THURSDAY: Drowning

BY AILEEN SANTOS

Copyright is held by the author. This story is fictional. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

HIS SON crashed through waves, heaving, arms flapping frantically. Adonis suited his namesake, a pudgy boy of eight who wore size 14 clothing. His pudginess started off cute at two, then three and even at parts of four but at eight he was often teased and pushed for his big size and sensitive, formal nature. But at this moment there were no bullies in the water; Adonis had got too far behind his father and was struggling to tread water. He was a wonderful swimmer, passing all levels, but the strong ocean current was no battle for his rolls or heavyset structure.

His father Garrison was deep in thought, unaware of his son drowning just five feet behind him. Adonis couldn’t yell or scream, was trying hard just to keep afloat. Garrison was thinking of their other son, Max who had ASD, autism spectrum disorder and was back at the room with his loud-mouth wife. What would happen to Max over the years? Would he be able to find his place in this world, like his older brother Adonis? At this moment that Garrison thought of Adonis, he turned to look back and saw Adonis’ head sink beneath the waves.

“Adonis!” He yelled and swam back to get him. Garrison was a strong swimmer but the waves were a challenge. They threatened to push him away from his son, rather than towards him. Adonis’ head would bob up, then under it went. Garrison did not think, he swam against the current pushing fiercely as if his life depended on it, he did not think of his own life for he might not have gotten to his son. He could hear the water crash against his ears, then the silence when it subsided. Splashing and pushing and swallowing water, he struggled to Adonis’ side. He lurched arms open wide, attempting to grab at a piece of Adonis’ flesh, anything, for he knew his son was falling under and quickly.

He found an arm, then a body and held his son up. Adonis was screaming, crying, “Daddy, can’t.. daddy!”

“Shut up, Adonis! Calm down! Breathe, stop it!” Garrison screamed with force, no time for comfort, the child needed to calm down.

Garrison turned towards the beach where he saw two lifeguards alert to what was happening. They had been watching the entire time. Others from the beach were watching too, some from a distance had hands to their chest, relieved, to not see the death of the chubby boy or his floating body on the ocean. Finally, lifeguards got to them, grabbed Adonis from Garrison as it took two of them to lead his bulky body back to shore.

Adonis had been crying but the lifeguards motioned him to stop and breathe, though they did it more calmly than Garrison had. They needed to get all the water out of his mouth, out of his lungs. Some kids often died even after they’d already been rescued, the water still stuck in their lungs, no one knowing, until it was too late. They patted him on the back, told him to put his head foreword. He spit out some ocean through tears of fear and shame. Garrison looked on, only thinking of Adonis, afraid yet still angered at his young son’s carelessness. But he was glad he was okay and that nothing had happened. He sighed with relief and went to find his wife and son Max.

“What?! What happened?! Where the hell were you?!”

“I’m sorry honey. I didn’t see. He was pushed back by the waves the lifeguards said it sometimes happened…”

“I can’t believe you. Careless! Adonis! Come here.”

Adonis walked slowly to his angry mother, her alert owl eyes and purse angry lips. “Why did you wander away like that? Do you know you could’ve died?”

“I know. I’m sorry mommy.” He whined and looked down, pouting, upset, his belly jiggling fat.

“Don don don,” Max said, looking at Adonis, “Don, don don,” he repeated again.

“Not now Max!” He said, in an adult tone, wishing his brother wouldn’t bother him right now at this very moment that he might be slapped on the butt.

“Don’t talk like that to your brother,” Garrison said sternly, and Max looked down, went away and sat in a corner, his back turned to the world.

“Sorry dad,” Adonis mumbled, and tears started to form.

Adonis was still wrapped in a towel, wearing his blue, yellow and orange Hawaiian trunks with a white band. He was eight after all, and had almost just died so his lip quivered and he felt ashamed and relieved all at the same time. Garrison pulled his head close and hugged him tight, kissed his forehead and said, “Don’t ever do that again, you hear me?” Adonis nodded vigorously and kept his eyes and mouth cast down.

“How about ice cream?” Garrison asked quietly.

He was tired but relieved.

“Ice cream! Ice cream!” Max yelled from the corner.

Adonis looked up and smiled and said, “Yeah.”

Garrison took his kids for ice cream as his wife, stressed from all the action she said, stayed home, on fluffed pillows, lay back with a fashion magazine.

As Garrison looked at his two sons, Adonis and Max, he worried for them, and wondered if they would find their place in the world. Both will have challenges, but could he be the man that they could look up to, a role model, not an angel, a father to follow so they could become men of their own?

