Short Fiction ~ Sharon Boyle
First Prize, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 17
I am a shirker: a jacker-in of university, a collector of busy yet boring jobs, an avoider of married bliss – I shunned my wedding day, having resolved the night before that a fuck-and-endure commitment wasn’t for me. Besides, there was a fair chance it would’ve interfered with my promiscuity.
I am also a fabricator – a tacker-on of Hollywood happiness.
The two are connected.
Apparently my lapses and broken promises and sleeping around can be blamed on the fact I witnessed my parents’ death – a dual drowning. Mum and Dad spluttered and hacked and clung to one another while trying to rescue a twelve-year-old me who’d floated far out to sea on a lilo.
I was saved by the coastguard.
That’s the story I tell. Short and simple. Some listeners think it sweet. Others are appalled by the notion of a girl observing the inauguration of her orphan status. They want explanations.
‘Did they call out to you?’
‘Did they say they loved you?’
‘What the hell were they thinking? You could’ve died.’
I am forced to fabricate more.
‘When they realised they couldn’t reach me,’ I say, ‘they hugged one another, kissing and declaring their love, for themselves and for me.’ Sigh. ‘Then they sank. Together.’
At the age of thirty six – still a single fish, still promiscuous – I join a swimming class. It’s time I learn. We all hail from the oceans. That was the start of our story. My ancestors floated, flailed and toiled their way through violent seas to stagger onto virgin beaches on newly-evolved legs so that I could exist. My inability to swim is a big-time insult to them.
My legs thrash as I fight the water, armed with a float. And then, I’m not in the chlorine-scented pool but back in the ocean that came with a fortnight’s holiday to Crete. My arms, not legs, drub salt water as I steer my lilo around rocks, to a secluded area, following the sound of familiar shouts.
Picture the scene: my parents holding onto one another in a strange, desperate embrace. Dad gasping out gripes while pushing Mum’s head under.
‘You promised,’ gasp, ‘that we’d stay together,’ gasp, ‘for fucking forever.’
If I had been able to swim I would’ve chosen a dependable stroke such as the side-crawl and navigated the moving, moody waters to tear Mum away from Dad and his insistence on kept promises. Cupping her chin, I would’ve struggled back to shore to perform mouth-to-mouth heroics.
But I couldn’t swim; I could only wail for Dad to stop. Dad, however, was a steadfast, determined sort, not a sappy giver-upper like me. He waited for Mum’s hands to stop their pummelling, and, with eyes locked onto the horizon, disconnected himself and glided away with long, regular strokes.
It’s true I was saved by the coastguard. He, who arrived late to the plot, dragged me onto the sand and revived me when I didn’t want reviving (the only time I’ve been ungrateful for a man’s lips on mine).
That’s the full, uncensored story – lots of action and emotion, but a lemon-wince of an ending. And who wants to hear that? One day there might be another ending, of me returning to the ocean, of swimming further out than is sensible, of letting myself sink down and down, watching the water’s colour change from glittering turquoise to subdued navy and finally to silent, blunt black where all our stories started and where my story will start again.
Sharon’s short stories and flash pieces have been published on-line and in magazines including Retreat West, Fictive Dream, Writers’ Forum, Bath Flash Anthology and Ellipsis Zine. She likes eating fried-egg rolls and coorying in bed with a new book. She dislikes driving and the fact that Sharons are becoming an extinct species. She tweets at @SharonBoyle50 and has a blog at boyleblethers.wordpress.com