“Swim”

The water washed over Ella’s feet and they sank slightly into the sand. Her skin went goose bumps and she inhaled sharply. She exhaled into the sea wind which blew a strand of hair into her face. She tucked the strand behind her ear. She glanced skyward, shading her eyes with her left hand. The sun sat high in the center of that vast blueness. She felt the sun’s fingertips on her cheeks, dropped her arm, closed her eyes, and smiled. The ocean had always been her escape.

133. She knew the exact number of days it had been since she had touched, breathed the ocean. One hundred and thirty-three days was long enough for her tan lines to fade, for her complexion to lighten, for her to miss it all terribly. She gazed out at the horizon and squinted to see where the light blue of the sky melted into the dark blue of the sea. There was nothing. But who knows what lies just beyond what we can see?

She walked slowly forward. The shore break crashed into her knees and thighs and sprayed her stomach and chest. The cold water made her gasp. She traced the scar from the bottom of her left ear down her neck to her collarbone. She turned to look at the shore behind her. It was as it always had been, always would be. She faced the ocean, took a hard step and dived into the water and let it envelop her. She paddled out towards deeper water, then swam downward.

She did not remember everything. The last thing she remembers clearly is asking Warren, her boyfriend, where they would eat dinner that night. Also, he should take his sandy feet off the dashboard. Then a blur of red moving from right to left, then impact. After that, it gets hazy. She remembers opening her eyes and seeing cracked glass. She remembers screaming her Warren’s name, but not being able to hear her own voice. She can remember Warren, unconscious and covered in blood. Then nothing.

When she came to, she was lying in a hospital bed. Her mother and father were seated in chairs in front of the window and they looked like they were glowing. She recalls that for a second, she thought she was dead. Until the dull pain in her head and legs registered. Her parents rushed to her side. “Where’s Warren?” Ella said. “We’re so glad you’re okay,” her mother said. She knew. “Where’s Warren?” Ella asked again. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” her mother said. Her father placed his hand on hers. She had never seen her father cry, and now here he was, tears running freely down his face.

In the days and weeks that followed. She learned that the driver of the red car had blown through a red light. He had also been admitted to the hospital, but walked out on his own two days later. It took Ella a month to walk without assistance. She did a lot of reading. She watched a lot of television. Surfing the internet was the closest she came to the ocean. She believed everything she ate to be more or less tasteless. She looked at her reflection in the mirror every morning and watched her wounds slowly become scars. But not the one.

Warren and Ella met during their freshman year of college. Their initial run-in came during a Sigma Chi rush party during the fall semester. Warren recognized her from an 8AM Philosophy class. “You’re easy to spot,” Warren said. “Thanks,” Ella replied. “I mean, it’s at 8. It’s you and me and like two other people.” They made out that night. The following Monday morning at 8:07, she walked into the philosophy classroom. She found Warren sitting his desk shaking his head in disapproval. After class, he caught up to her in the hallway. “Rough morning?” he asked. “A little,” she said, smiling. “I had no idea,” he said. “What?” she asked. “I mean, I know I can kiss – I’ve been told I have a high kissability rating – but two days to recover?” Ella laughed. “Oh, I thought about not coming in at all, it was so devastating!” she said dramatically. “But you really wanted to see me?” Warren asked. She smiled at him. She always loved that about their story, that something came out of nothing.

By the time Ella and Warren were 26, they had been together for roughly eight years. Their friends and especially Ella’s family had begun making not-so-subtle overtures about marriage and “wanting to see their grandchildren before they died.” It did not bother Ella in the least. She was happy with Warren. Usually, Warren drove, and when he did, Ella would stare out the car window and watch the world rush past her in the opposite direction. She often thought of that party, that next Monday. She thought of their super hero-themed, joint graduation party. Warren was Batman and Ella was Robin, “Hot Robin,” Warren said. “One hundred and twenty thousand dollars,” Ella’s mother said as she hugged Ella. “Thanks, mom,” Ella said. “Have a bat-cake.” She handed her mother a cookie shaped like a batarang.

Ella often thought of their past while the car zoomed along the freeway. Only rarely did she consider their future. She saw a non-descript apartment (perhaps one day a house), maybe some dogs, a bunch of other interchangeable details, but always Warren and his goofy smile. The smile he hung on her that Monday morning. The future never appeared to her as clear as the past. She didn’t know if they’d have kids, when they’d have kids, how many kids. She didn’t know if Warren had ever even considered proposing to her.

Now, it troubled her mightily to get into a car. Her hands sweat, and on the freeway, she would often taste the bitterness that precedes vomiting. She could no longer stare out the window at the world. She could no longer think of Warren and their past. Those things died the day he did.

She opened her eyes and felt the mild sting of saltwater. A blue haze stretched out before her until it turned into an opaque blackness. It was the same in every direction. She might have been crying. There was no way to tell here, in the all-encompassing limbo of the sea. She could not see the bottom, she could not see the sky. It would be so easy, she thought. To stay here, to be still, to do nothing, to escape. Her lungs began to ache. The blue haze stretched out and became an opaque blackness in every direction. Except upwards. There was the hint of light above. Still. It would be so easy.

She swam upwards frantically, fueled by the urgency in her lungs. Her head broke the surface and she gasped for air. Her breathing was wild and panicked. It was all she could do to stay afloat. She coughed. She spate. A few moments later, she wiped the wetness from her face and opened her eyes. She faced the horizon. There was nothing. But who knows what lies just beyond what we can see?

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