Swimming with the Tide

This 500 word flash fiction was commended in the 2014 Words for the Wounded short story competition and published in “The Journey” an anthology of Short Stories and Poems, edited by Maggie McGeary to help raise money for Marie Curie:

Will dived in from the steps and began to swim, his whole body immersed in a fluid silence. When he came up, he felt alive. He started to crawl, breathing out underwater hard and fast so the air from his lungs escaped in a thousand silver bubbles. He lifted his head first to the right, then to the left on each third stroke, breathed in the sea air, sharp, invigorating, momentary. Then again, three hard strokes. One, two, three, breath, four, five, six, breath, seven, eight, nine, breath. The counting became a mantra, the breathing a meditation which carried his thoughts to another place. An outdoor pool, abroad.

They’d commandered a derelict house, were waiting for new orders on that heavy summer afternoon. The pool in the grounds looked more inviting than home so when the sergeant gave the go ahead they all dived in, he and his eleven squaddies. The water was cold. It shocked them into a bout of shouting and splashing, throwing water over each other in great armfuls, diving into the pool like kids. Then the skies opened and the rain swept over them. They quietened down after that and started to swim, all twelve of them, up and down the pool in unison, side by side as if all their training had brought them to this, as if this was a way of forgetting. Smooth, rhythmical strokes into a liquid which absorbed all deeds, good and bad, valiant and cowardly; into a compound which bound them together, hydrogen and oxygen, in all that they did.

“When your numbers up, your numbers up,” the sergeant had said but what Will hadn’t done the day before left a niggle, right at the back of his head, which he couldn’t scratch away. As he swam now he counted back the days and knew he should pick up the phone and make that call. He’d put it off for days, weeks, months. He swam harder and faster until he felt his lungs burning, then he came up into the sweet, blessed air. Sometimes, you had to face the things that frightened you most. Not guns, not war, not death but people, real, living people. As he turned back for the shoreline Will heard the voice carry to him in a bluster of wind. “You promised,” it said. Overhead, gannets cried and swooped, plunged from on high into the sea.

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