July’s featured Short Story of the Month is ‘Swimming’ by Katie Munnik. Katie is a Canadian writer living in Cardiff whose prose, poetry, creative non-fiction and reviews have appeared in several magazines and anthologies; her first collection of short fiction will be published by Wild Goose this autumn. In ‘Swimming’ she paints a vivid picture of a hot day on the beach, a suggestion of something sinister hidden by the calmness of the sea.
This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on our website.
Light and water and sand and warmth. Peace on the way here, too, which can’t be guaranteed these days. Seems of late we’re getting slammed doors and tears every day, and then I stand in the kitchen, taking long, deep breaths. It’s not as if I can’t remember what it’s like to be her age, but try convincing her of that. In such a rush to grow up. She doesn’t see how soon it will all be coming her way; how few years we have left before she’ll be leaving. We could almost count it out in months.
But not today.
Today, she is relaxed. Stretched out on a beach towel, her pale skin courting that perfect, golden glow and her nose already freckling. Long-limbed and lovely. She’s lying on her belly, reading a paperback from the library and chewing on a pencil. From time to time, she underlines something or scribbles in the margin. I’m only watching out the corner of my eye and I wonder what she’s adding to the story, but I don’t ask.
We left her dad at home, working on the new cedar deck. He’ll be sunburnt and spent when we get home, his skin covered in sawdust. He’ll be happy.
This beach is a favourite of mine. It’s not far from the city – only half an hour in the car – and we usually have the place to ourselves. My mum loved it here and used to bring us along on the bus, with a travelling rug and a thermos in the tote bag and her long hair tied back in a scarf. I’d steal her sunglasses and pull faces, pretending to be a bug, and she’d take them back and set them on top of her head, then straighten my pigtails and tell me to go collect some shells. She looked like a movie star, my mum. She’d like to be here now, I’m sure. I’d like that, too.
The sun is already hot on the sand and my skin feels tight. ‘You okay here?’ I ask, ‘I was thinking of going in for a swim.’
‘Fine, Mum.’ She doesn’t look up from the page and her voice is soft and distracted.
The sand is warm and dry under my feet. A breeze blows gently. Not enough to turn the pages of a book. The horizon looks hazy, and I wonder if it’s the heat. Does heat do that over water? I’m wondering about this when I hear a call from the dunes, so I turn to look back and there’s my daughter looking up from her book. Then I hear the crow call again. I smile, catching my mistake, and my daughter waves her hand and lets out an echoing caw. I wave back and turn again to the sea.
The water is cold, but it always is and I don’t hesitate. Step after step after step until I can lower myself in and let the water catch my weight. Long strokes pushing out, the water deepens under me. Further along the coast, there are rocky stretches and cliffs, too, but this bay is gentle and so is the sea. Everything is quiet. The birds must be further out, fishing where the water is deeper or tucked away on their cliffs to watch the world. All I can hear is the sea’s song, lapping and rippling around me.
I swim out a hundred strokes, counting with each breath.
A wave catches me with my eyes closed, mouth open, and I flip onto my back, full of sea. I spit out my breath and taste my heart in my mouth, wondering how a wave caught me unaware like that. I’m blinking now and everything shatters into reflected light as I find the surface again and try to balance, but another wave is coming, so I take a breath and tuck myself safely under the surface. The strength of the running water somersaults me and I can’t fight it. Surfacing again, I look for the next wave, but there isn’t one. The sea is flat…
Continue reading ‘Swimming’ for free here.