Beverley didn’t remember being born exactly but she remembered gurgling down her Brook, watching the night sky. This was London, so the street lights shone brighter than any stars, the lorries creaked around corners and water lapped against her skin. Her arms and legs waved in the air, feeling the Thames down the centuries, all the knowledge flooding through her. It was rejoicing, it had a goddess again.
Then she was scooped up by her mother and pressed against her chest. Her mother’s heart beat, and London beat down the Thames, the beat stopping suddenly and already Beverley could tell there were two Thames. But her Mama was the only Thames that mattered.
She didn’t cry until she taken out of the water entirely.
The air felt harsh and strange on her skin with no water as a buffer. Her mother had rocked her, hushing her with old lullabies from Sierra Leone and from London. They weaved a story around her and she had slept. She was passed over that night, from sisters to followers, like a kitten being socialised. They all marvelled over her and Beverley awoke to smiles and many cheers. River names were being spoken in the background, names that she instinctively knew. She slept again, in her mother’s arms, feeling the Thames roll on beneath her even though she wasn’t in the water anymore.
It shocked her, later on, when she learned that most children didn’t remember being born and celebrated. How boring, she thought. How utterly strange not knowing who you were and what you were meant to do. Not that she had any idea other than being your local river goddess, but she had heard enough about that from her mother for a thousand lifetimes. She was meant for London.
The house was never quiet. Sisters coming and going, even when they had left years ago, settling into their skin and roles. Followers, others and even a delivery man on occasion. They were always very polite. Rumours had gotten around years ago when a man wasn’t.
When Tyburn visited it always felt like she was trying to emulate minor royalty. Minor only because Mama Thames wouldn’t allow a daughter of hers to boss her around. She arrived in a nice car, the exterior gleaming like it had only just been polished that day, the inside exquisitely clean and smelling of the finest leather. Not that Beverley ever got to ride in it. Only when Tyburn opened the door, maroon heels clicking gently on the ground, her eyes already moving past Beverley, did she get a glimpse inside, breathing in deeply.
Tyburn paid attention to her when she messed up or she felt like imparting some big piece of wisdom. It was usually bullshit but sometimes Beverley paid attention.
When Tyburn fell pregnant, Beverley remembering pressing her head against the swell of her stomach, her eyes widening as there was a rush of movement and the unmistakeable sound of water. Tyburn never entirely lost her stern air but she smiled gently down to Beverley.
“They all come from the water, eventually,” she said. Beverley pressed her head against Tyburn’s stomach again, hearing the whoosh of water and the strange movements inside. Tyburn tolerated for a while but she turned awfully bossy again and soon Beverley was thinking that maybe it was possible to have too many sisters. Especially big sisters who felt it was entirely in their right to boss her around and tell it was all for her own good.
Tyburn wanted her to study. Mama approved which made it all the more difficult to avoid. But Beverley never liked studying things she didn’t find interesting and she found Tyburn’s old books boring. They were all about terrible people who gave boring, long speeches. Beverley much preferred being outside, with people, rather than studying them.
The Thames wasn’t just the river. Sometimes, while walking down the street, Beverley would smile because wasn’t it obvious? The street bent here and there, moving out of the way of water that has been moved centuries ago. Beverley could almost hear it moving under her then and she moved on guiltily when she heard a drain gurgle even though it hadn’t rained for almost two days.
She didn’t go straight home that day, she had snuck down to the edge of her river and dipped her toes in the water and watched the world go by. Animals didn’t pay attention to her and soon she was drowsily watching a deer tentatively went by, ducking its head as it walked, a car passed behind her, the headlights hitting the deer’s eyes directly as it flashed past. The deer darted back in one graceful movement, its form outlined against the river, like a sacrifice. Beverley shivered and the deer disappearing around a bend.
