Below the sea

Her

  18+   It's a warm, sunny day and I'm strolling along Brighton Promenade during my lunch break. The seagulls are circling and squawking and the sun's shimmering on the flat blue-green English Channel.

I turn, squinting from the bright sea, and there she is, walking towards me. Her eyes are averted for the moment. But then she turns, sees me, and we both stop and stare at each other, separated by 20 metres and 20 years.

I take a faltering step forward and she turns away and runs onto the shingled beach. "Stop!" I dash after her, but twist my ankle on the uneven shingles. She is heading to the sea. "Stop, please!" I follow her, slowed down by the wincing pain of my twisted ankle.

The crowd on the beach parts and forms an honour guard for her, leading to the gently frothing surf. She reaches the sea well before me and pauses to look over her shoulder. "Stop, please stop!" I scream, but she turns away from me and wades into the water. I try to pick up my pace, but the shifting shingles and my painful ankle slow me down, and the crowd is no longer parted and is milling and blocking my path. "Excuse me, excuse me, please!"

By the time I reach the shoreline, she is already waist-deep in the water and pushing further away from me. Despite the warm sun, the English Channel is bitingly cold, but at least it dulls my throbbing ankle as I stride through the ripples and shallow dive under the sea to swim to her.

When I surface her head is bobbing above the slight swell. She turns to face me one more time. "Why?" I call out, coughing and spluttering as I take in a mouthful of brackish water. She doesn't answer and simply disappears beneath the swell.

I dive and breaststroke frantically. My head aches from the ice cold grip of the sea. I can just see her, descending feet first towards the depths. I reach out and our fingers touch. I grab her hand and halt her descent. It's like being in space. There is nothing but silence and cold and filtered sunlight. We drift together and she kisses me, once, on the lips. I close my eyes and when I open them, she is gone.

The hand that had held hers is clenched. I open it and see her gold wedding ring. Grief overwhelms me and I succumb to the sobbing convulsions of my lungs and the enveloping sea.

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And then I wake, damp and breathless, my heart pounding, a tear streaking down my face. Darkness stretches before me and as I blink my eyes, I recognise the shadows of my bedroom. My wife shifts silently beside me in our double-bed. It was a dream. I take a long, deep breath, shut my eyes, and for a guilty moment more, I wish she and her were one.

© 1992 Robert Fairhead 

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, RobertFairhead.com.

His favourite pastimes include reading and writing, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son. He is also a part-time dog trainer and runs classes at his local dog training club and through Robert's Responsible Dog Training.

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. And in 2020, he published a collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story.

Robert has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

I once had a dream that was so real and intense it reminded me of the Chinese Philosopher, Chuang Chou, who dreamt he was a "butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, a veritable butterfly, enjoying itself to the full of its bent, and not knowing it was Chuang Chou". When he awoke and came to himself, Chuang Chou said no longer knew whether he had dreamed he was a butterfly or whether he was now a butterfly dreaming he was a man!