Love Water Memory
SHE BECAME AWARE of a commotion behind her as she stood gazing across an expanse of gray-blue water toward low mountains, a skiff of clouds. A bridge in the distance, familiar. She was looking for something, but what? Voices called out from behind her. Seagulls shrieked from the pier to her right. Just past them, the masts of tall ships creaked slowly back and forth as though they'd been there forever, and she was just now seeing them.
"Hey." A distinct male voice, closer now. She tried to turn to see him but her legs were numb. No, they were cold. Ice cold. Dead legs. Was she dead? Where was she? What was this place?
She looked down and saw dark water to her knees. She held high heels in one hand and shouldered a large leather purse that made her arm ache. Her skirt was wet at the hem.
"Hey, excuse me, are you okay?" The voice was closer now, coming from behind her.
"I don't know," she said, turning her head. That she could do, at least.
The man waded toward her from a beach, wearing only a dark bikini bottom and black hood on his head, strapped beneath his chin. She tried to move away from him—who was he? Why was he dressed like that? And then she noticed a crowd of people dressed similarly standing at the shore, men and women, some in wet suits, some in swim suits. All with those hoods.
"I can't feel my legs," she admitted.
He seemed friendly. His eyes were a nice blue; he had light stubble on his face and a smooth chest. A gold band on his finger. "I can imagine," he said. "You've been in here nearly half an hour and the water's only sixty degrees." He stopped a few feet away. "Do you want to come out now?" He looked at her in a way that said she really should, so she nodded.
"What's your name?" he asked.
She opened her mouth to tell him, but didn't know what to say. He waded closer still, slowly, carefully, like someone would approach a hurt dog or a crazy person.
"Do you live around here?" he asked. "Or did you come down from the cable car?"
Did he think she was crazy? She wished he would quit asking her questions. It hurt inside, trying to figure out how to answer. Her head throbbed, now, or maybe it had all along.
She let him come right up to her and take her by the arm. His hand was warm, and she realized she was freezing, even though the sun lit everything around them into a sharp, bright world she didn't know.
"Want to try to walk back to the shore?" he asked, gently rotating her until they faced the crowd on the sandy beach, a banner behind them that read "Alcatraz Open Water Invitational." They were all going swimming, she guessed. All at once.
"Is she all right?" someone called.
"I think we'd better call 911," he answered.
"Already did," a woman said.
"It's just my legs," she said. "They're so cold. I'll just put my shoes back on."
"Okay," he said, slowly walking her toward shore. "Let's just keep moving."
She slid her feet like blocks across sandpaper. They hurt now. Everything hurt now. Something was changing inside her, trying to speed up to catch the cog, but there were only broken gears grinding uselessly against each other. She wanted to turn back and keep looking across the water, to find what she came for, but the man kept guiding her toward the crowd. Behind them were too many buildings, and behind those, a hill of more buildings.
She looked up and saw letters against the sky. "Ghirardelli." Oh, she would love some chocolate.
A taller man waded out toward them, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders as the first man kept hold of her arm. They were so warm.
"You're going to be okay," the second man said, but she wasn't sure. She heard a siren now, and shuddered.
An ambulance screamed down the pier next to the beach. Red lights, blue lights. Such a horrible loud sound. It hurt almost as much as trying to answer questions. She hated sirens, maybe the most of everything.
Others rushed toward them with towels, swaddling her inside them, taking her shoes and bag away from her. People in uniforms pushed through the crowd, insisting she lie on the sand. That was good. She was exhausted. Everything hurt.
"What's your name?" they kept asking while checking her heart, her pulse, putting an oxygen mask on her. "Where's your ID? What day is it? Do you know where you are? Who's the president of the United States?"
"Obama," she finally murmured into the mask. It was the only answer she had, and as good as it felt to know her president, it was nowhere near enough.
From Love Water Memory, a novel by Jennie Shortridge
© 2011 Jennie Shortridge
All Rights Reserved