She slipped into the water, leaving her school uniform by the edge. No one would take it, the Thames wouldn’t let it, she was sure. She giggled as she swam and sank to the bottom. It was cold down at the bottom, but Beverley didn’t feel it like that. The Thames changed and she changed. Down at the bottom there were all sorts of odds things, a bottle from last year, a bottle from last century, a shoe and tiny, small fishes darting about. Beverley let them flutter over her skin, like marine butterflies, squirming as they ran through the hair on her arms.
Out of the corner of her eyes she saw ghostly beavers, bubbles appearing in their wake, but never their actual sleek forms. Far away, blurry through the water even though Beverley usually had perfect vision in her river, a man nodded to her. His hair was seriously old fashioned and she recognised something about the shape of his jaw and then he was gone. She sat there, letting her river wash over her. Then with a sudden burst of energy she launched herself to the surface.
Beverley breathed in and felt her river respond. It was getting better, she thought excitedly. She was up in a flash and ran home to her mama, eagerly telling her the news. She must have already known, it had been her life’s work since she had taken up the offer, but she had listened, watching Beverley with proud eyes.
The Beverley Brook – hers, hers – flooded when she was fourteen. That made her angrier because she hadn’t been that angry in the first place even though Ed had lied to her and Chantelle hadn’t told her and she ran down to the Thames, her part of the Thames and let the water rush over her legs, not caring that it was ruining her shoes and socks. The rain had been falling steadily all day and suddenly it was a torrent, washing away her frown. She didn’t move when it surged over her knees and settled around her waist, a comfort. Beverley heaved a heavy sigh, wiping at her face. Her tears were like the Thames, just a bit too brackish to be human tears.
She flung her bag on a tree and sank into the water. The water was always soothing even the anger rose within her. The sun had set by the time she walked out of the water, her socks squelching awfully under her toes. Her mother was waiting by the shore, her arms across her chest and her lips in a thin line. None of her sisters were there, which made Beverley absurdly grateful. She could quite clearly imagine Tyburn’s cutting words about wild Rivers ruining everything and she was glad the twins weren’t here either. They were at an age where they found everything she did hilarious and not in a fun way.
But facing Mama wasn’t going to fun either. Beverley hunched her shoulders, not looking her mother in the eye. Her mother was only silent for a second or two – long for her – before launching into a long tirade that ended with Beverley crying and her mother sighing. “Control, Beverley?” Her Mama said, opening her arms up and it was like walking into her own river. Beverley nodded and her mother patted her back, humming an old song.
“There’s tides and rhythms, ways of getting want you want without a flooding,” she murmured. Beverley nodded, even though she had always reckoned that to be Tyburn’s business. It had always seemed... not as important to her. But as they slowly went home, her mother actually waiting at red lights for once, Beverley maybe understood why.
There was always magic in London if you knew where to look. Beverley had once sat in Worcester Park, close enough to her river she could feel in thrum under her toes, and there was laughter and magic. A lady, long hair in a black braid had nodded seriously at Beverley as she walked past, her sari floating serenely behind her even though there wasn’t a wind. A man, dressed in a too sharp suit, didn’t pay her the slightest bit of attention but magic screamed off him. Others, human and not, and Beverley wondered how the rest of London didn’t know.
Tyburn laughed at that, showing off all her teeth. “Things can’t stay the same, Beverley,” she said, drawing her hand to mean the Thames, London maybe even England. There were pearls at her neck, from oceans far away and they brightened her face. Her gaze became pensive as she stared at Beverley, eyes narrowing and Beverley could almost the click and whirr of gears behind her eyes. “The old agreements,” here her lip curled, “They can’t stand forever.”
It was all too much for Beverley. Tyburn had her grand plans and she honestly wanted nothing to do with them. She would follow her Mama. So she scarpered out, ignoring anyone calling her name, dodging hands that wanted her to stay, to listen or worst of all, study.
Effra had started taking Beverley to the fey markets when she had been nine or so and by the time she had hit her mid teens, she went whenever she wanted. Her family were still new, or old depending on your perspective and considering the crowd there were a lot of perspectives. This was a place where boundaries were tested but ultimately a place where goods were sold.
