Home > The Narrow

The Narrow
Author: Kate Alice Marshall



          THEY SAY THE NARROW drowns all it takes, but they are wrong.

   It is not the water that kills you, though it fills your lungs.

   It is not the cold that kills you, though it steals the warmth from your very bones.

   It is not the darkness that kills you, though it swallows you down deep.

   Your blood chilled, your lungs burning, your eyes blind in the dark, you are alive when the vicious current slams you against the rocks, again and again. The first impact splinters your leg. The second crushes your ribs. The third is gentle in comparison, your skull clipping a sharp snag of rock, but it is enough to end your awareness of your brief, wild tumble through the drowning dark.

   The current drags you down, a ribbon of scarlet blood chasing behind you. Down among the caves carved by the relentless rushing of the water, you are spun and tossed until you come to rest, wedged against some outcrop of stone, the endless flow of murky water pinning you in place.

   Your eyes, empty, stare upward, as if searching for the light. But there is none down here. There is nothing but the cold and the darkness and the drowned.

   They will search for your body along the shores, but they will never find you. They say that what the Narrow takes does not return.

   They are wrong about that, too.







   EVERY YEAR, IN those last hazy summer days before school begins, the students of Atwood go into the woods to cheat death. It’s a tradition as old as the school, observed in the strange, liminal week after students begin to arrive but before classes start. We make our way down in twos and threes and fours, some laughing and chattering, some silent with simmering nerves. Not everyone jumps, but everyone knows who doesn’t.

   The four of us always jump. Veronica, Zoya, Ruth, and I. Even when we weren’t supposed to—Lower School students aren’t allowed, but in that first year, Veronica and I sneaked out on our own to fling ourselves over the Narrow.

   It’s our senior year now. Our last chance to leap. And I’ve almost missed it.

   I’m barely out of the taxi that brought me from the airport when Veronica comes striding across the campus lawn toward me, arms outflung. Her white-blond hair is long on the top and shaved on the sides, which accentuates the sharp angles of her face. She wears a loose white tank that shows off the black sports bra beneath, accessorized with a collection of silver pendants and bracelets. On me, the look would be Witchy Nervous Breakdown, but on her it’s pure glamour.

   “Thank the goddess you made it! You almost missed the leap,” she declares, and I stretch a grin across my face to mirror hers. The cut on my lip has sealed itself to a whisper. The bruise at my lower back is a faint yellow, barely noticeable, but I tug down my shirt anyway. I keep my left hand in my sweatshirt pocket, and as long as I don’t jostle it, my arm doesn’t hurt.

   “I thought about joining the circus instead, but then I remembered there are plenty of clowns here,” I tell her. I practiced the joke on the way here, terrible as it was. Fine-tuned it, orchestrating just the right facial expression and tone of voice. I shouldn’t have bothered. Veronica is my favorite person in the world, but she isn’t exactly observant.

   “It’s supposed to rain later, so we’d better get moving if we want to get it done before classes start,” Veronica says, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. Halfway across the lawn, Ruth and Zoya stand together in a pose of expectant waiting. Ruth raises a hand to wave.

   “You go on,” I tell Veronica. “I’ve got to get my stuff to my room.” All the way here, I’ve had a knot in my stomach. I’m not ready to face Veronica—or anyone. I can’t explain what happened a week ago—or what was happening all summer while she swanned around Tuscany and sent texts complaining about how much her parents were smothering her.

   “Don’t be ridiculous. You can leave it here. It’s not like anyone’s going to steal it,” she says with a wrinkled-up nose. “Come on. It’s senior year. We can’t not jump.”

   The taxi driver has finished unloading my suitcases from the trunk. I take a deep breath. I’m here. I’ve made it to Atwood. All summer, I told myself I just needed to get back here, and everything would be okay.

   And it is okay.

   I’m okay.

   “Help me drag my stuff up on the sidewalk, at least?” I say brightly.

   Veronica groans at the prospect of physical labor but obliges. She practically flings my roller bag onto the grass. I move more cautiously, forced to pick up each bag one-handed, still aware of the random aches and pains that ambush me when I move the wrong way. I’ve barely set the last bag down when Veronica seizes my hand and starts dragging me toward the woods.

   “It’s been so boring without you, Eden. Just me and these losers.”

   “I resemble that remark,” Ruth says. Zoya just offers a tiny finger-wave.

   The two of them are a study in opposites, and it isn’t just because Zoya is almost six feet tall and the approximate width of an electron while Ruth is five-three and looks like she could flip a steer by its horns. Zoya looks immaculate as always, wearing a boldly printed top and fitted trousers she made herself under a tunic-length cardigan. She and Veronica are the fashion icons of the group. Meanwhile, when Ruth isn’t in her school uniform, she’s usually dressed like she is now, in running shorts and a tank, and according to Veronica, I have the fashion instincts of a nineteenth-century governess, tragically orphaned and tasked with caring for two polite but unsettling British children.

   “Why’d you show so late? You’re usually the first one here,” Veronica says.

   “I had some stuff to deal with at home,” I say. I paid to have my ticket changed to give the bruises time to heal.

   “Everything all right?” Zoya asks softly.

   I don’t quite meet her eyes as I shrug. “I’m here now.” The rest of the world doesn’t need to exist, at least for a few months.

   “That’s right. You’re finally here, and we can finally jump,” Veronica says with pleasure.

   “Say that a little louder, won’t you?” Ruth says, rolling her eyes.

   “You mean I shouldn’t talk about how WE’RE GOING TO JUMP THE NARROW?” Veronica shouts. A few people glance toward us, including Mr. Lloyd, our English teacher, but there are no answering shouts of alarm or any rush to clap us in irons. Technically, jumping the Narrow is forbidden, and the teachers are supposed to stop you if they catch you, but they never try to catch you. Most of them did it, too, back in the day.

   “Could you please . . . not?” Zoya says with a little burr of irritation. If she and Ruth are opposites, she and Veronica sometimes clash because they’re too similar. Both tall and willowy, the kind of build you could drape a potato sack over and call it high fashion—not that they ever would, since both of them have a keen fashion sense and the bank accounts to indulge it. Veronica is white, and Zoya is Black, but they even have similar bone structure, with sharp chins and big eyes. But Veronica is all brash energy and charisma, and most of the time Zoya seems like she wants to fold in on herself and disappear.

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