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In The Deep

In the Deep

 

A Short Story

By

Jamie J Buchanan

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Shakespir Version

Copyright 2015 Jamie J. Buchanan

 

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Do cows have friends?

I always think of this every time I walk past the jetty on Mangles Bay – although, on this day, it takes on an even more of a special meaning.

Dylan posed this question to me years ago after we had swum through the tangled web of moored yachts in the bay, floating above beds of sea grass with islands of limestone poking through the rippled sands of the seabed. As we swam across, I battled against the sea. I had never been a strong swimmer and it was always a struggle for me to make it to the jetty, or to the pontoons.

But Dylan was a natural – half boy, half fish. He would glide through the sea like a dolphin, completely natural and effortless. Consequently, he’d have time to think as he floated on his back and waited for me to catch up. The cool waters of the bay would lap against his suntanned skin, the blistering summer sun belting down from above had no effect on us in the deep aqua green of the ocean.

“So, do ya reckon cows have friends Patrick?” He asked me one day as I panted for breath, my scrawny, skinny teenage arms struggling to haul my exhausted body up the makeshift ladder on the pontoon.

I spluttered some sort of reply but, undaunted, Dylan continued.

“I mean, they stand out there all day and night with the other cows, just munching on grass – do they have their favourites? You know, mates they like to hang out with? I wonder if they get along.”

“Have you even seen cows fight?” I managed to ask and Dylan contemplated this for a longer while than I expected. This was my glib, “I really don’t care” reply as I was just happy to have survived the swim. But Dylan treated this as a serious discussion and I had just posed, for him, a decidedly important question.

“Now you mention it, no I haven’t. Hmmm…maybe they all get along just fine.”

“Or maybe they’re just too stupid to have enemies?” I giggled a bit at this and expected Dylan to realise that I was now taking the mickey.

“Don’t be like that Patrick, it’s not funny you know.”

At the time I just thought he didn’t get the joke but, all these years later, I realise that this wasn’t the case at all. Dylan had always been too concerned with Dylan to understand that anyone could possibly have an opinion or feeling that differed from his. He was a perfectionist and a narcissist. He couldn’t comprehend someone taking glibly a subject that he found genuinely interesting and confounding.

Had I known this at a younger age, maybe things would have turned out different for him.

The concrete surface of the pontoon radiated a heat that seemed to evaporate the sea water off our bodies as soon as we lay down. I remember closing my eyes and seeing everything turn an orangey-pink as my eyelids struggled to decrease the glare of the incessant summer sun. With my eyes closed I could hear the water lap at the sides of the pontoon, softly licking the walls as we bobbed safely above the gentle waves.

In the distance I could hear families on the shore, the shallow water of the beach area was a mecca for families with young children. The water was only knee deep for about 200M from where the limp waves struggle up the sand, then dropped down sharply to a depth I always thought was bottomless. On the odd occasions that I wore goggles to swim out here, I would see the bottom of the ocean drop away dramatically and my heart always skipped a beat, imagining massive sea monsters or great white sharks lurking in the murky depths, waiting to ambush a flailing scrawny wretch like me.

Dylan and I grew up here, these were our summers. This event could have been at any time in years from 1979 through to 1989. They all meshed into one as the middle-aged version of the skinny kid reminisced. The two of us were inseparable over summer – two cousins who went to different schools throughout the year but, for summertime, would be thick as thieves for 14 hours a day. We knew each other better than we knew our school friends.

I knew:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Dylan was completely fearless in the water

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Dylan liked biting his nails

*
p<>{color:#000;}. Dylan was more socially awkward than his aloof exterior portrayed.

He knew:

*
p<>{color:#000;}. I was better in the ocean than I thought I was (but not as good as him)

*
p<>{color:#000;}. I liked making jokes instead having in depth, meaningful conversations

*
p<>{color:#000;}. I was liked by all and could get along with anyone.

We’d play under the jetty, throwing clumps of sticky weed and grass at each other. I remember one year when I dived out of the way of a barrage of airborne sea grass and landed too close to the jetty, a rusty nail protruding from the pylon cutting into my left arm. As soon as the blood flowed, our panicky pre-teen selves imagined all sorts of blood borne illnesses reigning down upon me – tetanus or hepatitis (even though we didn’t know what Hepatitis was, it sounded bad so we imagined it was even worse).

“You might get AIDS!” Dylan screamed.

“No! You only get AIDS from being gay or kissing a slut.” I replied, hoping like hell this was correct.

“Yeah, but what if a gay guy, or a slut, also cut themselves on that nail? Then their blood will be on it, and then their blood will now be on you!”