Adonis often copied Garrison’s mannerisms, while Max was nothing like him. Like right now, Adonis was surreptitiously eyeing the abandoned bar of toppings at the ice cream shop, thinking his father hadn’t see him quickly put extra toppings into his mouth while the ice cream scooper answered a phone call. Then at her return, he charmingly lowered his dish and started chatting her up, telling her of his near death experience that led them to the ice cream shop. The pretty young thing gave her attention because Adonis, again perfectly suited to his name, was smooth though he was only eight. He smiled and tilted his head and became enthusiastic at just the right parts in the story.

“Wow, that musta been really scary dude! You’re one brave little kid! And here you are, so soon after your ordeal, already enjoying some ice cream. What a brave kid, fer sure.”

“Thanks, yeah. It’s just who I am,” Adonis had said, looking pleased with himself, already digging into his dish. Garrison looked away shyly, shaking his head at his audacity.

His comfort with older girls and adults in general is another reason other kids bullied and pushed him around, but Adonis was not a fighter, he was a lover and so when they pushed he just puffed his chest out and walked the other way.

“And what would you like, little man?” Pretty young thing asked Max, who looked away.

“Max, what would you like son?”

Max shook his head violently.

“Max, pick one please.”

Max looked down at his feet.

Garrison looked around for a green-coloured flavour because Max liked green, or was that last month?

“How about that one?” Garrison pointed to pistachio, the only green and Max looked up shyly and then nodded his head.

“Okay I’ll take a scoop of pistachio,” Garrison said.

“Okay great,” Pretty young thing said.

She turned back with the ice cream and when Garrison passed it to Max, she asked, “Will that be all, then?”

“Yeah, thanks,”

“$4.50 please.”

He dug in to his pocket for his wallet and handed her a five.

“Keep the change.” He smiled, and turned away.

“Bye brave lil’ man!” She waved to Adonis’ back who turned before he continued to devour his ice cream: superkid flavour. He waved a hand good-bye.

It felt like a long day but it was only 12 o’clock. Garrison looked up at his kids who sat beside him. He stared into the blue of the sky, a single white line drawn as if with chalk. He wondered again about his sons and the future. Would it be as clear as this sky or as volatile as the ocean water that his son had swallowed? Would they fight to live just as Adonis had or sit in a corner, indifferent, pulled under? Garrison felt a choking in his own throat, started to cough, felt his chest tighten. Could I do enough, to be the dad that they need? Would I be the role model that they could look up to? He felt his heart beating rapidly and told himself to breathe. It had been a long day, and sweat covered his brow. He couldn’t breathe, as he told himself again, it had been a long day.

I’m not having a heart attack, I’m not drowning, but his body disagreed with his mind. His lungs still carried ocean water; he bent over to release green fluid, almost the colour of Max’s ice cream, and then yellow fluid. Would he be enough… could he be enough…this isn’t happening were his last thoughts as his body slumped over on the cement, face first into his own mess.

Pretty young thing ran out when she heard Adonis scream, she called 9-11 and told him to be brave.

18 comments

  1. Charles Pinch

    …her kid nearly dies and she lays back with a fashion magazine? On fluffed pillows, yet????

  2. Frank Sikora

    Now that is an ending with a twist that I didn’t see coming and yet follows the internal logic of the story and is reasonably foreshadowed.

  3. JAZZ

    Spot on, Charles…!!
    On a personal note, I urge you to submit one of your stories to show these latest entrants how it’s done.

  4. Charles Pinch

    My Dear Jazz,
    I do appreciate your compliment and thank you for posting it. I have in fact a story forthcoming in the latest CL anthology ‘Arrivals and Departures’. I hope when you read it, you enjoy it. But I trust — regarding my comment — that I don’t appear like I’m waving my flag at some other writer’s expense–or holding myself up as being superior: that’s not my intention. The wonderful thing about CommuterLit — and I’ve told Nancy this more than once, is the fact that it has given a diversity of writers — myself included— the chance to get published — when many, many sites, ezines and mags just won’t give you a hoot. I’ve been pretty lucky in that regard and I’ve had several stories published in a various and diverse platforms — both in print and online — and I am grateful indeed to those who accepted them and those who take the time out of their day to read them. I think some of my short fiction is pretty good and some of it is God awful but all of it without exception was hard work. And that’s really all it takes if you’re prepared to stick with it. Although I had issues with ‘Drowning’ I would encourage Mrs. Santos to keep writing and I hope she does. If she has that elusive thing called ‘heart’ and that equally elusive thing called ‘voice’ — then it will come and I wish her all the best.

    As for you, my friend — let me say it’s a livier forum since you’ve come aboard: whether you are dissenting or approving your comments are those of an obviously well-read, literate and sophisticated reader. I read them with pleasure.

