by Jack Fisher
My feet go in first. Startled by the cold, they want to leap back out. But I hold them under. I enjoy the sharpness, the feeling of sensation. I spread my toes, feel the water forcing past them, between them. I edge forwards, slowly, until I’m up to my knees. Feel the hairs on my legs flow one way, with the tide, then the other. A wave breaks before me, and droplets of spray career into my chest, causing me to flinch. Onwards. The water covers my groin now, and surges up to my stomach. I tense and gasp for breath, my belly unprepared, vulnerable, like the soft underside of a turtle. I hold myself still, breathing deeply, then push myself further in, the water climbing my torso, matting the hairs on my chest, reaching my armpits. I wave my arms, forwards, backwards, up, down, pushing hard against the resistance of the water. Setting them free. Then up to my neck, and now I can smell the water, taste it as it laps towards my face.
These are the parts of my body, of me and not of me, and this is how they would feel. How they used to feel.
A seagull descends from the grey sky, braking with its wings and landing on the water, a few feet in front of me. It looks at me, then away. I mean nothing to it, nor it to me. That’s how it should be. Yet I want to speak to it, tell it of the life that belonged to me. Tell it about Claire. Claire, who I loved, with every part of me. Who made me smile just by changing the expression on her face. How I miss being able to hold her, to touch her. Who I needed, without ever realising it. Alice, always full of mischief. And little Jacob, who I never got the chance to know, who I took, like so much else, for granted.
The water is rising. The earth, and its moon, turn slowly, to us, but inexorably. It’s reached my chin. The seagull paddles in random directions, jerking its head from side to side. Do you want me to tell you of the accident, seagull? What is there to say? A family, travelling away from a beach house. A mother driving. A father studying a map. Children quiet, tired by the sea. From the opposite direction, a lorry. Nothing to tell, then the lorry driver’s heart stops. It will happen to everyone, sometime. He loses consciousness, and the weight of his body pulls the wheel. There’s a second, two at most, and nothing the mother can do. Two vehicles, each at sixty miles an hour, meet each other. The father doesn’t even look up from the map. Instead, he wakes up in a strange room, among strange people, who tell him his wife and children are dead. Only himself, above the waist, has been spared. Like I said, seagull, it’s a short story.
I crane my neck and look behind me, at the beach house. When I turn back, the seagull is gone. Sometimes people tell me how brave I am. I don’t think they know what they mean. The bravest thing I have ever done in my life, I do now. I grip the wheels of the chair, and push. I feel the water rise above my mouth, above my nose, and finally above my head. I feel my hair float upwards. They may think it’s because of the chair, of my condition. They would be wrong. I had a wonderful life. Better than I could have wished for. And now it’s over.
Born in Rochdale in the UK, Jack Fisher became a chemical engineer. At 35, as an antidote to facts and numbers, he began to write. First came an account of a journey through Mongolia, published as an ebook, Hold the Dog! 16 Days in Mongolia. Then, after a short course in creative writing, he tried fiction, and nowadays he is experimenting with short stories. You can find more about him at jackfisher.org.uk.