LONG AND GRACEFUL • by Michael P. Boettcher Jr.

Trey looked out the windshield and saw a deserted boat ramp. He was confused as to why his mother had driven them here instead of to swim class. Trey wouldn’t have minded really, Violet was the one who loved to swim, but something was wrong. In the mirror, Trey could see his mother staring blankly out at the water. Violet looked as apprehensive as he felt. Their mother had been strange ever since they left the house. She had cried and muttered to herself the whole drive.

Violet struggled against her booster seat to be set free and Trey calmed her with a reassuring hand. Every muscle in his body was tense and eager to get him out of this car but he dared not move. Maybe his mother would just sit here until she snapped out of it or fell asleep or changed her mind about whatever she was planning.

Trey’s mind raced. She must have stopped taking her pills. He had heard her complain they made her feel strange. His father would say something like, “I know, baby, but it’s better than the way you can get without them.”

Trey had vague memories of nights where his mother would cry uncontrollably and then laugh hysterically off and on. He remembered being so scared; he would wet himself. He remembered watching his bedroom door in terror, hoping it would remain closed. After she got the pills, outside of some occasional nightmares those nights had been all but forgotten. He looked down at his shaking hands and tried to make himself be brave.

He reached down as slowly as he could to unlatch his buckle, never taking his eyes from the rearview mirror. With a soft snick his belt fell away. He reached over, his searching hand grasping Violet’s belt release when his mother’s eyes locked on his in the mirror. She let out a resigned sigh, and then stomped on the gas.

Trey floated there, one hand grasping Violet’s belt release, the other pressed into the ceiling. One excruciating instant later, he was ripped free of his tenuous moorings and hurled over the seats and into the front of the car. He smashed back first into the passenger side airbag, knocking the wind out of him. He tried in vain to draw air back into his lungs but he seemed to have forgotten how. He fell into the foot well and when he was finally able to pull air into his stubborn lungs a large gulp of icy, brackish water came along as well.

Violet began to scream as he climbed up into the passenger seat. His mother stared out the windshield and seemed unaware her own airbag had left her face bruised and bloody or that she sat up to her waist in murky water. Violet was still struggling against the booster seat. Trey dove into the back and fought her hands away from the release so he could free her. She seemed unhurt and immediately started tearing at the door.

Trey watched her and had two simultaneous realizations. The doors and windows wouldn’t open until the car was completely full of water. Also, with the child safety locks engaged, they needed to go out the front doors. She was still struggling with the door and he had to yell at her and smack her head to get her to look at him.

“We have to wait until the car is all the way full, then we have to go out the front,” he said.

Violet just looked at him and nodded. Trey never ceased to be amazed at the power of a big brother. The car was sinking nose down. His mother was already up to her neck. As the car sank and everything began to get quiet, Trey could hear his mother softly humming. It sounded vaguely familiar, a lullaby he thought, but before he could identify the song the water rose over her head and there was silence. He wanted to get her up into the rapidly shrinking air pocket but he dare not leave Violet. They had their faces pressed up against the back window and the water was rising up over their shoulders.

“This is it, Violet; big breath.”

The water rose over them. The car leveled as it settled onto the bottom. He swam up into the front seat and unlocked the door. He dug his feet into the passenger seat and pushed with his shoulder until the door began to open enough that they could escape. His lungs were already screaming at him to breathe and he had to fight the urge to swim out. He turned and found Violet there behind him waiting with a panicked expression on her face. He grabbed her arm, intending to pull her out the partially open door with him, but couldn’t budge her. He pulled futilely, until he saw why. His mother, still staring blankly out the windshield, had an arm about Violet’s waist and was holding her in place.

Trey tried to pull her arm away from Violet but she was too strong. With his arms around his sister, he kicked his mother as hard as he could in the face. Violet came free and he pushed her out the open door. His mother appeared unconscious, probably drowning. He wanted to save her, pull her out with him, but his air was depleted. He felt on the verge of passing out. Weakly he pulled himself toward the opening. Just as his head cleared the door frame and he saw the surface rippling impossibly far above, he was yanked by his ankle, back into the car and into his mother’s embrace. She held him tight and with his head near her chest; he thought he could feel her humming. He had nothing left.

