Inspired by an incident that occurred in June 2005 when a 15-year-old (referred to here as Z) drowned in a reservoir while swimming, and the heartfelt comments of his friend about the unfortunate event. This is my imagined story of the two of them — one of regret and utter sorrow, and perhaps of unsaid promises.
M/M slash implied.
The Final Rhapsody
There are two tragedies in life.
One is not get your heart's desire. The other is to get it.
— George Bernard Shaw
His feet padded against the wet rocks, coming closer and closer. I smiled to myself, pretended not to. I expected his hand to clap upon my shoulder, but all that came was a poke in the back.
"Did that hurt?" Z laughed, flipping his fishing pole to his other hand, and sitting down beside me. "I didn't know you would come down here so early."
I shrugged. "Just felt that the harvest would be good today," I replied.
Z fed the bait to the hook, pulled his arm back, and swung the rod forward. The line unreeled itself, soaring a distance over the surface of the water, before the hook struck the water.
"Nice one, pro," I said easily, calmly pushing my palm against the edge of the rock, dangling my legs freely over the surface of the water as I waited for my own catch.
Of all the possible spots to fish, this was our favourite — the other places along the shore were either too shallow or too frequented by people. Z was the one who found the well-hidden track that led to this small clearing a distance away from the crowds — here, the rocks were firm, the waters deep, and the fish aplenty. And it had become our preferred hideout ever since then.
Z peered into my net as he waited. "You've got . . . two already?" he asked, almost incredulously.
I pretended to take mild offence in his words. "Why not?"
Z laughed again. "Just joking! And anyway —" He stopped the mocking and stared at me, his raven eyes practically boring through mine. "You just don't seem like the angler type, since you're, after all . . ."
I looked back at him with equal boldness, not backing a single inch. "Oh really?" I asked, noting the slight twitching of the line of his rod and deciding not to say anything about it. "What makes you think I can never catch more than you do?"
Z flashed a mysterious smile. "We shall see," he said. But the smile faded right after his last syllable; he whipped around and tried to reel his line in, but when it rose from the waters there was nothing on the hook — not even the bait.
He seemed to be running through all the possible verbal expletives in his mind. I merely chortled at him.
"Pride, my friend," I advised, very earnestly. "Don't let it take advantage of you again, understand?"
For a short moment Z sulked, but eventually returned to his upbeat self again. "There's always your fish we can share," he said merrily.
– – –
The rest of the day we spent patiently waiting — him next to me, me beside him, not saying very much to each other. There were so many unspoken words between us, yet none of them were ever voiced.
In the soft, smooth silence of the sea and sky that enclosed us we listened — to nothing, and everything — as the warm waters gradually rose and gently lapped at our toes. His feet brushed against mine — a touch of comfort in our peaceful haven, rippling the stillness deep inside us, initiating our yearning for something more.
I turned to him, and his dark eyes gazed into mine, curious, concerned. I opened my mouth to speak, almost leaning over to him, almost embracing him, almost carrying us away into another rapture. But I merely shook my head, turned away, and lost myself in the bleak tranquillity of the waters stretching ahead. And there I stayed, solitary as one.
– – –
"This is good."
"Of course it's good," I said matter-of-factly, picking off the charred parts of our grilled dinner. "I was the one who caught all that."
Z sighed. "How was I to know they would hate me so much today?" he complained. He pretended to sulk while munching on his fish — my catch. "I didn't even get a single one! And I always come back with at least five!"
I smiled to myself. "Well, I take it that my skills are surpassing yours already."
"You'd better not." Z eyed at me, eyes glinting. "How about a marathon session then? We'll fish overnight and see who fills the basket first. Or wait till you decide to give up."
"I don't admit defeat that easily, you know," I laughed, finishing the last of my share and tossing the bones into the fire; it crackled with appreciation. "And anyway the tide's too low to really fish properly."
"A bunch of excuses," Z accused, laughing gleefully. "Loser. You're just scared you're running out of your beginner's luck, aren't you?" He stood up and stretched, his silhouette stark against the waxing moon. Then he went a little further down the beach, and lay down on the drying sand. His hands crossed at the back of his head as he stared at the darkness above. "There's always next week, you know," he called out, helpfully. "The offer's still on."
I made my way over and sat next to him. "I like fishing as it is," I mused, leaning back and letting my head touch the firm sand. "I don't want it to become a stupid contest over trivial things."
There was a momentary pause. "So you're saying I'm stupid, then?"
