Two backwards, one forwards

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJohn had never saved a life before. He wasn’t even sure this really qualified – the paramedics had taken over pretty quickly but he’d been the one who’d dragged the woman from the pool, lain her down and put her in the recovery position, something he’d not done since scouts, and Billy Wingate hadn’t counted as someone in any danger.

John hoped the woman would forgive him for chopping off her hair. He’d not been the first one to spot her but the only one with scissors. If it hadn’t been for Amy’s insistence that he mend her doll’s dress, he’d not have had them with him.

“I’ll do it when we get back, Amy,” he’d said.

“I want to take her with me.”

“But you’ll be swimming.”

“You won’t be, so it’ll give you something to do.”

When had his six-year old daughter become such an adult? he wondered. Since her mother died. Now he had both roles: father – breadwinner; mother – nurturer. He was better at the former. More practice: nine years vs. 18 months.

When you go to work, kiss your wife goodbye, as you do every day, stroke the side of her face as something had compelled John to do that morning, you expect her to be there when you get home, laughing and joking. You don’t expect a call from the school asking why no-one’s collected your daughter, regular as clockwork, only Laura’s clock had stopped ticking – just like that – as if the battery had run out. Two hearts, two batteries: Laura’s and their unborn son’s. Two lives he’d been unable to save.

A year and a half later, there he was, sitting by a Spanish pool in the summer’s early morning warmth – an only parent to an only child. A happy one, on the outside.

Amy’s screaming had jolted him out of a doze. Not quite asleep. Just eyes closed. Resting, if anyone had asked. Too little sleep for both of them. Nightmares – shared subconscious.

The sewing kit and tiny dress had scattered on to the concrete as he’d bolted off the lounger and run to where Amy stood pointing at a figure two metres underwater, hair trapped in the drain, costume sparkling like a mermaid.  He’d gone back for the scissors, panicking when he couldn’t find them, then spotting them under a neighbouring empty lounger, he’d straddle-jumped into the pool.

He’d felt guilty, cutting the woman’s beautiful auburn hair with the pathetic, travel-size blades until she came loose and started floating to the top. He swam up after her, grabbed her, towed her by her chin, arm across her chest, as he’d been taught.

She’d been lighter than he imagined she should be. Slim. Pretty. Laura-esque.

He’d felt a pulse, and as he watched the stretcher being taken to the ambulance, he was sure there’d been a hint of a smile.


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