CREATIVE Caryl Lewis, translated by Gwen Davies

NWR Issue 116

Against the Current

Piotr was on his way to work in the slaughterhouse when he saw the old man walk into the water. His shift started at five, and he thought at first that the tweed jacket and the cap he could see through river mist must belong to one of the fishermen he’d come across, tickling trout out of their element. Piotr held off a while. But when he realised he was up to his chest in water and that his cap had been captured by the current, he threw down the butt of his cigarette. The river was in full spate following nonstop rain, and the man was holding his own against the flow that threatened to topple him any minute. A heartbeat, then Piotr watched as the white face and the dark clothes went under without a word.

‘Kurwa!’ he swore.

He ran along the path, shrugging off his rucksack. He knew that pressure would hold the man under, forcing him fast through white water. Pulling his sweater over his head, only stopping to hop out of shoes, into the river he went. The cold was a body blow. He took a deep breath and upended himself. All night the rain had hammered the roof of his caravan behind the pub. Flat on his back and wide awake, the storm had kept him company. By this morning, with soil washed from its banks and its depths stirred to a frenzy, he could see nothing in the river. He was blind. Surfacing, he rubbed the wet from his eyes.

‘Old man?’

The current beat against his body and took him also in its grasp. Along its banks and down towards the old bridge, the river’s waters folded and were enfolded in creamy clouds of foam.

‘Dziadek! Old man!’

There was no noise except the water’s terrible roar. He had been stunned but now he felt the cold. He couldn’t resist the pressure as the river took his legs from under him. He felt the skin on his shoulder rip. He breathed bubbles as the air was gone. The sheer weight of water was on his chest, with no chance of a breather before being taken under all over again. Then he was spat out of the main channel. Under the bridge he came up, took a deep breath and coughed.

Caryl Lewis’ latest novel is Y Bwthyn (2015). This story in its original version, ‘Y Llif’, is from her latest collection, Y Gwreiddyn (2016), winner of the Wales Book of the Year fiction category this autumn. She is already twice winner of the Wales Book of the Year, for Martha, Jac a Sianco (2004) and Y Bwthyn (2016). A Welsh audio reading by Dewi Huw Owen of ‘Y Llif’, produced by New Welsh Review, with Gwen Davies’ English subtitles, can be found at Thanks to Y Lolfa for permissions.

Gwen Davies is a literary translator whose titles include Martha, Jack & Shanco, Caryl Lewis, Parthian, 2007 and (co-translation) White Star (Seren Gwyn ar Gefndir Gwyn) by Robin Llywelyn, published in 2003 by Parthian. Her translation, The Jeweller (Y Gemydd), by Caryl Lewis, is out on submission.

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