Jane would never know what happened. One moment she and Ruth had the long, narrow racing shell gliding down the calm river, a crystal blue day; the next she was upside down, struggling for breath in the black water as she groped around for the safety cord.
The seats inside the rowing shell were on slides that moved forward and back with each stroke as Jane and Ruth pushed against the footrests. Most boats in the Lusher’s shed had footrests in the shape of clogs that allowed the rowers to easily slip their feet out in an emergency. But, not the shell Ruth and Jane were in that morning. Their feet were locked into position by rowing shoes with Velcro straps.
Rowing shells are inherently unstable. Now with her vision obscured by the murky water, Jane was grateful for the obsessive way Ruth had made her practice tugging on the safety cord to release the Velcro straps of her rowing shoes.
Finding the cord in the swirling water wasn’t as easy as Jane imagined, but soon, with one quick pull she was free and swimming to the surface.
“Shit Ruth, what happened?” Jane said as soon as she had grabbed a breath.
No answer. Jane looked around. No Ruth.
“Ruth!” Jane screamed at the top of her voice, the sound of her friend’s name echoing down the river.
Jane dived back under the water. Ruth was lying upside-down, lifeless, her feet still trapped in the rowing shoes. Jane shook her friend, no response. She felt around for the safety cord, pulled it to release Ruth’s feet and then dragged her free from the boat by the shoulders.
As Jane and Ruth came to the surface, one of the aluminium dingys used by rowing coaches stopped near them. The driver, a strong woman, perhaps a few years older than Jane, helped her get Ruth into the boat. Jane put her hands under Ruth’s head to hold it steady; her hair was wet and sticky. It felt warm. Jane carefully pulled out one hand, it was covered in blood. She held it up to show the boat driver.
The driver nodded and gunned the tinny back in the direction of the rowing shed. With one hand holding the outboard at full throttle, she took a mobile phone out of a water proof pouch and passed it to Jane.
“Press eight, it’s a preset. Tell them we need an ambulance at Lusher’s rowing shed ASAP. Drowning, head injury, girl unconscious.”
Jane did as she was asked and then silently pulled off her Tshirt and put it under Ruth’s head to stop it banging against the bottom of the dingy. The bleeding seemed to have stopped, but Ruth didn’t look good and the boat driver could see that Jane was becoming agitated.
“I’m Georgia,” the boat driver said, breaking the tension. “You’re Jane, right?”
“Yes,” Jane replied. “I don’t know what happened.”
“You must have flipped. Looks like Ruth hit her head on something as you went over.”
“You know Ruth?” Jane asked.
“Sure, but not well. We are in different age divisions so we’ve never raced each other, may be next year when she goes into Seniors.” Georgia said.
“You think she’ll be okay then?” Jane tentatively asked.
“Sure. We should call her dad. Do you know Mr Goldsmith?”
“Not well,” Jane said. “But I’ve met him a few times. Shall I ring him?”
“Good idea, tell him there has been an accident. Probably nothing to be too worried about but it would be good if he could come to the shed”
Georgia was clearly not a girl who was easily flustered. Definitely a ‘Huston we have a slight problem’ type of person.
Jane rang Ruth’s father and then waited for him at the shed as the ambulance took her friend to hospital.
In the next episode, “Alone”, without Ruth’s support at school Jane is an easier target for the brat pack.