Newcastle Herald short story competition finalist 2018: Waves

I ​FLOATED in ​the ​ocean ​baths. ​The ​sun ​dipped ​closer ​to ​the ​shining ​horizon ​and ​brought me ​closer ​to ​the ​end ​of ​the ​day.

​I ​knew ​then ​that ​it ​might ​be ​the ​last ​time ​I ​swam ​in ​that ​concrete ​pool.

​Children ​and ​adults ​alike ​complained ​as ​they ​toweled themselves ​dry ​and ​gathered ​their ​things ​into ​their ​colourful ​beach ​bags. ​

It’d ​get ​cold ​soon ​but for ​now ​the ​water ​was ​still ​fine. Besides, ​She ​was ​still ​here ​with ​Him.

​Maybe ​the ​two ​of ​them ​had ​noticed ​me ​floating ​in the ​baths, ​maybe ​they ​hadn’t. ​

If ​I ​left ​now, ​I ​would ​have ​to ​walk ​right ​by ​the ​two ​of ​them ​and that ​would ​trap ​me ​into ​a ​few ​minutes ​of ​conversation ​I ​couldn’t ​handle. ​

Even ​cautionary ​eye contact ​might ​have ​broken ​me. ​I ​didn’t ​know ​and ​I ​wasn’t ​going ​to ​find ​out. ​So ​I ​floated, letting ​myself ​bob ​with ​the ​gentle ​waves ​that ​rolled ​over ​the ​lip ​of ​the ​pool ​from ​the ​broiling ocean ​beyond ​it.

Beside ​me ​a ​man ​was ​swimming ​laps. ​I ​could ​hear ​his ​harsh ​breathing ​as ​he ​pumped ​his limbs ​and ​tore ​through ​the ​water ​like ​he ​was ​trying ​to ​race ​a ​torpedo. ​

I ​wondered ​why ​he ​was trying ​so ​hard? ​Maybe ​he ​had ​a ​race ​coming ​up? ​Maybe ​swimming ​was ​more ​important ​than ​I thought ​it ​was? ​

The ​only ​thing ​I ​knew ​for ​certain ​was ​that ​every ​few ​dozen ​seconds ​he ​would swim ​close ​enough ​to ​me ​to ​upset ​my ​leaf -in-​a-​puddle ​routine ​and ​send ​me ​bobbing ​furiously up ​and ​down.

While ​I ​covered ​from ​one ​of ​these ​rude ​swimmer-induced ​waves ​I ​sank ​in ​both ​senses ​of the ​word. ​My ​legs ​dipped ​below ​the ​surface ​of ​the ​water ​as ​the ​swimmer ​wave ​hit ​me. ​I ​started to ​sink. ​

I ​heard ​Her ​laugh ​at ​something ​He ​said ​and ​I ​let ​myself ​sink.

My ​head ​dipped ​below ​the ​water ​and ​the ​sound ​of ​Her ​laughter ​went ​away. ​It ​was ​swallowed up ​by ​the ​ocean. ​I ​closed ​my ​eyes, ​I ​never ​could ​stand ​opening ​my ​eyes ​underwater.

​I ​sat ​at ​the bottom ​of ​the ​baths, ​no ​sight, ​no ​sounds ​but ​the ​strange ​long ​ambience ​of ​underwater. ​The feeling ​of ​the ​current ​moved ​around ​me. Maybe ​when ​I ​come ​back ​up ​they’ll ​be ​gone?

They ​weren’t.

​I ​came ​back ​up ​for ​air ​and ​found ​the ​two ​of ​them ​sitting ​where ​they ​had been ​before. ​The ​swimmer ​had ​left ​at ​least. ​Finished ​what ​felt ​like ​his ​10-​millionth ​lap ​and headed ​home ​to ​guzzle ​a ​protein ​shake ​with ​a ​side ​of ​fish ​flakes. T

hat’s ​why ​I ​like ​the ​baths. ​Every ​time ​a ​wave ​hits ​them ​they’re ​a ​little ​different. ​They might ​be ​a ​little ​cleaner, ​they ​might ​be ​a ​little ​nastier, ​more ​people, ​less ​people, ​a ​piece ​of seaweed ​you’d ​rather ​die ​than ​touch ​might ​surf ​its ​way ​inside ​and ​hug ​your ​foot. ​

Always different.

