Sink or Swim
By Chris Garson
Copyright 2013 Chris Garson
The ocean is calm. Tiny waves pretend to crest like toddlers at the park wishing they could play with the big boys. Me? I am at peace too, an old man of the sea. The sun shines bright, reflecting off the water to keep me warm as memory. I want for nothing.
The sky goes dark in an instant. Thunder rumbles, like God is clearing his throat, and then wind, terrible wind, shrieks death. Rain pours down, a torrent not the drip drip drip of chemo. The storm rocks my boat, my world. Unprepared, I attempt to steady myself on the gunwale.
The gale pitches me over the side, a piece of flotsam destined to float eternally on the horizon, alone and undiscovered. The water slaps me like a disease. I plummet down, into the dark, into the cold, into the bottomless night, afraid, so afraid.
I can’t, I won’t drown. Drowning is for weaker souls. I am like a whale. Strong, singing, swimming free. My arms pump like a frog on PEDs. My legs kick, but the surface grows more distant. I feel the weight around my ankle, pulling me to the bottom. I look down. The water is darkening into ink. I can just make out the rope wrapping me like a tangle of kudzu. Attached to the far end, the anchor consumes me like a tumor, pulling me into the endless embrace of the sea.
My vision blurs. My lungs scream for air. The deep promises sweet surrender, but I am immortal. No storm, no sea can vanquish me. My hand reaches down for the knife strapped to my calf. Stainless steel, sharp, serrated, more potent than a surgeon’s scalpel, the blade offers life. I draw it from the sheath and feel the flat for graven letters. Papa. A gift from my grandchildren.
I nick my hand. A scenting shark circles closer, an underwater vulture bent on taking me before my time. I brandish my weapon like Poseidon’s trident, daring it to attack. The beast swims clockwise, one gleaming black eye trained on me, like it knows my time has come.
I saw at the thick rope with the serrated edge. My eyes feel like they will burst. An anvil rests on my chest. The wily shark circles faster. Had it chops, it would lick them.
I will not let storm or sea or shark take my peace. I will keep my perfect life. The knife saws faster, cutting through strands of hemp. One frays, then another, then three more. The anchor’s weight does the rest. The rope snaps. My suffocating shackle plunges into the blackness below.
Unfettered, I scissor kick towards the surface. Out of darkness and into the light, past the shark. Not today, jaws, I smile. Not today. My head bursts the surface. I gulp down fresh air and look up. The storm is over. The sky has cleared.
This story was inspired by my father’s ongoing struggle to beat his cancer. His ability to withstand, to thrive and to survive is a wonderful miracle for the many who love him.