This Is How They Drown
by Eileen Merriman
Connie is lying on the sun-baked sand, her cousin Luke beside her. They are fifteen and feckless. Twenty metres and a lifetime away, Luke’s twelve-year old brother bobs over the swells.
The tide is turning.
Ferg is floating, the sky like cut glass and the sea soft and yielding. The sun beats on his upturned face, and the waves beat on the sand, but they sound very far away. That’s when he realises he’s drifting very fast, like he’s in a –
A wave breaks over his head.
Luke’s tongue flicks into Connie’s belly button. She tastes like salt and sunblock and girl. Connie whispers, ‘careful,’ because if their parents find out they’re dead. But then she wraps her fingers around the back of his neck, her tongue slipping into his mouth, and they forget about careful.
Ferg is floundering. The waves are so strong, and he goes under eyes wide water clear as glass and sharp in his lungs, and as his head breaks the surface he lifts his arm, help –
Connie pushes Luke’s hand away. Luke, frustrated, sits up, blinking into the metallic glare of the sun. That’s when he sees it, the flat area of sea between the breakers. ‘What’s wrong?’ Connie calls after him, but he’s already running.
When Luke reaches Ferg he is glassy-eyed, but his arms lock around Luke’s neck, and he’s an anchor dragging them down. Ferg, whose heart feels as if it’s exploding in his chest, takes one last gasp and the sea rushes in.
Luke’s larynx goes into spasm, so he can’t breathe in or out. But his oxygen-starved brain thinks it’s Connie’s arms around his neck, Connie’s honeyed breath in his air-locked lungs. And as the sequined water passes over their mirrored eyes his heart beats its last, forever in love.