I countered with: “Well, then you’ll have it too. Because the nail was under the water and you were swimming right there as well – so the water would have washed their blood off and mixed with the sea to get onto you. So we BOTH could have AIDS!”

A brief visit to Rockingham Hospital confirmed that neither of us has contracted AIDS nor any other blood born disease. I received three stitches for my troubles and couldn’t swim for two weeks.

As we grew into our teens, the months spent apart had a profound effect upon our relationship. I remember seeing Dylan at my Mother’s 40th birthday party and he was the same nonchalant yet serious kid I’d always known, hiding behind a façade of coolness that I knew was only wafer thin. Then, four months later, the first decent hot spell of summer hit just as school was finishing and we met up for a swim. I showed up as usual but I was met by a man with Dylan’s face. Puberty had him within its grasp and he had seemingly matured overnight.

The narrow shoulders and spindly arms of the younger Dylan had been replaced by broad shoulders and muscles – biceps and pectorals that sprouted from nowhere and he was instantly my hero. I was still the skinny 14 year old waiting to hit my expected growth spurt but now I was hanging out with my older cousin (older by six months) who talked with this deeper, croaky voice and had muscles that could haul me out of the water after the inevitable drowning that I felt was coming my way.

By the end of summer, I too had grown. I could feel it happening – my bones ached more (which, at first, I thought was simply exhaustion from swimming) and then my voice cracked and shifted overnight. I couldn’t stop eating – I think I spent so much money in the Rockingham Beach Fish and Chip shop that I reckon I should be a part owner by now. The fluffy offshoots of pubic hair had flourished into an expanded curly matting and I started noticing girls so much more.

After a while, the swimming decreased and the sunbathing took over. There was no cosmetic reason for this – it was just that the beach was where the girls were. On occasion, Dylan and I would swim out to the pontoons with a few girls and show off with somersaults and bombies off the platform. It was then that I realised that I was a much better swimmer than I had thought. For so many years I had compared myself to Dylan which was unfair on me – compared to most others in the ocean, I too was a fish.

Dylan’s swimmer’s physique, sun-bleached collar length hair and aloof demeanour made him irresistible to the girls. However, the more interested in him they were, the less he seemed to want to know. I was always the garrulous one; “more lines than a prawn trawler”, I used to say. At first I didn’t know what I really wanted from the girls, I just knew that I wanted to be with them. Girls intrigued me – having grown up the oldest of three boys and with Dylan as my cousin. I never had any sisters, so everything they did fascinated me.

Then, one summer evening as the scorching orange sun sunk slowly behind Garden Island, Tina MacAulay let me kiss her and I was instantly hooked. I couldn’t get enough of her – or any other girls who was fool enough to fall for my teenage bravado and charm. I was addicted to the softness of her skin, the smell of her hair, the firm and supple contours of her body. That first kiss doomed me to a lifetime of searching for the perfect woman. In looking back, I realise that I may have found her in Tina but I was so distracted by the apparent sheer number of available beautiful women that I neglected the one that started it all. Years later, through Facebook, I looked her up and she had indeed matured into a stunningly beautiful woman – even more attractive than my rose-coloured memory recalled.

Dylan, however, just never seemed interested. At first I thought it was simply shyness and maybe that was the case. He was awkward when he spoke, often choosing not to say anything at all. His fumbled attempts at “making the first move” were bumbling and I was embarrassed for him. It was then that I realised he wasn’t perfect. Girls were his kryptonite and a small part of me was happy that this was the case – finally there was something that I was better at than he was.

As soon as Year 12 was completed, we had one last summer together but it was never like it was when we were younger. I started seeing Julie Antonic more and more – then, without even knowing how it happened, I realised that I was in a relationship. Julie was my girlfriend and, by default, everything I did now included her. And, if she didn’t want to do it, then neither did I.

I knew I wasn’t alone in this arrangement as I had seen a few of my other friends suffer the same fate. We were so enamoured by the fact that a girl would let us kiss her, hold her and, ultimately, have sex with her that we would put up with a form of social isolation from our clan so that the sex could continue.

That last summer I did spend a small amount of time with Dylan, swimming between the pontoons on occasion (when Julie visited her relatives in Kalamunda for example), and diving off the jetty as the dolphins played just off shore. But Dylan withdrew more and more – he didn’t even pretend to be interested in the girls anymore. In fact, that last summer was one of the better ones in as much as although we didn’t spend every day together like we had in the past, the time we did have was quality time and it was just the two of us. I had Julie so I wasn’t chasing girls – so Dylan and I just swum and set each other increasingly risky dares.

