HEARTBROKEN • by Michael Croban

I want to swim in the ocean with her. But I can’t.

She’s sitting in my lap scrolling through the images of her mother and me. The computer screen is a useless time machine that can’t change the past. The arrow of time goes only one way – forward. So must I. It’s been ages since I tried to look at those images. Maybe it will be easier seeing them through her eyes. She clicks on the first picture; it sends shivers down my spine.

Her mother is smiling in the photograph. Motionless waves forever rising behind her. I took that photo on our honeymoon. I remember the exact moment. I remember vividly. I can almost smell the salt in the air.

“Daddy, why is the water so blue?” she asks.

It’s the way it’s supposed to be, I want to say. But I don’t. I’m silent. She keeps scrolling. Years pass one by one in a second. She pauses again. Her mother is swimming with dolphins. It’s not as beautiful as it sounds. She’s navigating her way through the plastic debris.

“Dad, what’s that?” She points with her tiny finger at the screen.

“It’s a dolphin.”

“Can I swim with a dolphin?” she asks.

“No, baby. They are long gone.”

My answer seems to satisfy her. She keeps scrolling. There are only a few photographs left; she stops at the last one. It’s me holding her in my arms. She’s just a baby. It’s the same spot as in the first picture. There are no waves rising anymore. The ocean behind us is calm and dark. Rain clouds linger above. I look old.

I close my eyes for a second as she stares at the picture on the screen in silence. My mind turns into a time machine. It’s not as accurate as a computer, and the pictures aren’t as clear, but it can take me further into the past, much further than the pictures on the screen ever could.

I remember. Us. Sitting in a cafe. It’s our first date. She tells me she’s a marine biologist. A plethora of information comes out of her, flooding me with facts about the impending annihilation of our planet. Things I should have known, but I didn’t. She tells me she is there, “in the field,” every day, saving the animals and cleaning the ocean with her own bare hands, risking her life, and no one even knows. No one cares.

“It’s our mother’s womb, it’s where we came from,” she says, her eyes glowing with determination. “We must act. Now!” I’m in awe, I feel as though I’m sitting across from Wonder Woman.

“Did you know they found plastic at the bottom of the Mariana Trench? Can you even fathom what I’m saying?” Her anger is tangible. It’s mesmerizing.

“If you could, somehow, turn Mount Everest upside down and dive it into the ocean you’d still have almost two miles to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench. We managed to pollute even the most remote and desolate place on the planet.” I sit in silence. Her piercing eyes stare at me, waiting for some kind of response.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” I say finally, sounding like an idiot.

“Of course you can, everyone can. You say you have writer’s block. There’s your book! Write about it; be an instigator of change.” She’s dead serious.

I try to ease the tension. “I doubt it would be a bestseller,” I say, forcing a smile. It works, she smiles back.

“Okay, maybe it’s too much for a first date, I know I can be too intense,” she says nervously.

“No shit!” I spit out the words. Seconds of silence ensue, and then we both burst into laughter. I remember knowing right then and there I’d just met the woman of my life.

Without her, it’s always autumn; rains never stop.

“Dad, don’t sleep,” a tiny voice startles me, instantly transporting me into the present. I open my eyes. My daughter wiggles in my lap. She seems angry, but she isn’t. I know. She just wants my full attention.

“I’m not sleeping. I was just… thinking.”

“Dad, what was Mom like?” she asks. I try to speak but words are stuck in my throat. It seems they can’t get out. I feel like I’m suffocating. I swallow.

“She wanted to save the world,” I say finally, my voice shaking. She doesn’t notice.

“I want to save the world too! Just like Mom.” She’s excited.

“You’ll get your chance,” I whisper to myself as my gaze drifts to the bookshelf above the computer. There in the middle stands The Last Mermaid. It took me years to write it. I was right; it wasn’t a bestseller. Nobody likes an unhappy ending. She only had enough time to read the first few chapters; she praised the story but not the fact that she was the main character.

My daughter hops off my lap and leaves the room giggling. She’s okay. Unaffected by what she saw; the past is an unknown country to her. The time has come for me to face my demons. I turn the screen off and close my eyes again. I’m drifting. This time I let the waves carry me further away from the shore. I dive. Deeper and deeper. The blue nothingness swallows me. Her mother — she is there, like a dolphin trapped in the net, waiting for me to come and save her. I’m trying to say something, but she can’t hear me — no one can speak underwater. I cry without a sound. My tears become a part of the endless ocean. Ocean of silence.

Something pulls me further away from her. Drifting again. With the corner of my eye, I see her in the distance. The net has been cut.

The dolphin is set free.

I open my eyes and look through the window. It has stopped raining. I sigh with relief.

Finally.


Michael Croban hails from Croatia. He is a former music editor and a radio personality. He still dreams about living underwater, somewhere in the Mariana Trench, far away from the human animals. Themes that he tries to incorporate into his stories are those of faith or the lack of it, life, death, and everything in between.


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