One More Day
Folding chairs, summer sun. Beachgoers wriggle their toes in the warm golden sand and lose themselves in a novel. Chords spool from a guitarist cooling in the shade. A toddler in diapers tries to catch sea foam, his mother hovering nearby. Twenty feet from shore, two men toss a neon orange Frisbee.
Further out, a man-made jetty of rocks curls around the cove, protecting it, isolating it from the ocean. Olive green signs warn of unpredictable currents on the ocean side.
A teen stands at the end of the point.
A crow flutters and lands on the nearest sign, the last warning. It caws: a greeting? A challenge? Jed doesn’t hear. He’s listening to the darkness beneath the surface that calls to him, that teases with gentle fingertips like the melody from a ghostly harp. The turquoise depths promise to free him from the misery that haunts him today, and yesterday, and last week and weeks-months-years before that. He is too tired to fight. It is time to give in. He is here to escape. He wants the currents to take him and do with his body what they will.
A mother's voice shrills from the beach, "Marty, don't go out too far!" Her voice carries easily over the smooth waters of the cove.
Marty looks to be eight or nine. He paddles an inflated flamingo thirty feet from the shore, halfway between Jed and the beach. The water is shallow but it'll be over his head as far out as he is.
Hope he can swim, Jed thinks.
The mother wades into the water. Oversized sunglasses and floppy straw hat on her head, a lumpy sausage stuffed inside a navy-blue one-piece. She raises her hand, shading her eyes. "Marty? Do you hear me?"
Surely, the kid can hear. Jed hears, clear across the bay where the ocean floor pitches down like a ski slope outside the jetty and currents swirl, hidden in the darkness between rocks that are covered in barnacles and draped with fringes of rotting seaweed.
Another crow arrives, settling on the far end of the sign. The first one flaps its wings, shuffles its feet, then resettles itself.
Jed steps into the water. His feet tense from the cold. He waits for his body to adjust. He steps to the next big rock. And the next one; deeper. The water is almost up to his knees. The ocean undulates, stroking the backs of his legs and chilling his calves.
Suddenly, the current shifts and he slips, the water now almost to his waist. He inhales sharply, flames of ice licking at the skin of his thighs. The back of one heel stings; probably scraped on some barnacles. His legs are a vague whiteness disappearing into the black-green sea. With one more step, his feet will disappear into the darkness.
He trembles and shakes, shivers becoming muscle spasms. His teeth clatter. Ahead, beneath the waves, oblivion awaits. He’ll be free. Free from the worry that never leaves his belly, that lies heavy and knotted like a wet rag. Free from the deadening lethargy of living day after day. In a fog without colour or feeling or light. Drowning in a sea of sadness, exhausted, breathing through a straw. Today, he has the strength, the will, the energy to end it all. Escape, escape.
"Martin Gideon Williams, you get back here, right now! Do You Hear Me?" The mother's voice is loud, as if she's moved closer, but when Jed turns to look she is only ankle deep, hands cupped to her mouth.
"I'm fine. Leave me alone," Marty yells, still paddling.
"Young man, you are in such trouble. You get yourself back here this instant."
Marty squirms. Then he slowly rises, holding the flamingo’s head, feet balanced on the ring.
"Marty! Be careful!" his mother yells.
But even as her words reach Jed, the ring shifts. Marty's body tilts and his arms fly out and he flips off the side. He disappears, small jets of water spurt into the air. The flamingo squirts away.
"Marty!" screams the mother.
The head pops up, a pimple on the surface of the bay.
"Marty!" she cries, wading into the water.
The boy is struggling. His head rises and sinks.
The mother moves in slow motion, struggling against the water that splashes around her knees. Her hat floats behind her. "Mar-ty! Someone, help!"
Even the crows turn to look.
Jed sees a man, one of the ones tossing the Frisbee, trying to run in water that is above his waist. His sunglasses shimmer silver and gold before he dives and swims. In a few strokes, he’s there. He stands. He lifts the boy in his arms. The glasses are gone.
A flash. A memory. Jed is tiny. His mother and a man wearing sunglasses are running to him. Jed fell, or got knocked down. He’s hurt, looking up from the ground. He doesn’t know who the man is, but the man is worried. His mother, distressed. Jed is upset by what happened but he also feels protected. The blanket of concern they swaddle him with makes him feel safe.
He closes his eyes to preserve the feeling but it’s gone. Maybe he’s misremembering. Maybe he made it up.
The man carries Marty toward his mother. Others on the beach are moving in that direction. The man's friend holds the Frisbee in one hand and puts the pink flamingo under the other. Five or six trajectories share an intersection, a junction of attention and concern.
The group reaches the shore, blocking Jed’s view of the boy.
Slowly, the crowd breaks up. Marty is sitting on the beach, wrapped in a towel, his mother beside him.
The mother returns the towel to a neighbouring group. She leads Marty to their chairs and reaches into the cooler and takes out two cans of soda. The mood of the beach untightens though it is still subdued, less carefree than before the fall. The shadow of a child’s shout and laughter echoes across the bay.
Jed doesn't feel cold any longer. His body has adjusted. His mind is neutral, devoid of thought. The hurt has packed itself away too, tucked away into compartments of his skull for now. With one huge breath he stretches his lungs. Muscles everywhere sag with relief. He squats, dunks his head once, then works his way carefully over the slippery rocks back to the jetty.
He’s drained. His head hurts, his chest hurts. But it’s an exhaustion hurt, as if he’s run for miles and the race is done.
The crows have already left.
The only thing Jed can think about is going to bed to sleep.
To sleep, until tomorrow.