Once diving to the sea bed to come back with handfuls of weed had lost it’s appeal – mainly because we had grown bigger and fitter and the dive was now easy – we decided that we’d see how many yachts we could swim under. Or who could retrieve the biggest sandstone rock from the bottom of Mangles Bay. In these tests, it was almost always Dylan who won but occasionally I’d come up with something. I was six inches shorter than him and nowhere near as strong, so I always suspected he let me win a few. Looking back now, I’m sure he did. And I loved him for that.

In the New Year Dylan started working in Welshpool for an Ice company and I trotted off to University to study Geology – my love of sandstone rocks must have had some subconscious effect on my eventual career path. The following years meant that our contact became more sporadic and we never swum together again after that summer.

And now, as I sat opposite the jetty on this warm late spring day, I can see two young boys playing in the sand. I am taken back thirty years instantly; the beach transformed into old Rockingham and our tanned skinny frames ran and played all day in the blistering sun. Although I am acutely aware that a man nearing middle age who is fully clothed on the foreshore, as some random kids played nearby might seem, at best, a little odd, I don’t really care what anyone thinks.

On this day, my thoughts are solely with Dylan and the fact that I will never see him again.

His funeral tore me apart emotionally. I couldn’t understand his decision and I was devastated that he couldn’t reach out to me. What hurt more than anything else, was that it was partly my fault. I never kept in touch with him either.

The last contact I had was two years previous when he left me a voicemail asking me if I was going to his mother’s (my aunt) 70th birthday. Gutlessly I texted him back saying I couldn’t make it because of some work function. The fact was, I was actually going away with my new girlfriend but I knew he wouldn’t understand that. I never spoke to him again.

I had picked up that Dylan was gay long before most of the family did, but I never had the courage to ask him. I was about 22 and I hadn’t seen him for almost a year. Age, maturity, and an expanded group of bohemian university acquaintances meant that I had known and made friends with several gay guys. Then, when I saw Dylan that Christmas, I just knew. Everything slipped into place for me and my understanding of him. But my heart sank for Dylan because I knew that, in our retro family with their conservative values and “blokey-bloke” bravado, he could never “come out”.

So here I stand on the beach – fresh tears on my cheeks as my reddened eyes struggle to function in the glare of the late spring sunshine. Heat steams up from the collar of my shirt, exacerbated by my dark suit. I sit on the sand and kick off my shoes and socks, the fine and squeaky sand envelopes my feet and sticks to the perspiration between my toes. I take off my jacket, revealing my brilliant white business shirt, small yellowing rings of perspiration have formed in my armpits. My throat is full, choked up with emotion at the loss of someone who meant more to me than I ever imagined.

Every memory of this beach has Dylan in it.

Every summer’s day has Dylan leading me out through the boats on the bay

Every soft breeze off the ocean at dusk has Dylan next to me as we ate chips and Chiko Rolls as the sun went to bed.

It hurts me to think about the pain he must have been in when he did what he did, to end it all. How much hurt, how much despair he must have felt to believe that he only had one option.

It almost kills me to think that maybe there was something I could have done to prevent that from happening – to maybe give him something to help him turn things around.

I could never find out his reasons – he never left a note. Was it his sexuality – denied for years, hidden for many more? Or was it depression? Fear?

I know I’ll never know and that hurt just as much.

I take off my soiled shirt and then my suit trousers and sit on the sand in my boxers. It is almost 30 degrees but, in November, the water still has the wintry chill in it. The ocean here never really heats up until a month after the first heatwave of the summer. That never stopped Dylan from getting in the water at the first sign of sunshine though. And it wasn’t going to stop me now.

I wade in, the cold temperate water lapping at my legs as I slowly descend into the bay. I look next to me and there is Dylan, wading in as well, hiding the chill he felt and daring me to dive in first. He smiles that toothy grin, teeth straight, white, perfect. The westerly breeze blows his wavy blonde hair back from his brow, strong brown eyes staring out into the sea.

“Go on, dive in first ya wuss,” I hear him say.

I take a deep breath and plunge into the ocean, aiming for the bottom of the sea to retrieve a bigger rock than he could find.

When I surface holding a ten-kilo lump of sandstone I realise that, this time, Dylan hasn’t let me win.

I’ve lost.


In The Deep

  • ISBN: 9781310845192
  • Author: Jamie J. Buchanan
  • Published: 2015-10-29 15:35:06
  • Words: 3059
In The Deep In The Deep