Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Taking A Short Swim, Not Too Far Out
By Mark Rogers

The shark slammed into sight almost too immediate to comprehend, snout like a broad square shovel. He came from nowhere out of a tumorous swell beyond the clear water. There, in a dead stop four feet in front of me. White underneath; a sharp definition between this and the dark skin on top. His eyes were small and emulsive. Nothing from the natural world could be alive – or really I mean cognisant – behind such blackness. The fish curved in its body and I watched the tail fan-flip away from me, and felt the pulse of this through the water.

My snorkel came out. I hung in the water for a second, arms gone cold, legs still. I bobbed. The late evening sunlight glinted its path toward me. I refitted and blew, then ducked under for a look. Further out the depth hove in around me, and the water became dark green, walling the vast ocean into obscurity.

Ten seconds later the animal was back again, on the other side this time, between the ocean and the camp.

I had left Helen at the fire-pit. Big-shouldered girl, a rope of French braid down nearly to her hips. On the island the sand was yellow and nearly white. Helen’s bikini looked painted on, baby blue with white trim, something miniature on her body.

There was a short channel. There was a slight sandbar. I had not come away too far and now I started back, strongly in a crawl, zipping my arms forward, scooping them down.

How I loved having legs.

Wading in, flipperfoot, my wonderful legs had made bowed stumpy slants under the warm water. The sand and the sunlight through the water had tiled across each other in a flickering lattice. These legs had got me through the channel in five minutes. I’d watched the floor give down at its mild gradient, and then the water went black and cold above a deep drop. And now I was just here, hardly any distance from where the channel breached into the ocean.

The shark glided smoothly past again. There is nothing inside a shark: it is just a shape, an efficient outline to cut through ocean. A fibrous ridge ran from his tail up to his front fin. His nose and jaw had the rather stupid profile of a sock puppet. Three times past. That’s enough after that.

Helen and I were on the island alone. A wood and palm shack we put up, ourselves, on the first afternoon. We tethered our kayaks nearby and we lounged on straw mats and caught fish and filleted them and cooked them over a pit we dug. The finest swimming was on land, locked together, diving and gasping, fingers scraping into the clean hot sand. How proud we were of our hut. I loved the tautness in her legs, and the waxy, flexing undulation, ankle-grip across my calves, tension wheeling inside us like eels.

There was sand everywhere. Just everywhere.

“I have flecks,” she said. She tilted her chin skywards, perfecting her neck.

“Let me see.”

“In this one. Hurts a bit.” She blinked.

“I don’t see anything.”

Rolling her eyes, “Can you see it?”

“Now you look slightly insane.”

We were silent for a moment. She squeezed her eyelids closed, made a pleasant frown.

I said, “I want things for you. For us.”

When we landed the kayaks we left them tied up and never took them back on the water. There was all the land swimming and sea swimming to occupy us. We fished from high rocks and we laid our catch on steaming planks over the fire. Helen squeezed lime juice. The shiny meat flaked into our mouths.

“Tell me some of those things you want for me, and for us.”

The meat just melted.

I wanted us to be alone on an island, for a week. I wanted to swim, not too far out. And return, and when we were done get into our vessels to paddle off again, the two of us together, back into the waiting world.

I could see the glimmering blue light of the channel when I felt the first tug.

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Mark Rogers lives and works in Toronto. He has published some short stories.


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