Below the sea


  18+   It's a warm, sunny day and I'm strolling along Brighton Promenade during my lunch break. Seagulls are circling and squawking for my chips, and sunlight shimmers on the blue-green English Channel.

I look away from the bright horizon and see her walking towards me. Her gaze is seaward, too. But then she looks straight ahead and sees me. We stop and stare at each other, separated by twenty metres and twenty years.

I take a faltering step, and she turns and runs onto the shingled beach.

"Stop!" I shout and dash after her, throwing the chips to the seagulls and jumping from the Promenade. But I twist my ankle landing on the uneven shingles. She's running to the sea, and I'm hobbling after her, wincing from the pain in my ankle.

The crowd on the beach parts for her, as if forming an honour guard, and she reaches the shoreline well before me. She pauses to glance over her shoulder.

"Stop, please!" I call to her. But she looks away and wades into the gentle waves.

I pick up my pace, but the shifting shingles and my ankle hinder me. And the crowd is now milling and blocking my path.

"Excuse me, excuse me!" I say, threading my way through the bodies on the beach.

By the time I reach the shoreline, she is waist-deep in the water and pushing further out. I follow her. Despite the warm day, the sea is bitingly cold. But it dulls my throbbing ankle, and I stride through the shallows and dive in to swim to her.

When I surface, my head hurts from the icy sea, and hers is bobbing on the water. She turns to face me.

"Why?" I call out. But she doesn't answer and slides silently beneath the swell.

I dive and breaststroke frantically to save her. The briny water stings my eyes. However, it is clear, and I can see her descending feet first towards the depths.

I reach out to her and our fingers touch. I grasp her hand and pull her to me. Time stands still as instead of surfacing, we hug and drift, as if floating in space, enveloped and buoyed by the sea and our embrace.

And then she kisses me, full on the lips. I close my eyes and savour her kiss, and when I open them again, her body is gone.

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I wake with a start, my heart racing, and face damp with sweat and tears. Darkness stretches before me. My eyesight gradually adjusts, and I recognise the bedroom and my wife's silhouette, sleeping soundly beside me.

I lay back and stare at the shadows on the ceiling, replaying my dream, and wish for a guilty moment she and her were one.

© 1992 Robert Fairhead 

With thanks to 俊 何 from Pixabay for the image beneath the sea.

N.B. This short story is also available on the Tall And True Short Reads audio fiction podcast.

I was living in England in 1992 when I had a dream that felt so real it reminded me of the 3rd Century BC Chinese philosopher, Chuang Chou.

One night, Chou dreamed he was a butterfly, "fluttering hither and thither, enjoying itself to the full of its bent", unaware he was Chou. When Chou awoke, he was himself again. But after that, he observed, "I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man."

I've never dreamed of being a butterfly. But I have had vivid dreams of flying (unaided), sitting on a bus (naked), and standing dumbstruck on a stage (because I didn't learn my lines). And I've also dreamed of visits from departed family and friends, even a dear old dog. The experience always feels real and evokes real emotions.

It was the same for my dream 1992. When I woke, I was confused about where I was and whether what I had dreamed had happened. Was it a dream or a memory?

At the time, I was experimenting with form in my writing. And I used the dream to write "Her". It's part reality, I lived and worked in Brighton, and part fiction. I was thirty when I wrote "Her" and any relationship from twenty years ago would have been a school ground romance. But mostly, "Her" is a surreal interpretation of a vivid dream.

It's unlikely Chou was a butterfly who dreamed he was a philosopher. And I've never followed an old flame into the English Channel.

You might also like to read this Tall And True blog post on my Microfiction Dream (June 2018).


Robert Fairhead

A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert Fairhead is an editor and writer at Tall And True, and blogs on his eponymous website,

His favourite pastimes include reading and writing, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son. 

Robert has worked as an electrician, a computer programmer, and a sales and marketing consultant, and he is the principal copywriter at Rocher Communications.

His book reviews and writing on dogs have appeared in newspapers and online. In 2020, Robert published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. And in 2021, he published Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Furious Fiction writing competition.