Trey turned his head to see Violet through the windshield. She was swimming up towards the distant daylight. Her long and graceful strokes were beautiful.


Michael P. Boettcher Jr. is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School. He is currently stationed in Norfolk, VA where he flies helicopters for the Navy. He is married with two children. He writes part time and is an active member of critique groups and online critique forums.


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 average 5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Hats off to anyone who can write so effectively about mental illness and children being victims. This one gave me the shivers and will stay with me a long time.

    One sentence had me scratching my head and took me out of the story a bit. “Trey never ceased to be amazed at the power of a big brother.” This had me wondering where the big brother was, if there were three kids in the car, or if Violet was a boy. Maybe ‘…of being a big brother’ would work better, or maybe I’m a careless reader.

    Oh, and I’m not sure the name ‘Trey’ was the wisest choice. Not the most familiar of names in the UK, and I misread it once or twice as ‘they’.

    Before the pumelling starts, I’ve got picky because Michael’s bio mentions critique groups, so I reckon he’s up for some constructive criticism. I’m leaning towards a four or five for this story.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Hats off to anyone who can write so effectively about mental illness and children being victims. This one gave me the shivers and will stay with me a long time.

    One sentence had me scratching my head and took me out of the story a bit. “Trey never ceased to be amazed at the power of a big brother.” This had me wondering where the big brother was, if there were three kids in the car, or if Violet was a boy. Maybe ‘…of being a big brother’ would work better, or maybe I’m a careless reader.

    Oh, and I’m not sure the name ‘Trey’ was the wisest choice. Not the most familiar of names in the UK, and I misread it once or twice as ‘they’.

    Before the pumelling starts, I’ve got picky because Michael’s bio mentions critique groups, so I reckon he’s up for some constructive criticism. I’m leaning towards a four or five for this story.

  • The writing was great, and the scene was described with perfection . . .but what’s the point really?

    This is basically a reenactment of the Susan Smith disaster, and honestly, as well as this story was constructed, I didn’t enjoy a second of it. It has all the redeeming qualities of Leaving Las Vegas; beautifully crafted but a burden to experience. That contrast between talent and finished product is preventing me from voting. However, I do thank you for sharing.

    • S Conroy

      Interesting comment. Don’t think I agree, but it’s certainly something to think about.

  • The writing was great, and the scene was described with perfection . . .but what’s the point really?

    This is basically a reenactment of the Susan Smith disaster, and honestly, as well as this story was constructed, I didn’t enjoy a second of it. It has all the redeeming qualities of Leaving Las Vegas; beautifully crafted but a burden to experience. That contrast between talent and finished product is preventing me from voting. However, I do thank you for sharing.

    • S Conroy

      Interesting comment. Don’t think I agree, but it’s certainly something to think about.

  • Ramon Rozas III

    I thought this was a very powerful piece.

  • Ramon Rozas III

    I thought this was a very powerful piece.

  • S Conroy

    Agree with the others. Powerful is a good word for this.

  • S Conroy

    Agree with the others. Powerful is a good word for this.

  • MPmcgurty

    I often don’t comment on stories that deal with children being harmed or murdered, because I’ve only seen it done well once or twice, and I don’t think ever in flash. Scott Harker’s phrase – “contrast between talent and finished product” – was so perfect, though. The writing is fine, but this read like an excerpt out of a book, a section based on all the interesting revelation preceding it. I’m having trouble figuring out how it was powerful to others when it’s not much more than a one-dimensional action sequence. The last paragraph tells me that the author is capable of more (even though I had trouble reconciling a booster-seat baby with long and graceful strokes).

    I also had trouble buying how long Violet could hold her breath in that situation.

    I’d like to see this author dig way down and really bring his characters to life. Hope we see him here again soon.

    • Carl Steiger

      Now I’m scared to read the thing. (Yes, I skipped down to the comments first.) In general, I just don’t go for “stories that deal with children being harmed or murdered.” Should I go ahead and read it or not?

      • MPmcgurty

        That’s hard to answer for someone else. I think if you start reading it, you will know pretty quickly whether to continue.

