Paul could say his name twenty three times underwater before he was forced to come up for air. The record had stood at sixteen for so long; hours of enamel-drumming, spongy-fingered training had clearly paid off.

Bella had only ever reached fourteen. But then, she had always insisted on including middle names.

Their mother had joked that the two of them had been obsessed with water, even as babies. She would explain to her dinner-party guests, over the prawn cocktail and the pineapple-stubbled ham, that the twins had to be wrestled from the baptismal font and nothing had changed since! Bella and Paul, Pisces you know, born under a water sign: it was meant to be! You could always hear the exclamation marks when she spoke, Paul remembered, issuing from the parenthesis of her lips. She was always smiling back then, before the accident. Their father would tut whenever his wife said such things, adding drily in his Professor’s voice that the twins’ love of water was a Mere Puerile Recollection of the Womb. Neither twin understood what this meant, but chanted ‘womb womb womb’ all summer. It sounded like your pulse underwater.

Paul’s reflection distended in the bath taps, a pale, hairy wobble of colour stretching across the chrome. His hair was thinning now, in the template of his father’s, slicked into an ‘M’ over his forehead. He closed his eyes.

When he had seen Bella in the weir that evening twenty years ago today, he had watched from the bank just to see what the water would do next.

At school, Paul and Bella got through six blue crayons a term in Geography. Geography was their favourite lesson, where they learnt spell-words like manatee and Sargasso. Learnt that all water leads to the ocean.

Paul remembered their shared childhood bath-times, with Bella play-acting a mermaid, he Jacques Cousteau. They were the crew of the Stingray; they were pearl-fishers and pirates until their faces went rubbery and eyelashes knitted together with droplets. Then they traced soapsuds down their bodies and hugged each other dry.

Twenty years ago today, Paul had watched as the weeds threaded in her hair, the curdling wash creaming around her. She was a mermaid, and he had watched.

The dreams had hurt him after that. Every night for twenty years. Frogs and dolphins and oars and pools. Lily pads in scaly crusts, bobbing, salt, 90% of us is water; bottle it, and it came out of your eyes, it could buoy you up and drag you down, it could slake, it could drown.

He tugged the plug-chain free. All water leads to the ocean. Peacock-skinned bubbles peeled from his lips.

Paul screamed down the plug-hole that he was sorry.



Twickenham, United Kingdom

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