Love Water Memory by Jennie Shortridge
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: January 14th 2014
Excerpt from the novel Love Water Memory, by Jennie Shortridge
SHE BECAME AWARE of a commotion behind her, yet it seemed important to continue looking out over the water toward low mountains, a skiff of clouds. A bridge in the distance, familiar. And something else, something that shimmered on the periphery of… what, the horizon? Her vision? No, her mind. Something she’d come to find. Voices called out; the people behind her. Seagulls shrieked from the pier on the right. Just past them, the masts of tall ships creaked slowly back and forth as though they’d been there forever, only she was just now seeing them.
“Hello?” A distinct male voice, closer. She tried to turn to see him but her legs felt 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 purse that made her neck ache. Her skirt was wet at the hem.
“Excuse me, are you okay?” Closer still.
“I don’t know,” she said, turning her head. That she could do, at least.
The man waded toward her from the beach, wearing only a skimpy bathing suit and black swim cap on his head, strapped beneath his chin. She tried to move away from him—who was he? Why was he dressed like that? He was so exposed—his chest, his arms, his mid-section—freckled and sun-weathered, a thick white scar on his abdomen she didn’t want to see. Why was he so naked here with her? And then she noticed a crowd of people dressed similarly standing at the shore, men and women, some in wetsuits, others in swimsuits. All with those black caps. All looking at her.
“I can’t feel my legs,” she admitted.
“I bet,” he said. “You’ve been in here nearly half an hour and the water’s only sixty degrees.” He stopped a few feet away. He seemed friendly, like someone’s brother, maybe. Laugh lines creased his face, but his smile was tentative. “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, 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 his arm and body, 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 sand, 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,” another replied.
“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 against each other. She wanted to turn back and stay 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 tall woman in a black swimsuit waded out and wrapped an arm around her shoulders as the man kept hold of her arm. They were so warm.
“You’re going to be okay,” the woman 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 forward 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. Yes, that was good. She was exhausted.
“What’s your name?” they kept asking while checking her heart, her pulse, putting an oxygen mask on her face. “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.