Today’s market, it was the middle of the week and summer time and the place was half deserted, an old house in Notting Hill but outside the streets teemed with people, young and old, flesh on display, the sun slowly baking them. It was quiet inside, the place full of dozing stallholders, the buzz of the crowd almost soothing. Beverley had only stopped by for a moment, to make a display of herself, to display Mama Thames’ presence. She supposed this was Brent’s area, but Mama Thames’ also, but Brent was far too young for this. Far too young but anything was gurgling.
The lady smiled – or near enough, she didn’t have teeth, she didn’t need teeth – and said sweetly, “Took it off her neck myself,” as she traced around the outline of the tin necklace, a woman peering faintly out of it, her curly hair cut off by dull edge. It was stained and probably hadn’t been worth the tin it had been printed on a hundred or two hundred years ago.
“How much?” Beverley said. And the woman’s smile grew bigger. Her gums had always been this red, Beverley told herself.
“For you?” And the woman ran her eyes up and down Beverley form, taking in everything quickly, never settling on anything in particular but still. Her throat felt tight. Outwardly she showed no sign of discomfort. Her mother hadn’t raised her to quail in front of a creature that had seen its height a thousand years before the Romans had come to Britain. “Three pounds,” she said, her red tongue, bright and long, ran over her gums. Her lips settled in a crooked line, white and purple, flesh sunken like she hadn’t been fed right. They liked eating human babies, Beverley recalled, and the ancient Britons hadn’t cared for that all.
Beverley handed over the money. She didn’t wear the necklace, it seemed far too fragile for that and who knew what muck it could catch on, down in the depths of the Thames. But she sometimes she traced the girl carved in the tin, her thick hair and her nose that was just like Beverley’s.
Normal friends weren’t discouraged, but it was difficult explaining things sometimes. Why her mother never aged past a youthful and vigorous forty or so. Her numerous sisters without a father in sight (no that would only get certain looks, eyes tracing her lips and nose and hair, till Beverley wanted to punch them in the face). Beverley was friendly with most people, but her friends didn’t really know her.
She had casual flings, pretty boys who would have quaked over the idea of kissing a goddess. Beverley didn’t hold with all that minor goddess thing. But she didn’t bring anyone home. Maybe she wasn’t so alone in that. But everyone couldn’t find their Oberon or their civil engineer, who would take the whole goddess thing in their stride. It didn’t help she didn’t find anyone really special, someone who would say yes to just her and forget about her mother and sisters.
Father Thames’ boys started acting like the right fools they were soon after Beverley left school. Her mother had sighed when Beverley declared she wasn’t going to university. Then she yelled for several minutes, despairing, what opportunities she had! Opportunities that she was just going to throw away!
And Beverley turned her head away. Maybe she would have felt differently, if she didn’t feel the tide come and go every day under her finger tips, but then many things would be different. And she would always a have place, a role to play, she didn’t need university. She wasn’t like Tyburn, ambition in her eyes, one of the first, one of the eldest, having to prove herself. She had gone up river, and Beverley still heard stories of the years of planning and negotiations that took.
Beverley felt her blood boil when she felt the Thames’ boys sneaking down the River. They whooped and cried, like this was theirs, like they hadn’t left. Like they could just come back like they had never left and push Mama aside, push Beverley aside.
The Rivers had died, Mama had said, her eyes wandering over to Tyburn, to Beverley, to Effra. Father Thames had left because his heart had broken. The humans had moved Rivers, blocked them, and forced them underground. Beverley felt the ghost Rivers under her feet when she walked through London, Rivers who had died, and Rivers who had once passed there before they had been diverted, drained and paved over.
It didn’t make it right, Beverley thought, eyes glittering as she watched the Thames’ boys yell and scream, waiting for London to say hello back.
London had changed when they had left. It wasn’t going to welcome them back so easily. Beverley dove underwater; feeling the water caress her, love her. Her sisters were next to her, their gazes catching hers.
This was their town now.