dangerous tides

Barry was stung with new waves of emotion as he carefully negotiated the car back into its space outside his flat.  Stunned relief, mainly; as well as gratitude and a lingering incomprehension.  He sat in the newly silent car for several seconds, air freezing around him.  He contemplated the past few hours and called himself lucky stupid, lucky fucking idiot, out loud.  And he breathed.

He’d had plenty of time to ponder alone in the single ward, waiting three hours for a two minute chat with the Doctor.  Yes he was fine now, yes he wanted to go home.  He had enough time to almost forget the afternoon completely, pawing through niche interest magazines and old newspaper supplements, hearing the raucous applause from the television in the waiting room next door as game show followed game show.  He had time to grow bored and tetchy at the long wait.  It’s best, for your own peace of mind as much as anything else, the Paramedic had told him.  His mind was tetchy when it should have been immensely grateful – which it was, but it still became tetchy again.

*

I could really die here, Barry had thought to himself as he thrashed around in the freezing sea, fully clothed, a large coat on and his camera still around his neck.  This could be it.  Time up.

His head went under for a moment as he prepared a heaving diagonal stroke towards land.  He recalled that handsome lead actor from the film he watched the evening before.  He’d played a wayward character whose life was belatedly showing signs of coming together when it was snuffed out.  Life does that, Barry supposed.  It’s uncaring about human self-regard or interruption.  It can end whenever.

Drowning though? he argued, pushing more water behind him and gasping for air, feeling with his toes for rock, land, anything beneath his feet.  Nothing.  Drowning: really?  That was a horrible way to go, traumatic and slow.

Barry stopped paddling for a moment and treaded water, took a deep breath and yelled for help as loudly as he could.  Hearing his own foghorn blare out tightened the terrifying grip of reality and he began swimming again.

Seconds passed, or minutes.  Who knew?

Faintly aware of a podcast still chirruping in his right ear, he heard a shout returned from land: “..on its way!”  That should give some cause for hope.  He unpopped the earplug and instantly came to terms with the probable death of his new iPod, BlackBerry and camera: beloved gadgets.  He’d trade them.

Was it payback for the disproportionate glee he took from that part of Rich Hall’s comedy set a few days earlier?  He had satirised Irish news coverage, and particularly the headline “Cork Man Drowns”.  Barry hadn’t considered the plight of the man (apparently named Bob), or even wondered if it was comic fiction or not.  It hadn’t mattered.

Barry switched from his favoured front crawl to a breast-stroke.  Parting the waves seemed more effective that way.  Should he take his coat off?  No time.  The current still swept across him, demanding.

So he worked.

Was he making any ground?

He must have been.

Anything beneath his feet?

Nothing.

He spat out cold salty water and wished he’d wake up.  This could NOT be happening.  Not to him.  Wake up, wake the fuck up.  It was all too real.

At no point had Barry considered turning around and going back, or even waiting on the island and calling a rescue boat for help.  It simply never occurred to him as an option.  He had imagined that he might have to wade a short distance across the rocky causeway which connected to the mainland, but the water would be no higher than his waist at most – and it wasn’t THAT long a stretch to land, then he’d make the ten minute drive home in wet pants.  No massive deal.  He had been impelled forward by his nervous misguided momentum, blind panic and the lunatic strength of his conviction.

Until he was swimming against a reverse current.  Holy fucking cow, he was swimming, in all his clothes, a large coat, a camera round his neck, his iPod still playing.  How the hell had this happened?

This could really be how he was to die.

The light had been sharp and bright all afternoon, the sun dazzling off the ocean to give a not inconsiderable glowing warmth for the time of year.  A peculiar zen-like state had blanketed him as he sat on a rock an hour before on a different stretch of the bay, a gentle hangover from the night before slowly subsiding.  It had been an enjoyable evening with football team-mates he didn’t know that well.  The echoing din of a nightclub often left him with an unusual acoustic clarity the next day.

Now in the sea, beating against waves, that blissful calm and peace appeared foreboding, a punctuation mark.

Was he making any ground?  Perhaps, and people, distant dots were racing down the rocky beach towards him now.  One with something, a leash of some kind.  But, hang on… there, there it was.  Like a high-rise suicide in reverse, he found rock beneath his toes.  Beautiful rock, and a more of it, toes to feet, more of it still.  The surface dipped suddenly and a rock thudded into his knee but he felt nothing, numbed to the pain.  He might not die!  Back to wading, wading.  The men were upon him, the leash thing now unnecessary.  Barry staggered bambi-like, up and out of the water.  Ocean slopped off the shoulders of his thick coat, his knees buckling under the weight.  He fell back down and wanted to stay lying, spent on the rock like a beached whale but a voice told him to get up, keep moving, he wasn’t safe yet.  The voice was right.  He rose again, accepting the props of two men either side of him, one of them the owner of the voice, and carried walking up and away, freezing and soaking head to toe.

A small crowd of thirty or so had gathered in the main pub for the nearby caravan park.  Mostly young, pale faces gawked at him and he half covered his own, humiliated by the attention, trembling and exhausted.  But breathing out, breathing out.  A siren grew louder.

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