Its common knowledge that you should not fish at the mouth of the river. I did it anyway. It’s how I ended up in the water, although the exact sequence of events is a mystery.
I thought I could swim. That was just the waves teasing me, tossing me back and forth as I lay submerged in the early morning surf. I was trying to gasp for air because I did not yet understand that my lungs were full of water. I wasn’t sure if I was dead. I felt I was mostly dead but not completely dead. Just a bit dead, if that makes any sense.
It was a flounder who told me to relax, really just a pair of eyes poking through the sand, the occasional flurry of shell flakes announcing a presence. I don’t remember hearing fish talk before.
‘Is this death?’ I didn’t ask that question out loud but I guess flounder are clever.
The flounder laughed a sort of raspy laugh, sand at the back of the throat I guess, ‘Not quite, this is near death.’
It wasn’t painful, I was just a little bit alive throughout my body. The flounder was gone.
I felt the next fish nibbling at my flesh. I wanted it to go away but I couldn’t say it. My mouth was salty and dry, but really my mouth was wide open and full of water. I couldn’t see the fish. I wanted to close my eyes. Because of the sand. I could smell the sand, it was in my nostrils.
The fish stopped nibbling and spoke.
‘Fish know a lot about death.’ The voice was deeper than I expected, ‘because we are often pulled into your gaseous atmosphere and suffer gill collapse’ (fish words not mine), ‘near death, close to death, dying, maybe dead, only to be plunged back into the water, still near death, still dying, and eventually dead even though we were meant to be saved.’
I always thought they survived. The fish I put back, I thought they just swam away.
I felt something bigger tugging at my leg. It was an octopus. I could hear my leg calling to me saying goodbye. I wanted it to stay. Fortunately the femur held, disjointed, unjointed but attached. I heard the high pitched giggling of the octopus, as if being able to keep your limbs in situ was a funny thing.
The sky was darkening, I had been rolling under the surf the whole day, dead, not quite dead, some bits dead, other bits not dead, talking to the fish.
In the darkness I felt air on my back. The waves had rolled me to the beach. I thought I could expel the water from my lungs and live again. I felt the tickle of a crab. Then another. And another. I wanted to laugh. I felt their pincers, expecting sharpness but instead soft, gentle, tickly tugs. My skin gave way. I was coming apart, finally I was coming apart and the fish would be quiet again.