Swollen with recent rains, the river heaved and churned, flowing rapidly away from Warsaw, its burden of bodies propelled carelessly along, like so much flotsam.
The woman’s mind inexplicably fastened on to the mythical river that was thought to usher one to the Greek underworld. Her cousin had told her about it—the river Acheron, was it? She dared not open her eyes.
What was she to expect in the underworld? There would be the fee for the ferry boat operator. Did she have any coins? She thought not, and without a coin he would not bring her across. Everyone knew that. Might she use her charms on him? Were charms of her kind taken as legal tender in the underworld? She had her doubts.
Her heart felt the icy fingers of the river upon it. How was she to account for her life? The things she had done?
The numbing water seemed to run faster now—like her fear—rushing her to her fate.
The ancient Poles had believed that those who died by drowning were doomed to become water spirits, forever residing in the waters where they had met death. She imagined Marzanna, Goddess Death, waiting for her at the river’s end, dressed in white and carrying her scythe.
The woman pushed the Polish deity from her mind. At the age of twenty, she had run out of time. So? What of it? She had often proclaimed that the years of her youth were ducats to be spent. Wishing she had lived a better life was useless. Just as well, she thought—she had never been one for apologies. Or regrets.
James Conroyd Martin is a long-time English teacher at Marian High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois. He worked for a number of years on Push Not the River, a novel based on the actual diary of a countess who lived through the rise and fall of Poland’s Third of May Constitution (1790s). St. Martin’s Press released it in September of 2003. India Edghill writes that it contains “all the sweep and romance of Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago”. The sequel, Against a Crimson Sky, follows up on the diary, as will the final book in the trilogy, The Warsaw Conspiracy.