That’s ​why ​I ​used ​to ​bring ​Her ​here. ​Now ​She ​apparently ​wanted ​to ​bring ​Him. ​The new ​guy. ​Mister ​Tall ​Dark ​and ​Handsome, ​probably, ​I ​hadn’t ​even ​seen ​him ​truthfully. ​I ​had ​just seen ​her ​show ​up ​with ​another ​person, ​hand ​in ​hand, ​and ​turned ​away, ​my ​cheeks ​turning ​red.

Speaking ​of, ​I ​was ​definitely ​sunburned. ​Oh ​well, ​aloe ​vera ​and ​cold ​showers ​will ​still ​be ​around tomorrow. Another ​wave ​hits ​the ​baths ​and ​the ​complaints ​have ​stopped. ​

Almost everyone ​has ​left ​for ​the night. ​The ​sun ​is ​so ​close ​to ​the ​horizon ​now ​you ​might ​think ​it ​was ​leaning ​in ​for ​an ​awkward first ​kiss. ​

Go ​on ​you ​coward, ​smooch ​the ​ocean, ​then ​the ​stragglers ​might ​leave ​and ​I ​can ​get out ​of ​here ​without ​having ​to ​let ​Her ​know ​I ​came ​here ​alone.

“Hey.” ​It ​was ​Her. ​The ​game ​was ​up, ​time ​to ​make ​like ​the ​hermit ​crabs ​and ​retreat ​into my ​shell. ​

“How’ve ​you ​been?” I ​turned ​to ​Her. ​She ​was ​lit ​up ​by ​the ​setting ​sun ​in ​radiant ​orange ​that ​made ​her ​glow like ​fire. ​Why ​did ​she ​have ​to ​still ​be ​so ​pretty?

I ​smiled ​and ​hoped ​that ​it ​reached ​my ​eyes, ​cause ​it ​sure ​didn’t ​feel ​like ​I ​was ​smiling. “I’ve ​been ​good, ​I ​didn’t ​realise ​you ​were ​here.”

“You’ve ​been ​looking ​at ​us ​every ​few ​minutes ​since ​we ​got ​here.”

My ​guts ​dropped ​and ​suddenly ​the ​water ​felt ​like ​it ​might ​freeze. ​

Something ​on ​my ​face must ​have ​shown ​that ​I ​wanted ​to ​say ​something ​but ​couldn’t ​find ​the ​words ​because ​she smiled ​and ​added.

“It’s ​all right, ​I ​know ​this ​is your ​spot. ​He ​just ​wanted ​to ​go ​for ​a ​swim, ​but ​I ​didn’t ​want to ​while ​you ​were ​still ​in ​here. ​He’s ​not ​so ​bad ​you ​know.”

Damn ​it, ​her ​smile ​was ​in ​her ​eyes. ​She ​was ​happy. ​She ​was ​so happy. ​It ​was ​good ​that ​she ​was ​happy. ​Maybe ​He ​wasn’t ​so ​bad ​after ​all. ​If ​He ​was making ​Her ​happy ​maybe ​it ​was ​time ​to ​let ​them ​swim.

“Right.” ​I ​stopped ​floating ​and ​set ​my ​feet ​to ​the ​bottom ​of ​the ​baths. ​“I ​was ​just ​about to ​hop ​out ​anyway.”

​I ​pressed ​my ​hands ​onto ​the ​concrete ​lip ​of ​the ​baths ​and ​pulled ​myself from ​the ​water. ​I ​knew ​then ​that ​it ​might ​be ​the ​last ​time ​I ​swam ​in ​that ​concrete ​pool.

​“I’ve been ​good ​too, ​by ​the ​way. ​You ​two ​look ​like ​you’re ​happy. ​You ​look ​like ​He ​makes ​you ​happy.”

“He ​does. ​I ​am.”

My ​smile ​still ​hurt, ​but ​at ​least ​it ​felt ​real ​now. ​I ​walked ​away ​and ​passed ​by ​Him. ​I ​only gave ​him ​a ​nod; ​he ​gave ​me ​one ​back.

As ​the ​sun ​finally ​worked ​up ​the ​courage ​and ​kissed ​the ​horizon ​I ​saw ​the ​two ​of ​them dive ​into ​the ​ocean ​baths ​just ​as ​another ​wave ​crashed ​over ​the ​side. ​It ​was ​all right, ​with ​all ​the waves ​that ​would ​come ​and ​go ​soon ​there’d ​be ​no ​trace ​of ​me ​left ​in ​that ​water. ​

That’s ​why ​I liked ​the ​baths ​anyway. ​They ​changed ​with ​every ​wave.

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story
competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Marina Neil

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Marina Neil

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