Flash Fiction: That Time You Nearly Drowned

The thing to know about this beach is that it is flat, extremely flat. But you don’t start there. First, you have to burn your feet on the summer cement of the parking lot. You have to step down into the loose, dry sand. You have to pick your way between the driftwood logs and across the thicket of dead seaweed. It’s like barbed wire strung across your path. There’s no avoiding it. You just let your foot sink its stringy mass of moist crunch, like cereal not yet gone soft in the milk. You just let the little bugs that swarm around it bounce off your shins as you stride through. After that, the sand will be slightly wet and very firm. You’ll break into a run and at times be surprised to find it bruising your feet, its wave-formed ridges are so hard. But you won’t mind much. There’ll be little pools to splash through, with warm water and crabs and tiny fish zipping past your toes. And there’ll just be so much sand. Acres of it, if the tide is out. Enough to sprint and run out of breath and then sprint again. Finally, you’ll hit the shallows. Your feet will drag and slow. Your run will turn into a high-stepped stomp and then cease altogether as you settle into a wading motion, arms swinging out wider for balance. It won’t get any deeper. You’ll push through the waves, through water up to your knees and waist and then knees again. You’ll keep going out that way. You’re headed toward the centre of the sea, never seeming to find its depths. I was with my younger cousin. I was 12, maybe. He was maybe 9. I’ve always thought I should have done better, but now, thinking of my son that age, I don’t blame myself so much.

We’d made our way out over the endless flats of sands and through sky-grey waters too shallow really to swim, heading always further out from shore. I’m not sure which one of us noticed first that we’d gone too far, that the tide was now coming in, that the water, so slow to rise as we’d rushed towards it, was now climbing swiftly up around our necks. We turned back. Wading, not swimming, I don’t know why. He was hopping along to stay above the water which still rose around us. I’d put my glasses with our towels and couldn’t see, couldn’t tell which vague lumps on the shore were our parents. Just picked ones I thought likely and aimed for those. My cousin was slightly behind me. If I was panicking, he probably thought he was being left to die. “We’ll be swept out to sea and drowned,” he said then, sounding worried but also oddly matter of fact. I asked him to point to where the shore was closest. I’m sure that only solidified his feelings that we were doomed, but the whole thing was just a smear of paint to me. He pointed, and immediately we began to make better progress, quickly realized that we were, in fact, going to be alright. Probably, we always would have been, had just been flailing about mere metres from comfort and safety. We didn’t stay out in the water though. Didn’t splash around in the shallows any more than we needed to. We hurried back onto the sand, each one of us moving quickly to be close to his parents. Almost glued to them while they got out the things for lunch. Saying nothing of what had happened. Just back from a quick swim was all. We’re all just back from a quick swim.

Devon Field lives in Vancouver, BC, where he writes and podcasts. His writing has appeared in Write Ahead/The Future Looms, and he contributes to the historical fiction podcast Twilight Histories. His non-fiction writing has appeared in Medieval Magazine and The Public Domain Review, and he hosts the medieval history podcast Human Circus: Journeys in the Medieval World. He is the editor of an upcoming anthology with Bell Press.

Twitter: @circus_human