  5. Aileen

    Frank, thank you kindly for your comment and to the anonymous commentator I am glad you enjoyed the twist. With regards to the mother, not all mothers are caring but as always, it’s great to get the reader’s reactions. I characterized her early on as loud-mouthed and wanted to emphasize that she said she was stressed though she was not even with her child and husband when the drowning had occurred, and yes, she was nonchalant after such a frightening occurrence. I attempted to juxtapose the two parental figures to highlight the difference in parenting. But I really do take all my readers’ comments in so thank you for your honest feedback.

    One other thing though, Jazz, I’m here to support each writer. Writing is a challenging and personal endeavour and I’m not here to compete. I take all the lovely comments along with the criticism but I personally don’t think anyone here needs to show anyone “how it’s done.”
    Sincerely,

    Aileen

  6. Charles Pinch

    Aileen,
    Yes, I know what you were trying to show in the woman’s character — there are uncaring loudmouth mothers — but your portrayal of her, for me, was not convincing. Even though she would be understandably stressed by her son’s experience, almost any mother would at the same time would be thinking more about her child than herself at that point. To have her lounge back (after fluffing up her pillows) and settled down with a fashion magazine is just naive psychology. And I think you should hint at some reason as to why her husband stays with a woman like that; without it, he comes across as a wimp.

  7. JAZZ

    Aileen, I certainly didn’t set out to upset you and if I did I apologize. As a reader and fledgling writer, I spend many hours reading short and long fiction to see “how it’s done”: for instance, Richard Russo, often referred to as America’s Dickens, Carol Shields for the deceptive simplicity of the stories; stories with multiple depths and characters so utterly drawn out that you know them.

    There are quite a few very talented writers on this site: Charles, Frank, Michael, Hannah who have shown me ‘how it’s done’ ….. Not every time, but most of the time.

    And we do compete…..even if it’s with ourselves.

  8. Lesley

    This story is remarkably visceral and poignant. I was moved by many of the sensual details that Santos painted throughout. I especially appreciate how she describes Adonis: his body and his behaviour are crafted into a delicate portrait that allows us to imagine a boy who is simultaneously strong and fragile. I also admire how Santos makes the characters so distinct yet makes us see how they are shaped by each other too. They are complex — the father’s attentiveness and anxiety in relation to the mother’s overreaction and indifference; Adonis’ confidence and friendliness in relation to Max’s reticence — these characteristics all defy cliche and expectation. To me, this story embodies true sensitivity and generosity.

  9. Charles Pinch

    Jazz,
    You make a good point. As Margaret Atwood said, ‘As important as what you’re writing is who you are reading.’ I look forward to reading your fiction when you post it.

    Aileen,
    This is a public forum that welcomes dissenting viewpoints: it’s not personal and I’m glad for you that you were published here. As I said in an above comment I hope you keep writing and wish you good luck. But understand that once you are published you are competing with every other writer because suddenly your work is in the public domain. And it is the readers out there who judge our work, yours and mine — whether we like it or not. As regards a mother’s reaction to the near drowning of her child — something I take issue with in your story — you might be interested in reading how Alice Munro explores the same theme in her story ‘Miles City, Montana’. Just as suggestion, you may already have read it.

    On a prosaic note the sentence ‘His comfort with older girls and adults in general are another reason other kids…’ is grammatically incorrect and should read ‘His comfort with older girls and adults in general is another reason other kids…

  10. A FATHER

    Charles Pinch and Jazz, I agree with you both! It is not personal! I too have an issue with the mother’s reaction to her son’s supposed almost drowning experience, and how such mother would react?!

  11. Shwetha Chandrashekhar

    Aileen, I find your writing very fluid and illustrative to read. I immediately had a clear picture of the characters within such a short span of words and was able to connect to the story line.

    Also, have to add, it is not naive psychology to describe a mother who lacks compassion for her child. It is rather naive to assume all mothers are the same or operate at similar emotional frequencies. We have a lot of colourful people in this world.

  12. Tanya

    I actually thought the portrayal of the mother added more believability to the father’s point of view. His anxiety about the son’s future made more sense considering her disconnected attitude (among other things). Overall I thought the story was cohesive and the ending was very moving. Well done Aileen.

  13. Charles Pinch

    Schwetha,
    You missed the point. I acknowledged there are loud, uncaring mothers in the world (see above) — my issue was that the character of the mother was not convincingly rendered to make her uncaring reaction believable. If one writes about such a parent there should be an accompanying level of psychological complexity that explains or strongly influences her behaviour. I don’t see it here.

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