October’s Short Story of the Month is ‘Let Her Go’ by Maggie Ling. Previously an illustrator and cartoonist, Maggie now writes short stories. Her writing has been commended and longlisted by a number of prizes, and published in Unthology, and the Asham Award-winning ghost story collection, Something Was There (Virago 2011).
In ‘Let Her Go’, illusory boundaries, previously respected by a holidaying couple, begin to break down when, watching her husband emerging from the sea, the wife picks up an urgent call on his mobile phone and looks back over the years of misplaced love.
Let Her Go
This is an extract. Read the full short story for free on our website.
Your head is just breaking the water when I hear that tedious new ring tone of yours – mercifully muffled by your beach towel. Do you have to bring your phone to the beach? I moaned that morning, We are supposed to be on holiday. You know what it’s like, you’d said, Someone might need a quick comment, a quotable line. I can never be totally out of touch.
What liars we are.
I let that awful, tinkly, tinny tune go through several more ring cycles – less painful, less drawn out than Wagner at least – watch your sea-slicked seal head rise up, watch you turn to look back to the vast expanse of ocean, unwilling to leave this element that is so much your own. Torso fully exposed, now, you wade a few steps, stop once more, turn once more, hands on hips, back to me, looking back. Reluctant to face the deserted beach, no doubt. Your ‘flipper’ feet unwilling to make contact with the desiccated land, unwilling to rejoin the landlubber lying here waiting for you. Although, looking back myself, haven’t I always been the fish out of water.
The caller persistent, I decide to do the unthinkable. Rules, they say, are made to be broken. Though you and I have always prided ourselves on our mindfulness of rules. The concern we have for each other. The boundaries we respect. We have, you could say, made it a rule: a stick with which to measure our so-called easy-going, independent spirits; one we need not beat ourselves up with, since we do stick to the rules. No wishy-washy one-for all, all-for-one sentimentality for us. Oh no. We respect each other’s privacy, each other’s bank accounts, each other’s digital interactions. We two of the Me/Myself/I generation honour each other’s individuality. We are good at holding on while letting go. It was you who coined that arsehole, oxymoron of a phrase. Except, I seem to remember, you said You are good at holding on while letting go. It was back in the days when I was fool enough to take this as some kind of compliment.
I am unmuffling your smothered Blackberry from its multi-coloured cocoon when it comes to me: Who would bother to call, rather than to text you? No one calls you now – except me. And you and I both know I don’t count. All manner of correspondence done, arrangements made with all and sundry, without a single word said by you, heard by me. Who, I ask myself, would be this persistent? Who would feel a need for such urgency? And, suddenly, in spite of having no warning signs, no reason to expect it, I know who is making the call, know why she is making it.
Meanwhile you are, quite literally, dragging your feet across the sand. Dry land already tiring, already tiresome to you. So much effort a body must make just to stay afloat on boring old dry land.
Yes, Izzy, Louise is saying, She’s gone. Too late to do anything. Can I speak to him? Is he there?
He’s here now, I say. Louise! I tell you, as droplets of seawater drip from your hair to dot my oily thighs. Lingering there, they remind me of those little golden domes of plastic that keep dropping off the insides of our kitchen unit doors. And I notice several extraneous pubic hairs have escaped my home-waxing treatment. Notice pink pinprick spots left by my home-waxing treatment. While you demand details from Louise: time, place, time before the ambulance arrived. Ask what more might have been done, say what should have been done, who could, should be blamed, sued, shouted at. You appear to almost blame Louise for not being there earlier – she who is there every Saturday afternoon. You exercise your phenomenal powers of outrage, while showing not one smidgen of sorrow.
He’s in shock, I tell myself.
Bye then, sweetheart, you say, Chin up!
And dropping the phone, you reach for the towel and energetically rub your hair with it…
Continue reading ‘Let Her Go’ for free here.