j o n    s w a n

Drowning Lessons

 

Charlie Becker is a drowning man.



He wears a yellow life jacket to try to keep himself afloat.



Itís nothing fancy, just your basic polyester vest with a foam insert.



He started wearing it after the car accident that killed his wife.



Something about it makes him feel safe.



*****



Charlie wears the life jacket everywhere.



And everywhere he goes people stop and stare.



The neighbors think Charlie has gone off the deep end.



His mother thinks he should talk to somebody.



His father canít bear to look at him.



*****



Charlie doesnít go to work anymore.



Instead he packs a lunch and goes to the park.



He sits on a bench and stares at the bridge for hours.



Often heís still there when the sun goes down.



The cops never seem to bother him.



*****



Charlie swims nearly every day.



He goes to the YMCA first thing in the morning.



He has a second yellow life jacket he keeps in his locker.



He usually swims for about forty-five minutes.



The chlorine stings his eyes.



*****



Charlie also swims in the ocean.



One day the Coast Guard found him a mile off shore.



They told him to get in the boat, but Charlie kept swimming.



Someone had to jump in the water and pull him out.



He told them he was ďswimming away.Ē



*****



The accident happened on a rainy Saturday night.



Charlie and his wife Katy were driving home from the movies.



They were crossing the bridge when a black Ford pick-up hit them head on.



The impact sent the Beckersí burgundy Corolla right off the bridge.



Charlie, who wasnít wearing a seatbelt, flew out the window.



*****



Charlie landed on his back on the asphalt.



When he came to, the Toyota was nearly underwater.



He stripped down to his underwear and jumped off the bridge.



His eyes were open as he explored the cold, black water.



He dove again and again, but never found the car.



*****



It seemed to take forever for help to arrive.



The helicopterís blinding light frightened Charlie.



When the divers tried to rescue him, he struggled and fought.



He begged them to let him stay there and look for Katy.



His teeth chattered as they handed him a blanket.



*****



It took them hours to get Katie out of the car.



They did everything they could, but it was too late.



At the funeral, Charlie wore the life jacket over his suit.



His parents tried to persuade him to take it off.



Charlie shook his head no like a little boy.



*****



They brought the truck driver to trial.



The town was in an uproar for a couple of days.



He hadnít been drinking so all he got was reckless driving.



Charlie didnít much care one way or the other.



He knew nothing would bring Katy back.



*****



Charlie has the same dream every night.



He and Katy are on their way home from the movies.



A black truck veers around a car and heads straight for them.



Thereís a crash, and the Toyota goes off the bridge.



Katyís face is in the window as the car sinks.



*****



Charlie Becker is a drowning man.



He wears a yellow life jacket to try to keep himself afloat.



Itís nothing fancy, just your basic polyester vest with a foam insert.



He started wearing it after the car accident that killed his wife.



Something about it makes him feel safe.

 

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JON SWANís stories and prose poems have appeared in Gargoyle, Juked, Pindeldyboz, Hobart, Snow Monkey, Word Riot, 3AM Magazine, Opium Magazine, Many Mountains Moving, Bullfight Review, Tea Party and others. He is currently working on a YA novel.


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