The Wader

The only waves are those I make myself. When I halt, the water stills. Ergo, this is not a sea but a shallow lake. At its deepest, the water goes up to my neck. At its shallowest, my thighs. Under foot it is stony in parts, but largely mud.

There is no wind. It is cool; I don’t feel the warmth of the sun.

I am not alone here. There are eels, or thin fish that frighten me when they tickle my shins.

In circumstances I no longer recall, I must have gone blind.

My eyesight used to be fine. I can still picture my wife, our children and the house by the ravine.

I’m never hungry or thirsty. If this is a dream, it has gone on awfully long. Seems like months. But dreams have their own temporality.

If I were dead, would I feel the eels? Or the water when I splash it? I believe that I’m breathing. I still have it in me to shout. I spent days recently howling ‘Help! Help!’. A fat lot of good it did me.

This lake is so vast that I’m tempted, after all, to call it a sea. I counted eight hundred thousand steps as I was wading through it. I don’t know if you’ve ever counted above a thousand. It was intolerable.

What keeps me going is the hope of reaching the shore.

I’d settle for finding myself out of my depth. That would imply there was a middle to the sea, and therefore an edge. I could turn around and head back the way I’d came.

But it’s hard following one direction at the best of times. And blind as I am, and harried by eels, these are not the best of times.

My understanding of my situation, I’ll be the first to admit, is atrociously limited.

My assumption that I’m blind has been shaken! Something has happened… a phenomenon. I’ve begun to sense a faint luminescence emanating from the eels, or thin fish.

It is barely distinguishable. I’m not prepared to say that I’ve observed it. But I’m coming round to the conclusion that, on the balance of probability, it is more likely there than not.

Regaining my sight is all very well, but it begs the question: why is it constantly pitch black? I am still a long way from getting to the bottom of things.

A breakthrough!

I was wading waist-deep, arms thrashing, chanting a shanty of my own invention, when ‘Bop!’, my face smashed into a rock. The tears of pain from my crushed nose gave way to tears of joy. I embraced the cold, hard rockface, smothering it with kisses.

This was no lone rock, marooned in the ocean, although even that would have been something to celebrate. No, this was much more auspicious – a cliff, rising clammy and cool. I clung to it, not letting it out of my grasp.

I ran my hands over it, looking for ledges. Nothing. It was as smooth as a wall.

Should I set off to the right, or to the left? I wrestled with this for a long time. The repercussions of getting it wrong might be severe. “The right choice would be to go right,” I eventually concluded. I said this aloud a few times, to see how it sounded.

It sounded unconvincing. I set off to the left. 

I waded on, right arm slapping against the rock. Always the same vertical rise and unbroken smoothness. Under the water, small growths sprouted from the wall. I bent down and felt them with my hand. Barnacles, limpets or some such. Too hard to prise off.

After a particularly gruelling stretch of wading (upwards of five hundred hours) I halted, exhausted and angry. I should have gone right. It was too late now. I couldn’t face wading back in the direction I’d come. There was nothing for it but to continue.

Ages passed. I waded on and on. I’d succeeded in prising off a barnacle, or limpet, and kept it lodged under my tongue. Every hundred hours or so, an eel or thin fish would brush my shin. The shanty I chanted had grown into an epic verse charting the adventures of a seafaring civilisation, the Jungaril, through generations of infighting, expansion, subjugation and disease. As I was recounting the poisoning of King Moab, I fell over. My right hand, which I’d been using to prop myself up against the sea wall, had disappeared into thin air.

If my arm has failed to connect with the wall it is because the wall is no longer there.

A gap. There is a gap in the wall. A crevice, with stone steps leading upwards. I stagger up, blubbering. Six, twelve, and at the top a strong wooden door.

The door has a heavy iron handle. I wrap my fingers around it, not seeking to open it, just savouring its feel.

I made the right choice to go left after all.

I press cheek against door, lovingly.

And I hear something. At first indistinct, then indisputable, it is the sound of my wife hurling abuse at someone. This someone is arguing back, although quieter. It is difficult to distinguish the second voice. But at length I am able to; it is me.

I release my grasp from the handle, remove my face from the door, and stand still at the top of the steps.

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