Beyond the Sandbar

The sun crested the horizon and began to slowly burn the mist away from the water. Helen Bowers sat at her writing desk and stared out the window. The sea was calm and the waves were mild, which pleased her. She hadn’t missed her morning swim all summer. At seventy years old, she took great pride in this but knew she needed reasonably agreeable conditions to maintain her schedule.

Helen finished the letter she had been composing for the last hour, folded it carefully, and slipped it into an envelope. With a calm and steady hand, she wrote “For you, Jenny” on the envelope, placed it in the middle of the desk, and then headed down to the beach. For a few minutes, she stood at the shoreline, gazing across the glittering waves and breathing the salty air deep into her lungs. Her stomach burned, and she felt fatigued from a night of restless sleep, but none of this would disrupt her morning swim. Since her husband Jim had passed away two years earlier, these solitary moments served as a sacred and fleetingly precious interlude from the tedium of aging.

Finally, she strolled into the water and walked across a deepening sandbar until the waves pulsated around her hips. Then she dove in gently, letting the chill saltwater numb her to the bone. She opened her eyes and saw a flounder shooting from one spot to the next, nearly disappearing in the sand with each stop along the way. She followed it out into deeper water until she could no longer hold her breath, then broke the surface and began swimming directly east, straight into the shimmering sun that now hovered just above the horizon.

Helen swam farther into the sea than she had ever ventured, well beyond the sandbar, where the water grew darker, colder, and deeper. She continued on for another twenty minutes until she could no longer stroke or paddle. The pain in her stomach had disappeared. She felt relieved knowing that she would never have to feel that throbbing agony work its way into her bones. Her daughter Jenny would understand everything once she read the letter. She was such an understanding person, and nothing could be done anyway. As Helen saw it, she was just returning to the womb, privately and on her own terms. She exhaled and surrendered to the waves.