She let the oar rest across her lap; there was no need to paddle. The river swept her through the forest at a pace that might have frightened her once. Now, she could only watch the trees and water and mud bleed into a single image at the edges of her vision, trying to convince herself she was afraid of nothing.
Every aspect of her life was like this river. Thrashing, chaotic, ready to plunge her over a cliff at any moment. She couldn’t see where she was headed, but Time kept up his never-ending pilgrimage, content with nothing if not to drag her along with him.
Faster and faster, the river tumbled on. She could see up ahead a spot where the trees cleared and a continual mist sprayed up from some unknown depth. Unconsciously, she stuck the paddle back in the river, and tried to angle toward the bank. But sharp rocks stood guard along the shore, and the current carried her as helplessly as though she were an ant upon a leaf.
She fought it. Her arms and chest trembled with the effort. She forgot all else. There was only the river below her, the forest around her, and the driving instinct to flee these deadly rapids. Through weariness onto total exhaustion she paddled. But with every inch gained toward shore, she lost a foot toward the cliff.
At last she reached a point beyond exhaustion, a point where weakness of body overpowers even the strongest of wills to survive. Mere feet from the shore, she let the oar slip into the rapids, and lay back, feeling no fear, only regret for a life wasted.
But as her consciousness slipped toward oblivion, a great jarring shivered the boat, and the unmistakable sense of a rudder driving through soft earth shook her upright. Then all was still.
The boat idled halfway up the bank, wedged between a pair of sharp boulders.
She climbed out and collapsed on the shore. Even as exhaustion took her, life acquired a new and unexpected splendor, and she smiled at the jagged boulders and whatever quirk of the tide had sent her to their saving embrace.