Day 30 of The Literal Challenge aka Like The Prose

I have just had my official email to confirm that I have completed the challenge: 30 stories in 30 days. Some I like better than others; some topics appealed more than others; and some were definitely more difficult to write than others – BUT I did it.

A big thank you to all the people who have read one or more of the stories and given me feedback. I am immensely grateful for your support.

Surf’s Up

The waves swell, carrying the surfers towards the shore.

*

Daryl has always been searching for the perfect wave. Growing up in Orange County, California, the beach was never far away. His parents or grandparents had taken him there nearly every day from the time he was a baby. Now a young man of nineteen, he stands in the sun – tall, toned and tanned: the typical surfer – gazing out at the horizon. Surfers and boards dot the skyline, coloured shorts and costumes standing out in stark relief against the endless blue of sky and sea. The smell of ozone invades his nostrils, but he welcomes the sensation: the ocean is his first love; he feels wedded to his board.

Beside him, his girlfriend of the past six months studies the surf with equal intensity. He’d never imagined falling for a beach bunny, but Jessica handles the waves almost as well as he does. They both love the exhilaration they feel when they are riding their boards to shore, at one with nature, in perfect harmony with the world around them.

Jess squeezes his hand now. “Surf’s up, dude. Let’s do this thing.”

They paddle their boards out as far as they can, then climb to their feet, swaying a little in the undulations of the water. There’s a massive breaker rolling towards them now. Daryl catches Jess’s eye and grins. “See you on the other side.”

The rushing water carries them back towards the beach, where they tumble off, laughing. “Do you feel as stoked as I do?” Jessica asks her boyfriend. Her eyes are shining; her hair hangs in damp rats’ tails over her shoulders.

Daryl reaches out a hand, strokes her salt-stained face. “It was radical, Babe.”

At this moment, he feels totally fulfilled. Life has never been better.

*

A few weeks later, Jess has a cold. She’s not up to surfing, but she accompanies him to the beach anyway. Early morning sun sheds shafts of light on the almost deserted sand; tiny crabs scuttle blissfully, enjoying the silence. Despite the season, there’s an unexpected wind whipping the waves. Jess feels a twinge of uncertainty as she notices the potentially hazardous conditions. She thinks of begging Daryl not to go, to wait until the wind’s died down, but surfing is his life; so instead, she kisses him for good luck, not realising that this will be the last time.

At first, Daryl is convinced that he has mastered this wave: ever the perfectionist, his pose is exactly what it should be and he’s calculated with mathematical precision where he needs to be. It’s only as the clamshell chomps down upon him, eating him in one ruthless bite, that he realises his mistake. Jess watches him disappear under the water, waits for him to resurface. He doesn’t. Panic overwhelms her as she scans the sea, but there is no sign of him at all. A sick feeling of dread paralyses her, rendering her unable to move until the waves gently wash his lifeless body to the shore.

Galvanised into action, she drags her dead boyfriend out of the water. Heart hammering wildly, she administers CPR, even though she knows it’s already too late. Tears stream down her face as she presses her warm lips to his cold ones. Eventually, she gives up and lies down next to him, holding him until the beach starts to fill with surfers and kindly strangers call the emergency services for her.

In weeks to come, she will read up on surfing accidents and discover how, on average, only ten people per year actually die – out of the twenty-three million or so around the world who partake in the sport. She’ll discover that the most likely cause of death is being hit by your board and knocked unconscious, so that you have no way of fighting the waves, no chance of survival. But even when she knows this, she will not lose her unshakable conviction that Daryl died doing what he loved best, that his last conscious thought must have been the thrill of feeling at one with nature. When people commiserate with her and express sorrow that “He was only nineteen”, she will remind herself that at least he had nineteen years – that’s longer than a rodent or a bullfrog, a badger or an antelope. She will think all this but say nothing.

*

A month later, the beach is packed for Daryl’s memorial service. His funeral was a sombre affair: his parents sobbed, surrounded by grieving relatives, as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Jess knows this second-hand: she was invited to go and pay her last respects, but she declined. Everyone thought it was because she was too traumatised after what had happened; but Jess knows that Daryl isn’t in the shell they buried: his spirit is still out on the waves, moving in peaceful harmony with the water.

The sun is setting as the surfing community paddle out to the location they’ve chosen, some wearing garlands, others with flowers held between their teeth. Jess thinks there is a certain symmetry in this: Daryl died in the morning, but they will remember him in the evening. It’s symbolic too: the sunset is a reminder that death is not the end: the glowing orange ball that now sinks behind the horizon will rise again, fresh and golden, with the dawn.

Together they tread water as they release their flowers; then, joining hands, they remember their friend. Someone prays out loud, thanking God for Daryl’s life, for his warm, open personality, for his appreciation of nature. Tears form in Jess’s eyes once more: she’s overcome with emotion, but it’s not sadness for Daryl or herself but gratitude that her boyfriend was so well-loved. “Daryl was always searching for the perfect wave,” she says, her voice steadier than she would have thought possible – “and then the perfect wave found him and took him home.”

*

The waves swell once more, carrying her memories of Daryl towards the distant horizon.

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