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Book extract: Fall River by Meredith Miller

16 Jun 2024 6 minute read
Fall River by Meredith Miller is published by Honno

We are pleased to publish an extract from the latest novel by Meredith Miller, a dark psychological thriller.

Meredith Miller

At 6:30 on leap year morning, the Navy yard is the brightest thing on the river. It’s lit up like Hollywood or heaven, like no one ever dies there.

There is a personnel carrier in Weston Mill Lake, sitting so high it rises in front of the council flats at Barne Barton. From a distance the layers flatten out, as if you could jump from one of the balconies and fall through the cancerous air right onto the top deck.

Apart from the new smokestack pouring a darker shadow out against the sky over the estate, six years have made no difference at all.

Khadija stands up and shakes out her coat. She twists her hair into a knot that won’t stay and moves between the carriages to stare down at the Union Pub, one hand out to steady her suitcase while the train clatters over Brunel’s bridge.

It curves round toward the Cornwall bank, aiming now at Wearde Quay and the big house on the hill. Khadija puts a hand up to her neck and digs her fingers into the ache there. You’d think she was older just then, watching her shrink in the face of that view.

At first glance, the water is blank below her, covering the riverbed and pretending it would float you. Khadija knows the muddy bottom underneath, waiting to hold your ankles so the river can choke you.

Mud two metres deep, made of rotting grass from up the valley, pesticides carried downstream, animal guts and blood hardened into the iron on the bridges.

The rows of pleasure boats strung along the moorings are bobbing on top of all the bones and
plastic trash and piss and nonsense that make up every river on this island, twisting down to open their mouths and sick into the sea.

A rippling circle on the surface of the river catches the light under the road bridge. A cormorant diving maybe, or something heavy tossed from a car.

Or maybe it’s the Tamar swallowing one more stranger’s sadness, turning another person into a body, putting somebody else to sleep.

Khadija feels for the receipt crumpled in the pocket of her coat, signed by the server in a Russian restaurant in Primrose Hill.

Farah might once have wanted it, to put with all the other till receipts she used to keep stuffed in a boot box at the bottom of her closet. She used to say she’d be able to reconstruct, years from now, where she’d been and what she’d done on any given day, from the receipts.

When they first met at uni, she’d get the guards to let her through train station turnstiles so her tickets wouldn’t get swallowed, ask for a paper receipt every time she bought a bottle of water or a KitKat.

In addition to the boot box, there were several plastic grocery bags full of older receipts tied up under Farah’s bed in halls.

The other night, Khadija paid for the whole dinner just to be sure she’d be the one to keep the record of it: £43 at 21:52 on a particular Wednesday. What was eaten, how much was drunk, at
the last supper.

The carriage lurches over the points and Khadija’s suitcase rolls away. When she ducks to catch it the automatic door stutters and disturbs the weekenders, trying to sleep until Penzance. No one on holiday needs to wake up before Bodmin.

The stations in east Cornwall release a different sort of people, people pushed inland, people who reached up the line and got pulled back again, riding standard class.

All over the country, train lines are ending stories just like this one.

She almost misses the sight of her mother’s window, half-covered in street light, Aunt Tammy’s in the shadow of the bridge. Apart from one, every person Khadija loves is on that hillside, breathing into their pillows in the dark.

Jo and Alice and Beth Kennedy, all connected by their parents and their past. Her mother and Aunt Jan, Dylan and Aunt Debbie and Tammy, all strung together with dead relatives and bridge cables.

None of that is important enough to stop the Night-time Riviera; the sleeper flies right through Saltash station.

She’ll get off at Liskeard and wait for the up train, drinking crap tea and looking at sheep. Looking at others like her, who have moved to London and back again, failed and fallen in on

All the pathetic backdrops are still waiting at all the stations, ready to swallow everyone who comes home for Christmas or Eid, for funerals or birthdays or babies. For good.

Back out to the edges, back down under the rain, where all the trains are above ground and all the money washes away up the line.

In Liskeard station, she will enjoy her last few minutes of invisibility, the last time she’ll be far enough from home to disappear into her surroundings.

No one is expecting her; even her mother doesn’t know she’s on the sleeper. The talk will start soon enough, why ring ahead? Somebody will spot her on Fore Street and get straight on the phone.

Guess what, me lover? I just seen Khadi Sleep outside the chippy.

Yes, I’m sure! She’s back.

Wonder who’ll die this time?

Here she is, cutting into the middle of things once again, like a misplaced full stop.

Ending shit.

She passed the eleven plus, broke the surface of the river and leapt like a fish up into the London air.

This is her, falling back down again. Nothing to see here. Just gravity. Splash.

Fall River by Meredith Miller is published by Honno and available in bookshops.

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