My wife died and then I sat around for six months trying to write a novel about loss. Nothing came, but I gained thirty pounds in the process. I kept it on for three years. It was not becoming. I was too poor to be fat. In the spring of my thirty-third year, I swam it all off and then some at the YMCA. When I could finally fit into my old shorts, I went to the beach and took off my shirt. It was the hottest June day on record. I might have thought it Armageddon but hell is icy cold, not scorching hot. So says Dante and he wrote the book.
I stood knee-deep in rolling sea foam, hands on hips, staring down at my washboard abs. I was in the best shape of my life. I thought so highly of myself that it caused my ears to pop. They rang like the Emergency Broadcast System. Only it wasn’t a test. It was an actual emergency. I felt a terrifying euphoria that for lack of a better word could only be described as heavenly. Good thing I was already an atheist, otherwise it might have scared the Jesus out of me.
Feeling so high and mighty wasn’t fair. I had no right. Her death had been a slow and painful one so I dove in and started stroking.
I crawled through the breaking surf and then butterflied towards the horizon. The ringing stopped but then came the whistles. I don’t believe in lifeguards. Sink or swim. Few have the incapacity to take such a cliché literally. I ignored the chirpy warnings and continued flapping towards the end of the world. I wanted to rattle myself. I wanted to feel a tiny bit terrified. Who was I to have been so healed? The guilt gnawed at my gut like morning hunger. I wanted to feed it, but the surface was too warm and pleasant. I dove deep with open eyes and searched for my favorite foods. Lobster rolls. Fried clams. Baked stuffed shrimp. There was nothing down there but icy darkness and a golf ball. I don’t play golf. It’s too expensive, but I slid the ball into my back pocket just because. It was white as a ghost and the size of her tumor.
I was a touch panicked upon resurfacing, which was just fine. I didn’t want to die per se. I only wanted to come close. I turned from the horizon and doggie-swam parallel to the shore. Two lifeguards were paddling toward me on oversized surfboards. They were still a way’s off. It was probable they’d get to me in time, but to ensure the nearest near-death experience possible, I took a theatrical breath and dove to the bottom. I stayed there until the emptiness in my lungs exceeded that of my stomach and the icy depths caused my teeth to chatter the tiniest story known to man, which only takes the longest breath to tell, which left me barely enough air to reach the surface.
I emerged with a gasp, wishing for the fatty warmth and buoyancy of my former self. I was too skinny for the chills of hell. If and when the lifeguards saved me, I would tell them that I did it for the story; that I am a godless man trying to write his wife into eternity.