Flip Flop

Flip Flop

As a man ventures out for swim at sunset, his guess is as good as ours as to what the waves of his thoughts have in store...


Literary fiction


Joanna Yehiel (Israel)

Waves lapped at his feet. Those who go down to the sea in flip-flops, he thought. He discarded them, slid his jeans off, and then his shirt and vest. He laid his wallet on the sand and covered it with the clothes.

He walked into the waves lapping at his naked feet. At his knees, his thighs, his shorts, back and shoulders. Gently, he fell back into the welcoming water, floated, then flipped over and started a slow crawl towards the beckoning sunset.

So attractive, he thought, as he moved towards it with lazy strokes. It was almost as if there was a magnetic field, pulling him out. Maybe there truly was such a thing. He should have googled it. Now he wouldn't.

Far out, the sun slid an inch or so further down, firing streaked rays of red, orange and yellow across the straight line of the horizon. Where they hit the sea, they raised sparks so bright, he couldn't stare into them. He flipped over into backstroke, still somewhat lazy, one arm and over, the other arm and over, heading into the sunset.

He was facing the shore, but, as the evening light fell, it was becoming harder to distinguish the shapes and edges of the buildings. Their outlines were blurring, and bright lights were now coming from the windows as people began to settle down for the evening meal and TV.

He flipped back on his stomach. A little light breaststroke, his head rising and falling, seeing the sun as a half, a quarter, a slim crescent nail above the ever darkening water. The sea still felt warm from the day, but there was already a slight breeze blowing over his wet shoulders, cooling him down. He breathed deeply, in and out with the ripple of the waves as the wind caught the water.

The sun disappeared. The sky turned an overwhelmingly deep red, to purple, to blue. Behind him (he turned his head to check), the shore-line had almost disappeared. Blues and blacks blended as the lights of the homes winked; a multitude of stars growing smaller and farther from where he swam.

Stars. There they were, winking at him from above, nothing kindly or twinkly about them. They seemed so far away, unreachable. Not somewhere he could swim to. His gaze returned to the horizon, now a blue-black line, without lights.

Still doing a long breaststroke (he had a long way to go and wanted to keep up his strength for whatever was ahead), he imagined the sand beneath him, the fishes (although he hadn't felt so far), the seaweed, all the life of the ocean around him, and none of it visible or malleable. He couldn't feel or touch any of those things, only the water, beside him, before him, surrounding him endlessly.

He thought of the wallet in the sand. Would someone find it? Would they take the money, throw the wallet away? Look for some identification (there was none) in order to find him, return it to him, and get a reward? Or, would the tide draw it out into the sea, where, just like him, it would drift aimlessly outwards, to disappear beneath the waves?

He shrugged, mentally. No, this was not aimless, this was planned, deliberate; an acknowledged need, which grew with each passing day, to swim far, far out, just himself and the water, the darkness, the cooling breeze, the lights fading behind him, the stars overhead, the clouds forming dark shapes above him, the endless horizon, now indistinguishable from the water.

He turned around. He could no longer see any bright lights of the shore. he sea lapped at him gently, bidding him forward, a little further, a little further, a little further into the gentle darkness. He was beginning to tire.


What now?

He hadn't planned on this half way stage, neither here nor there. He tried some doggy crawl and got a mouthful of salt water, went back to breast stroke, then flipped on his back again. His arms were beginning to feel heavy and his legs were taking longer to react than his arms, so his movements were jerky and odd, as if his top half were detached from his lower limbs. He closed his eyes, rested. The water washed over him, cool, no, cold even. He wasn't sure he truly liked this, but then, it had never been intended as a picnic or pleasure: Just a sure thing.

At what point would it be the point of no return?. When would he know that his strength wasn't enough to get him back to the shore?

He jerked his head up a little. He'd never had the slightest doubt before now. He just knew that this was right, for him. A matter of timing, getting the date, the hour right. Finding the right place, the right beach. The right evening. The right breeze. The right waves. And the right sunset that would appeal to him: Come to me.

Now, here he was, almost at that point, suddenly no longer quite certain.

To go forward? To go back? But, which way was which?

He felt himself trembling, panicking. No, this was wrong, he hadn't planned it like this. It was supposed to be sure - slow but sure. Certain.

He gasped for air, caught another gulp of salt sea water, spit it out, twisted around, legs flaying in the current, looking for a clue as to where the coast line lay. Taking a deep breath, he swung into crawl and began a measured stroke. Maybe he was only making his way further into the endless water, into the horizon where the sun had disappeared not long ago.

He laughed out loud. This was the way to go, with the decision out of his hands. He'd just keep swimming, and fate would decide whether he reached shore, or met the sun on its journey beneath the waves.

Competition: June 2015 Pen Factor, Round 1



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