The branch was not very strong, and Kayla’s weight made it bend toward the river’s choppy surface. The bracelet, which was snagged on a piece of damp wood and protected from the current by a clump of reeds, was now just inches from her outstretched fingertips. She was certain it was the right one, although some of the stones had fallen out.
She remembered how the stones had glowed when she held it up to the skylight in the kitchen.
“Why are opals unlucky?” she had asked her mother, “They are beautiful.”
“Superstitious nonsense,” her mother had replied, smiling. “Come on, girls, we’d better go if we want to get to the leisure centre on time.”
“Kayla! Come back. Please!”
Kayla raised her shoulders away from the branch and looked back at the riverbank. Emmy’s crimson duffel coat was visible through the willow leaves.
“Emmy, it’s Mammy’s bracelet!” Kayla called out. “I knew it was. I can reach it, if I just move along a bit.” She shifted her legs and felt the entire tree tremble.
The water below was muddy and dark. They had been learning to swim, but Daddy had canceled the lessons. He no longer wanted his daughters near water. He did not know how much time they spent by the riverbank, trying to find some trace, to work out exactly where it was that the current had sucked her down.
Emmy began to cry. Kayla could hear her, but her mother’s face was in her mind and the stones on the bracelet were glimmering. Tightening her legs against the slender branch, she dropped her shoulders toward the water, stretching out her arms until she almost touched the bracelet. One final stretch. Her fingertips brushed against the smooth surface of the stones.
Emmy shrieked, “No Kayla! I’ll get it!”
There was a loud splash. Kayla twisted her face around and saw the darkness closing over her sister’s head.
With no time for thought, she let go of the branch.
The water felt soft on her face and hands as she searched in the murky brownness. The river had hands that pulled at her clothes, but she fought against them, kicking off her shoes and stretching out her arms. A patch of colour was visible through the gloom. She reached out and grabbed it and with a few strong kicks, she was at the surface with Emmy in her arms.
They scrabbled at the riverbank until their fingers found a lifeline in a clump of weeds, and they pulled themselves onto a stony ledge. Kayla looked out across the water. The piece of wood had finally been dislodged. It was floating on the current, the opals giving a faint glow as the bracelet slipped from the twig and sank.
Arms tight around her sister, Kayla whispered her goodbye.
© The Water – Copyright Safie Maken Finlay 2015