Early each morning Mary followed her sister Bridget to the river. Together they checked for ice. They were fire-haired waifs, with vowels that would never let them move far from the gutter. Always hungry, but they were alive. Their Ma wasn’t. That’s what Da would tell them anyways.
Today, the ice had thickened and they saw carpets laid down for polite ladies in silk slippers.
Holding the promise of a frost fair close, they ran back through wakening streets. A cuff from Da for being late, Bridget would argue. Mary didn’t. They filled their baskets and set off calling “won a hey’pney, two a penny”.
Next morning, they saw tents fill the ice-covered river from side to side. That day Mary sang out “cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o” on cobbled London streets. Bridget coughed for the first time.
Baskets empty for the day, they returned to the river’s edge. A creature larger than the room they shared with their Da, and his sister, and her husband and their five children, walked across the ice towards them. A man ran after it, slipping wildly as he tried to keep up. The creature stopped. Mary held Bridget’s hot hand and looked into eyes as wise as she’d ever seen.
Years later Little Bridget would say “It were the alaphant, aye Granny”. Mary hugged her young grand-daughter. And together they repeated the story of the time the Thames froze over, the elephant walked on ice and Mary had a sister called Bridget.
Graphic image courtesy Kara Veugelers
This piece was written for the semifinals of the NYC Midnight MicroFiction competition 2019. Genre: Historical Fiction| Action: Slipping on ice | Word: Argue