The river dried off, right under my feet. The last brook of water steamed away between my toes. I had managed to retrieve a full bucket with a straw, careful not to let it touch my lips.

I went back to my house and used it efficiently. I gave one drink to each of my children, two to my husband, and used the rest to clean the windows. I searched into the bucket for one last drop. My throat felt harsh and my tongue sticky. I held the red bucket up and opened my mouth, but nothing dripped to calm my thirst.

I’ve been hoping for the water to return. I gazed up at my pristine windows before leaving. I needed to hunt for water.

I walked, and walked under the sun, but found no water at all. My legs weakened before the world started to spin around. I remember a vision of myself slicing my veins open to fill the bucket with my own blood, before passing out over the rocks.

The sound of a guitar string waked me up. I recognized it was the G string. I squinted around and sat, numbed and disoriented. I saw a woman holding a guitar while staring at a canvas before her. “It’s not ready for anyone to see,” she said, “I will finish it later, I promise, but I must, I must, try this new song first! It just came to me now and I, I really need to sing it before I lose it”. I stood up and rubbed my eyes. I must be dreaming.

“Would you be a dear and fill this bucket for me?” she asked, pointing to her own red bucket. I looked down to the channel where rocks were blocking a thin stream of water forming a puddle. “I would do it myself, but, I really need to sing my song!” I calculated there was enough water for a few buckets there. “I will,” I said, “but only if you let me fill my bucket as well.” “Oh, no!”, she said, “I need the water to wash my paint brushes. I’m quite an artist, you know”. I nodded and did what she asked. After all, it was only a dream.

“Please,” the woman said, “I’ll feel terrible if I don’t share some of it with you.” I hesitated. How could I calm my thirst while my family was craving for water? I would feel so guilty. “You’ll feel so much better”, she said, as if she could hear my private reprimand. I held the bucket and sipped a feeling of wonder and curiosity I’ve had long forgotten. I used to paint and play the guitar, just like her. It took me a moment to look back into her eyes. I was embarrassed, not sure why. “Thank you,” I said, “but I still need to get some water for my family.” She plunged the stained brushes into the bucket. “If you convince the woman up the river to let the water flow, I will do the same.”

I didn’t need to walk long before finding her up on a tree house. She had a few people over there, nicely dressed, clinking glasses, laughing. She popped out her head and said: “Oh! Thank goodness! I was hoping someone would pass by. Hi!” She waved. “Would you do me a favor?”. She grabbed a rope with a red bucket tied to the end. “Go down the river and fill this bucket for me, please.” I saw she had more water than the painter. “I will,” I said, “but only if you let me fill my bucket as well.” “Oh, no! I’m sorry, but I need that water to share with my friends. I’m very social, you know.” I frowned. How could she be so generous and yet so selfish? It didn’t matter. It was only a dream. I went down and did what she asked.

“Please,” she said, “have some for yourself. You are also my friend, now”. I drank a feeling of laughter and belonging I had long forgotten. I used to meet with my friends very often. “Thank you,” I said, “but I still need to get some water for my family.” “If you convince the woman up the river to let the water flow, I will do the same.” I nodded and went off to find her.

The next woman was wearing a pair of net stockings, a revealing black leotard, and red lipstick. She was sitting on a chair with her arms and legs spread open. “My dear,” she said, “you are my savior!”. I looked down the channel. She had been holding a great amount of water. She handed me a bucket. “Darling, please, get me water from the river. I can barely walk on these high heels!” “Why don’t you take them off, then?” I said, angrier than I really was. “I’m waiting for my lover, and I feel so sexy on these heels! Please!” I yanked the red bucket off her hand and went to get the water. I took mine, as well, and prepared to fill it up without asking. “Oh, no! No, no, no, no. I need that water for my lovers. I’m very passionate, you know”.

I gave her the water and turned away, ready to give up the hunt and return to my family. “Have some,” she said, “you’ll feel a lot better.” “No, thank you. I’ve had enough. I don’t think I’m thirsty anymore”. The woman raised an eyebrow. “Oh, but this is different water. You might think you don’t need it, but if you want to get to the big dam…” She caught my attention. “The woman at the birth of the river has tons of water.” She handed me the red bucket. “It’s only water,” she said enticingly. I poured the liquid into my mouth. I swallowed a feeling of… Oh! It’s so hard to tell. It was ecstasy, joy, pleasure, but also, an unbearable fear. I tossed the bucket away and ran off.

The dam was an impressive mass of water that didn’t seem to have an end, more water than anyone could ever need for a lifetime. I searched around for the woman. She wasn’t there. I heard a splash and a stirring giggle. There she was: naked in the water, whooping and laughing. “What have you done?” I yelled. “You have kept the water for too long!” But the woman didn’t hear me. She kept playing with my water. How could she be so greedy? I should drown her.

I shouted a few more times, but she didn’t listen. Furious, I took off my dress and jumped into the water, forgetting that I don’t know how to swim anymore. I sank down quickly into the darkness. I was sure I was going to die, but then, I remembered, this was only a dream. People don’t die in dreams. I would soon wake up in my bed beside a husband I can’t make love to anymore, I would hug my children tight to keep them from growing up, and I will clean the windows to make myself useful, meaningful. I wished it wasn’t a dream. I closed my eyes and let my body sank freely, but she came and pressed her lips against mine. She forced my mouth open and blew air from her lungs into mine. I breathed a feeling of revival joy, my legs started to swing, and my arms fluttered. We both inhaled sharply when we reached the surface. Panting, I said: “I need water for my family. If you let me fill my bucket…” She looked disappointed. “I was hoping you came here to take down the dam. After all, you built it”. “No! I can’t!”, I said, sobbing, “It will destroy everything! It’s too much water!” She hugged me. “It’ll be all right. Trust the channel”.

My body relaxed in her arms. I felt the water rubbing my skin and supporting my weight. I let go. A thunderous sound from down under shacked it all above. She disappeared just before the dam broke down and the flow dragged me away. I couldn’t see or breathe while my body rolled and stumbled, my head quivered, my arms and legs wobbled freely with the current. I hit the shore and slowly pulled myself out of the water. I ran to my house and saw my husband waiting outside. I jumped into his arms and gave him a passionate kiss.
“It was not a dream, after all!”

By Carolina Pribanic
“The Woman and the River”
1,426 words