• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 01
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She Had Thought The Water Was Shallow Here

They have been together almost 9 years. Feodora occasionally feels a very specific sadness, mulling over how little she knows of his childhood. The weeks approaching his birthday always reignite her need to picture the man she loves as a little boy. Red-cheeked against early November chill. Bundled in a too-big scarf. Crunching and gumming at a toffee apple. Dark wide eyes filled with the spitting of sparklers. Silhouetted against the heat of Roman Candles, colours catching in the black gloss of his hair.

Marcus rarely speaks about his life before her. Everything before the evening at the Olympic pool is blurry; her unquestioning love has brought him into focus, out of the photographic stop bath. She remembers treading water, entranced, watching him glide through the lane next to her.

She knows he was born here, in the east. She doesn’t know how far it was from the little chunk of east they share now, on the 13th floor, suspended in so much noise.

Every year, she makes the same tired joke. “It was hard work arranging firework displays up and down the country to celebrate your birth, but I managed it.” Every year, he responds by kissing her, accepting a mug of mulled cider with clumsy gloved hands. They always attend the same display in the same park. A place ringed by the homes of her friends. He doesn’t have many, has largely taken hers as his own. They don’t mind, and neither does she. They say he is quiet, but kind. So unlike the over-beered and overbearing boys of her younger days.

Normally, one of the friends would host a dinner. Roasting tins, red wine, sticky attempt at a birthday cake. This year they are coy, exchanging glances as he suggests the two of them walk home. It is cold, but not unbearably so. Clouds of their breath blend into the sour sparkler smoke.


She Had Thought The Water Was Shallow Here

He wants to go along the canal, which seems a risky choice this time of night. Her chest suddenly constricts as she pictures him dropping to one knee. The glare of a precious stone in the autumn darkness.

As they move further up the black ribbon of water, the liquid laughter of young families melts away into other wet sounds. Quieter and harder to place. They hold hands, and she says nothing, feeling the rigidity in his fingers. He is building up to something.

They round a corner, and are confronted with a knot of colourful metal. It floats, glowing under the half-light of a street lamp. Burnt orange, snowdrift blue, lilac, hot pink, acid green.

“I grew up on this tiny little island,” he says abruptly. She doesn’t know how to respond. Whether or not to laugh. She just stares as he kicks off heavy boots, carefully places scarf and gloves aside.

She had thought the water was shallow here. A gasp escapes her as she watches the threadbare heels of his water-dark socks dip up, then kick into hidden depths.