Keith Hoerner‘s short story: Swimming Back to Shore—With No Sign of Your Footsteps in the Sand or Sight of You on the Horizon


Foam sloshes ’round my scuffed black leather wingtips, laps up the ankles of my rumpled dress slacks, turns khaki to the colour of murky brown. Onlookers furrow their brows, incredulous I do not see I am in danger of drowning, that if I don’t make a move for it, the water will continue to rise until it covers my soon-to-be-bald head. What they do not realise is I have already failed at drowning—and floated a near corpse ashore. Can they not see my sopping clothes; the now sea-weed green tweed jacket; my wrinkled, white translucent skin? Their water is returning to the sea. I have survived my Biblical Flood. I am coming up for air, not suffocating. My exploded lungs have been cauterised; I now breathe shallower: but calm and sure.


I look for you, but waves wash you to another shore, an island uncharted, perhaps, to inhibit me from finding you. Did you suffer so? Rather than buoy you up, did my selfishness climb squarely on your shoulders and thrust you downward? Push you under into the electric bosom of a bloom of pulsing jellyfish… until it was you who passed away? Or did your shocking beauty simply meld with theirs, escaping me as I first wondered? My hope is you did get away. My prayer is that you are dry and safe and contented. Even if it means I cannot be with you.


I may not be dry, but I am drying out. I have always had a dry sense of humour, a British sense of humour, I like to think. Admittedly, I can be droll. My odd obsession with court jesters remains a curious thing. Was it their tomfoolery or their role in history? I don’t know. Whatever it might be, you used to laugh at me more than the TV. I cannot hear you laughing now. So it begs the question: when did you turn it off? When was it you stopped laughing? Or was it me – in one of my sardonic rants – who thought he had had the last laugh?


You were always a giver. The problem is I’m a taker, was a taker… for what it’s worth. And givers and takers are a mismatch. I did what takers do; I took all you had to give, emptied all your pockets and filled them with rocks: one for each of my character defects. So you stretched out your arms and tried to swim away, but sank. Yet upon the first swirling rush that separated my grip on you, you dropped my rocks and swam untraceable among the camouflage of coral reefs. So, here I am.


Yes, I stand. I’m not buckled at the knees as before or dead as expected. The lifeline you threw me caught ’round my neck, but it worked. It was the one time when looking in the end of a bottle, I actually saw a ship, and with it the possibility of steerage to a new land… dry land. Its pasted, miniature masts and cotton-twill sails still able to bear my living freight and move me to a healthy destination. You equipped me to survive the flood in the face of self-harm. How can I repay you? By letting you go? By not even thinking to follow you.


The small ship, pulled out for embarkation, is now crushed to bits beneath my feet. Peer close, and I might even pass for the Giant Polybotes, bane of the God Poseidon, standing on a shipwreck from the battle of Nisyros. A broken bow floats out to the Aegean Sea. An anchor pulls the splintered spine of this ark into the pit of a dark swell. I was supposed to find Terra Firma by Noah’s mandate as one of a pair. I beg you. But I’ll force myself to understand, if I am to go at it alone.


If it is what you need, I will unabashedly say it aloud, “I no longer drown myself in bottles anymore, thanks to you.” So I will stay clear of the companion way and wish your sails full billows to get you to your place of secret solace. I will not follow you. But I will always think of you. And if you will allow, I will tightly scroll this missive and slip it into this bottle here, then toss it far in the direction I hope will one day reach you.

A Southern Illinoisan, Keith Hoerner writes in the shade of the Shawnee National Forest, USA.. He has been featured in 100+ lit mags and is founding editor of the award-winning Microfiction ezine/print anthology The Dribble Drabble Review, as well as a Best Book and American Writing Award Honoree. 

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