He was white as he lay there. As white as he had ever been in his life, which was now as ebbed away as a life could be.
The small crowd that had formed was starting to drift away. Nothing more to be seen here.
For nothing was going to happen now, as the paramedics began to wrap up their gear and load the body onto the collapsible gurney one of them had fetched from the ambulance.
David was about to be come a statistic. One of those numbers bandied about on Facebook as unexpected numbers that surprise. As he lay there, that was what he was becoming slowly and surely as his body stiffened and the juices therein found their lowest level. ‘Deaths from drowning in 2014’.
There were a few tears in the crowds. A couple of sets of parents made the effort to shield their kids from the reality of death that lies just around the corner from all of us, every day.
The only sounds were from David’s wife, comforted only by people she didn’t know and the stifled whimpering of his two children, also comforted by strangers as their mother tried the raw early efforts to make some sense of it all. Not that there was any sense to make of it really.
Death to a loved one can happen at any time and those final words we have together can be about the mundane or the bizarre or the simply nothing really, for we don’t know they will be the last words.
In these moments, it might be worth pondering on this, for the final words between Jennifer and David had been at least a little strained and now, she knew, there would be no further comment. Jennifer would drag the weight of that last conversation along alone, for the rest of her life. Picking it to, ironically, death, over the years to come.
Why? How? What had caused this to happen, for David was so careful. How could he simply go out for a swim and die?
A strong man. Renowned for his one armed press-ups, he was physically stronger than anyone Jennifer knew. And swimming was his forté. He had been a champion in his youth and yet, before her he lay, white, inert and another statistic.
A policeman was approaching her about the ‘arrangements’ for the body. That’s all that David was now.
A body, requiring ‘arrangements’. And a statistic.
Please no! This couldn’t be the end of it, with so little said – and more unsaid. Those few words before he loped off to the sea to take his post-lunch swim, as he had done every day of their holiday.
Safely and definitely not a statistic each and every day of the holiday so far. Until today, that is.
How could this have happened to her David?
Despite the affair, they were still together and their last few words suggested that he was ready to come back to her fully. With energy and focus, with the distraction out of his system. David was coming home.
Then this. The unbelievable juxtaposition of that new hope with the futility of the white body before her, the future now vanished. Dashed by the waves.
In a flash a thought came into her head. Was there a link between the conversation they had not 30 minutes ago to the consequences right there on the beach in front of her? Was she, in some way, complicit in this final, disastrous outcome?
David was such a strong, capable swimmer, so what was different for today compared with every other day that he’d swum at that time of day.
Might it be that he was distracted by their words? Had he taken an extra risk in his swim than he might otherwise normally have done, if those words hadn’t been spoken?
Did she, Jennifer, cause this to happen today?
Elaine came to her side now, looking frightened. ‘Where’s you brother now?’ Jennifer asked.
In that moment, young Jack appeared holding a stranger’s hand. ‘Here’s your Mummy.’ She kindly said, as she left Jack with her, sharing an apologetic smile with Jennifer as she did.
For the moment, the mother in her kicked in and she walked away from David’s body, being slowly edged away by the medical people.
She shifted her thinking from thinking about apportioning blame, to the immediate needs of her children. There would be time for the self-recrimination in detail, later. For the blaming David for what he’d done to them as he left them. Or the blaming herself, of course.
There would be time to relive the final words they shared and always, but always, attached to that last shared moment with David alive, would be the inheritance of this white body on the beach, with no life left in it.
Their lives would go on – in some form at least – for the next few hours and days and as time moved right along, she would slowly recover outwardly, always recalling that she was involved, in ways she did not – and could not – ever know.
David had seen to that, in the manner of his leaving them.
The exercise – to write for exactly 30 minutes.