Saturday 20 December 2014

Day 20: Swallowed Up by James Farnham

“Don’t you two get lost. I’ll wait for you here,” she shouted above the noise of the crowd.
“We’ll try not to,” her husband said and told Emily to hang on tightly as the pair of them thrust their way into the roar of the throng in the piazza.
It wasn’t often that his four-year-old requested a walk, so he would make the best of it as he dived further into the turmoil of Siena’s public holiday. It was a riot, wilder than the Palio.
He told Emily they were heading to one of the quieter streets that led off the far corner of the square. There he might be able to let go of Emily’s hand; it was awkward walking with his left shoulder hanging down to keep hold of her hand, her tiny fingers enveloped in his. Looking down, all he could see was the straw blond crown of her head in the hole of the crowd packed closely around them. It was as if the whole city had joined a street dance.
“Keep hold Emily, you must keep hold!” he cried again, but she obviously couldn’t hear above the noise; she couldn’t even look up at him; the press of people was too dense.
He tried to imagine what it would be like down there; to be so small, her little head swimming in a sea of knees, the brightness of her blue eyes shut out from the sun above, caught up in the throes of a scary ride like the fair they had gone to back in England the previous week.
He knew why his wife had told them to be careful. She often referred to Emily as their “precious cargo”. Her use of the phrase was a code for all that they had been through: the years of trying for their only child, the traumas of a difficult birth and now the blind obsession they had for the only offspring they would ever have, her perfect beauty and temperament. Often they felt suffocated by their luck.
He tried to work out what was happening with the crowd. At times he and Emily were hemmed in by a body of people heading towards the far side of the square and they would make a surge of progress in the right direction. But then they would be hurled off course as another knot of people swooped by the opposite way; it was a boiling river, thundering in the rapids.
The mob made a great swerve, like an eddy, and he felt Emily’s hand being twisted and loosened in his. He screamed out her name again, urging her to hold on. He thought he heard her squeal above the deafening noise. Was he squeezing her hand too tightly? It was impossible to tell in the convulsion.
The crowd spun them round again and he felt Emily’s hand starting to slip again from his. It was impossible to hold her without wrenching her arm from her shoulder. The flats of her fingers started sliding from his like a bar of soap. He remembered the time he was learning to climb and lost his grip, falling in fear until the rope snagged. There was no rope to snag. She was gone.

About the author:
Before turning to creative writing, James Farnham lived on a farm in Somerset, where he ran a craft-made cider business and was involved in cheese-making. Previously he ran a business strategy and speechwriting consultancy, writing occasional features in the business press and winning the Guardian’s Management Essay competition in 1999. He has recently moved to Dorset, where he is completing his first novel and experimenting with poetry and shorter forms.

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