  • MPmcgurty

    I often don’t comment on stories that deal with children being harmed or murdered, because I’ve only seen it done well once or twice, and I don’t think ever in flash. Scott Harker’s phrase – “contrast between talent and finished product” – was so perfect, though. The writing is fine, but this read like an excerpt out of a book, a section based on all the interesting revelation preceding it. I’m having trouble figuring out how it was powerful to others when it’s not much more than a one-dimensional action sequence. The last paragraph tells me that the author is capable of more (even though I had trouble reconciling a booster-seat baby with long and graceful strokes).

    I also had trouble buying how long Violet could hold her breath in that situation.

    I’d like to see this author dig way down and really bring his characters to life. Hope we see him here again soon.

    • Carl Steiger

      Now I’m scared to read the thing. (Yes, I skipped down to the comments first.) In general, I just don’t go for “stories that deal with children being harmed or murdered.” Should I go ahead and read it or not?

      • MPmcgurty

        That’s hard to answer for someone else. I think if you start reading it, you will know pretty quickly whether to continue.

  • Chinwillow

    I’m not really on board with this story. Although the writing was sound and quite good, and yes, it did hold my interest throughout, but I had issues with believe ability. I wondered how old the ‘big’brother was and if a child would readily have that survival info to let the car fill up with water first, in order to open the doors. If he were an older child I would imagine him fighting his mother’s intention and a toddler in a child seat I doubt would swim that well …’long and graceful’. It was troublesome that his mother recovered well enough to hold him so tightly as to drown him when she herself was kicked in the face and obviously was not holding her breath. If she wanted to die, why hold breath? Anyway, this was a disturbing piece and chilling to say the least,.More “Irish” in my coffee to shake this one off! lol”
    ps…and another thing that bothers me, as long as I’m on a rant here, is that Violets future looks pretty damn bleak as here is a toddler, swimming all alone, panicky, in a deserted lake in the middle of no where…. agggg…. more whiskey please!.

  • Chinwillow

    I’m not really on board with this story. Although the writing was sound and quite good, and yes, it did hold my interest throughout, but I had issues with believe ability. I wondered how old the ‘big’brother was and if a child would readily have that survival info to let the car fill up with water first, in order to open the doors. If he were an older child I would imagine him fighting his mother’s intention and a toddler in a child seat I doubt would swim that well …’long and graceful’. It was troublesome that his mother recovered well enough to hold him so tightly as to drown him when she herself was kicked in the face and obviously was not holding her breath. If she wanted to die, why hold breath? Anyway, this was a disturbing piece and chilling to say the least,.More “Irish” in my coffee to shake this one off! lol”
    ps…and another thing that bothers me, as long as I’m on a rant here, is that Violets future looks pretty damn bleak as here is a toddler, swimming all alone, panicky, in a deserted lake in the middle of no where…. agggg…. more whiskey please!.

  • Michael Boettcher

    I appreciate all of the comments. Thank you all for reading my story. I’ve been thinking about the idea of survivor’s guilt. Especially after reading about this story. http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2011/05/01/nfl-star-ray-lewis-helps-ny-boy-after-moms-suicide-plunge/
    I thought about how a child in this situation might wish he had died a hero rather than become a lone survivor. The believability issue is one I gave a good deal of consideration. I am always surprised with the things kids know and are capable of. My two year old shocks me daily with the things that come out of her mouth. We adults tend to underestimate them. Still the point is well taken and I do think these children are somewhat exceptional. I’m okay with that. I don’t mind walking that line. Hopefully, it doesn’t stretch the suspension of disbelief too far for most readers.

  • Netty net

    I picture she driving her car to drown her boys. excellent story of mental illness.

  • Netty net

    I picture she driving her car to drown her boys. excellent story of mental illness.

  • S Conroy

    I’ve happened on this story again and it is just as heart-wrenching second time round. Some of the comments got me thinking – specifically the ones along the lines of ‘clearly talented but why would you write such a story?’ I imagine the same question could be asked about the war in Syria. Why show such awful pictures?
    For me the answer is that it depicts life as it is for some people, some stories are not happily ever afterwards and in my opinion these stories deserve our attention, too.
    Personally I identified with the perspective of a child of a parent with mental illness. I found the mother’s catatonic lack of feeling extremely well depicted, too close for comfort in fact, and was heart-broken that the boy did not get away, but at the same time felt relief that this child was given a voice as the narrator of the story.