From Beneath the Waves

The sun crested the horizon and began to slowly burn the mist away from the water. Helen sat at her writing desk and stared out the window. The sea was calm and the waves were mild. She hadn’t missed her morning swim all summer. At seventy years old, she needed perfect conditions.

Helen finished the letter she had been composing for the last hour, folded it carefully, and slipped it into an envelope. With a trembling hand, she wrote “For you, my lovely Jenny” on the envelope, placed it in the middle of the desk next to a small silver urn, 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. Her stomach burned, and she felt fatigued from a night of restless sleep.

Her husband Jim had passed away two years earlier, leaving her with a shared history that she struggled to remember. Her daughter Jenny was on an interminable quest for something she would never find, always absent from the experiences that mattered most. Even Helen’s 17-year-old cat Amelia had just passed away. The night that it happened, Helen cradled Amelia in her arms for hours, weeping inconsolably. It was all she could do to get her veterinarian to coordinate Amelia’s cremation and return the remains to her. The swims were the only interlude left from the terror of aging.

She strolled into the water and walked across a deepening sandbar until the waves pulsated around her hips. She dove in gently, letting the chill saltwater numb her to the bone. A flounder skimmed directly beneath her and into the deeper water, nearly disappearing in the sand with each stop along the way. She dove down a few feet and followed it until she could no longer keep up, 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 ocean than she had ever gone, well beyond the sandbar. The water grew cold, dark, and deep. She continued on for another twenty minutes until she could barely tread water, then turned toward the shoreline. It looked like a foreign land. The pain in her stomach was gone. It would never invade her bones. Life had been a strange, terrible, beautiful dream, a glittering arrow shooting through the forest in the dead of night toward an invisible target. She wondered why it was so hard to love and be loved. Nothing had lasted, and no one could ever own what remained. She exhaled, embraced her exhaustion, and surrendered to the waves.