Tidelines

 Did you see me? I walked along the path and the waves swelled high; they never broke but there was a little white boat slapping against them, a little tug rising and falling, and it was a grey time of day and the water was mud-looking.

I walked under the bridge and there was a swell, even bigger, confined between brown concrete pillars. Every day, I thought, up and down, against. Did the concrete sigh in relief when the water stopped at low tide? I had thought of it often, but today it compelled me.

Joggers ran by—it was just after 1pm in London City—and I kept stepping out of their way so that we didn’t collide. I imagined running down a ramp to the bottom of the river, silt and almost sea sand down there.
I pushed up my sleeves and the thin white slashes all the way up my arms were like tidelines and I had been up sometimes, but now I thought that it might be time to go down. I didn’t think of it for too long. What’s the point. Better to just go straight in and I did.

Once in the water, I was going up and down with it. I was not too far from a pillar and I’d heard the eddies around them were supposed to suck you under. Layers and layers and levels, and I did think that I would like to get down to the bottom and I would get spat up in a different form. I would not be me any more and that might be a good thing, all things considered.

I thought it would be cheating to dive down. I was a strong swimmer. So I sort of hung my arms limp, but they kept coming up of their own accord. The waves kept going in my mouth and it was a natural instinct to spit them out. And I found that I was not being sucked down. I should have researched it better. Too late now and anyhow I hadn’t had a computer for years.

I have dark skin, most of it dirt, so I’d hoped I’d sort of blend in with the water, but now the cutter to Greenwich was zooming past, slapping the waves even harder than the tug, and somebody on the deck was screaming. I couldn’t hear them but their little mouth was open and their head back. There was a lot of water in my ears by then and I was getting numb with cold. On the boat, people came running, obscured then revealed by the waves going up and down, and I thought maybe the boat might capsize if they all came to the same side. But it didn’t. Not at all.

I could see it slowing down. I was still, ludicrously, on the surface. I ducked under deliberately for a moment, out of sheer embarrassment. The taste of that water was awful. When I came up I got caught bang on by a wave of debris—bits of wood and rubbish—and it stank. I was quite used to that from the past few months living rough, but it was quite bad really, the stink. And I wondered about the garbage of the ages, buried under the water.

I could see the boat was edging closer and I turned my back on it, difficult in the waves. I didn’t want to be rescued. Nothing was going right, really. But then I hadn’t done it properly. I should have jumped off a bridge. Whatever. It was not really the right day for this after all. The main problem, I saw now, was that I was a very good swimmer, something I hadn’t factored in. So I struck out, back to the bank, and I made it out, by this time to a cheering crowd of people. And I’d obviously imagined they would turn their noses up when they realized the clothes I was wearing weren’t exactly fit for a hero; they were pretty old and tatty. But they didn’t seem to notice that I wasn’t in a suit. Anyhow, they cheered and clapped as I sat down on the path. And somebody brought me their coat, and another a coffee and a sandwich. And I got up after a while, before their interest waned, and I did a little bow because, why not? And they all cheered and went on their way, perhaps a little happier. And for a moment I did feel happier too, like that one time only when I actually made it into a school play—non-singing part.

And I walked off quick then, because I didn’t want to deal with the emergency services. And I sat by a couple of cherubs nearby. One was looking right at me while pointing at the water. I followed his arm and the swells were huge now—at least for the Thames—and all that mighty water made me feel better. When I was in it, I was just in it. I didn’t want to be rescued, or drowned either. I was up and down like the marks on my arms and that felt OK, and that was it really.

Giselle Leeb

About Giselle Leeb

Giselle Leeb grew up in South Africa and lives in Nottingham, where she works as a web developer when she is not writing short stories. These have appeared in Ambit, Mslexia, Litro Online, Bare Fiction, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and other places. She recently won the third prize for short fiction in the Aurora and Elbow Room competitions and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2016.

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