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"Shallow waters" by B F Jones

They get drenched between the cab and the front door. Quick Daddy! The twins laugh-scream, wetter by the second as he fumbles for his keys in the darkness. Sorry guys, the porch light is off, it doesn’t help. They burst in and immediately peel off their coats and remove their shoes and he turns on the heater and the lights and she wraps the kids in a large towel and dries their hair, changes them into warm pyjamas. She lets them not brush their teeth, reads them stories and kisses them a hundred times and they fall asleep in a minute, they’re so tired. She’s tired too, and squiffy. She looks at their chubby cheeks and soft skin under the dimmed light, she wonders what they dream about after falling asleep so quickly, she envies their carelessness, their joy at the downpour when all she can think of is mudslides and flooding, and what future for them? She envies their obliviousness of their aunt’s wig, of the new vacant look in their grandmother’s eyes, of the mutism of their increasingly gaunt cousin. She strokes their blonde curls, stays one more minute, whispers I love you, I love you, I love you and walks out quietly, leaving the door ajar.

They sit in the kitchen, he hands her a beer, and she takes long sips straight from the can, she’s thirsty, the gravy was quite salty she says, she’s matter-of-fact but can see in his eyes he finds her judgemental. Difficult. Lovely afternoon she adds, resting her hand on his for a moment. 50 years. Great gathering. I can’t believe they’ve been together 50 years. That’s quite something. And they talk about all the weddings they’ve been to through the years, that one year in particular where everyone got married which was unfortunate because it was also the year she had her “Joan of Arc” haircut and they have a little laugh. They reminisce about theirs, that bright rainy day a decade ago; they leave out the painful bits, how long it’s been since they’ve seen all those friends they used to meet every Thursday for drinks back then, and how some they will never see again, and she doesn’t want to cry right now so she says she feels cold from getting soaked and she’s going to get a sweater and why don’t they have a drop of Grand Marnier to warm themselves up.

He pours them a shot glass each and they turn on the speaker, play some tunes and the evening lightens up as the liquor warms them up and they talk about their kids, who they look like, what they reckon they will grow up to be; she wonders how she’ll sleep at night when they’re grown up and leaving the nest and living their own lives, not sound asleep dribbling on pillows, she wonders if they will miss her after she’s gone and she doesn’t know when that will be it could be tomorrow it could be in 53 years but one day they won’t be together and she feels like she’s been punched in the stomach and he looks at her, you okay? Yeah, yeah I’m fine, and she refills the glasses and takes a large sip swallowing her anguish and tears with the syrupy liquid that’s not bitter enough, but they all come back up after the third drink and she clings to him like a drowning swimmer cradling a buoy in shallow waters and she wonders at what stage she became so needy, how long ago she lost her strength, her footing, her desire to swim further just to feel the depth of the unknown behind. She used to swim far, too far, relish at all the water around her, all the depth beneath. She would plug her nose and torpedo her body down, as low as possible to see if her feet would touch the ground but they never did. Too deep. She’d take her swimming costume off and enjoy the cold water lapping her naked body and she’d swim back slowly, coming back to the beach drained and happy and rosy-cheeked and the world was this wonderful place. Now she never goes too far out, she swims alongside the shore so that she can always feel the sand under her feet. The water isn’t as clear as it used to be, or as cold, it doesn’t take her breath away when she goes in, she can just walk in until it reaches her chest and start swimming without her heart doing that stop-start thing and her making that loud joyous exhaling sound. She never swims as long, and she never takes her swimming costume off anymore.

B F Jones is French and lives in the UK. She writes poetry and flash fiction. Her poetry collections Five Years and The Only Sounds Left as well as her flash fiction collection, Artifice, were all released in 2021 and published by the Alien Buddha. This piece is a part of her upcoming collection of Interconnected stories, Something Happened at 2am, out 2/18/22!

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