below it was a weathered little shoe-cabinet, scuffed from being used as a threshold to the flap.
He kept the phone uselessly in his fingers until he slipped from the concrete wall. He typed in his PIN and tapped on the open lens symbol. He hadn’t used the camera for a while, and when he saw the thumbnail of the picture he took last, he felt a rush of blood in his cheeks. I know, I know, he mumbled. I’ve got to change my life.
Walking over to the river bank, he counted his steps. Twenty-five or so. The river was even closer than he would have estimated. He turned around and made some pictures of the house with its beaming yellow paint, the hipped roof, a wheelbarrow and a faded red plastic canoe leaning at the wall, and the elderflower tree on the side. The cat returned, and rushed through the window flap when he tried to catch a picture of it.
Walking through the garden, he felt stiffness in his hips from the long drive. The ground beneath the sparse grass was pebbly and rough. The river bank was fortified with large, erratic rocks. They seemed of the same kind as the ones that stuck out the river further up, washed over, stolid.
He gazed up the river, and shivered.
“Ok.” He said, when he entered the living room where the other one sat at the table, hunched over papers and a calculator. “Ok., let’s do it.”
“Fine,” the other one said, straightening up. “By the way, can you keep the cat? He’s been living here forever.”
The cat was lying on a chair, watching him with indifference.
“Yes,” he replied. “I think I can keep the cat.”