Z snorted in mock disdain.
But as I smirked — thinking that I had succeeded in silencing him for once — a small speck decided to pay a visit to my eye. I rubbed my eye furiously, cursing softly as the grain stubbornly went deeper instead.
Z turned to me. "What? Sand in your eye?"
"I think so," I muttered, rubbing even harder.
Z pulled my hand away from my face. "You're making it worse," he chided, propping himself up on one elbow. "Don't move — I'll get it out. Where is it?"
I pointed to my left eye; he leaned over and peered into it, frowning as he supported himself with his other hand on my right.
"What are you trying to do?" I asked hesitantly, trying to squirm away. Yet somehow I was grateful that the moon was doing a much better job at masking my embarrassment than sunlight did. "What if — what if someone sees us and gets the wrong —"
"I said don't move. I know how sickening it can get when things get into your eye like that. I'll blow it out for you."
And he did.
– – –
It was a gentle caress on my skin, almost like a summer breeze, as his breath warmed my face, and faded as quickly as it had come. He drew away from me, but his eyes were still fixed on mine, as if he expected me to say something. But I didn't.
"Is it out already?" he asked, ever so softly.
But still I did not answer. Instead I lost myself in those deep, dark eyes of his, wondering vaguely what was going on behind them. As though unconvinced that the grain of sand had escaped, he leaned down again, but this time I closed my eyes, breathing very tightly, afraid I would lose him — his touch — if I moved too much.
I did not feel his warmth against my eye, but something brushed against my lips, even more gently than his whisper earlier. His fingers trailed down the side of my face, resting on my cheekbone; his thumb stroked my left eyelid, soothing the minute pain, again and again. He wasn't kissing me — the touch was too light, too soft to be considered one — and I did not try to do anything back.
I did not want it to end.
Inside, I was brimming with emotions, all of them unsaid and unheard, and my lips quivered slightly. I drew in a small breath, trying to raise a hand, to touch him back, to return his favour.
But I . . .
Behind my closed eyes I felt my tears slowly gather — but I dared not open them to look at him, and neither did I have the courage to cry.
But I'm not good enough for you, I wept.
"No," he whispered, almost inaudibly, almost in denial. His lips left mine, a soft coolness in their wake, as they trailed their way slowly to my ear, where he kissed me definitely. "That's not true . . ."
His thumb reached up to touch the growing wetness at the corner of my eye, and brushed it away. A small shuddering sob escaped my throat just then, and his hands drew away from me, before slipping down to the back of my neck. I felt his fingers skitter across my skin, tracing forward before meeting just below my chin.
He retreated, and lay down beside me once more. But his hand gently pushed me towards him, and my head unknowingly rested against his arm. I wept again, but he did not say anything more, and did not do anything more. We fell asleep, next to each other, under the stars of night, as one.
– – –
I woke up to the warm lapping of water at my toes. My fingers curled on the sand, and I opened my eyes to the rising sun at the distance. Hesitantly, I sat up and looked around: Z was further inland, poking at the dying fire with a dried branch. He raised his head just then, peering at me through the film of smoke, and our eyes locked for a short moment.
He did not say anything, and merely tilted his head with a small smile.
I turned away, mind racing, and hastily ran a hand over my eyes — only to find traces of a drying wetness in them. "It's the sea spray," I muttered to myself. I did not hasten to decide whether Z's smile was knowing or purely sleepy, and instead stood up and walked over to him.
"Morning," he chirped casually, throwing the twig into the stack of blackened wood.
I murmured a greeting in reply, and sat down beside him. "You want to go back already?" I asked, carefully.
Z laughed. "You've kidding, right? No way am I returning so soon! Not when the weather's so fine today . . ." He stretched his arms towards the brightening sky, and inhaled the morning air deeply. "Actually I was hoping we could go down there for a morning dip, you know?"
"You mean swimming?"
He relaxed his shoulders and let out a long breath, then gave me a faint smile. "And especially since we're already here and all that . . . I don't fancy another round of fishing either — I'm out of bait already." He frowned slightly. "Those damned fish."
I said nothing, for I didn't want to peeve him about how I'd managed to catch more than he did the day before, or to remind him of what happened last night — whether they actually happened or not. I wasn't sure.
"Well then," I said lightly, getting up and brushing the sand off my hands. "We'll jump in from the usual place — last one into the water is a blockhead!"
"That's unfair!" Z yelled behind me, laughing, suddenly bursting with life. I heard him jumping up and running as well, and then his voice, "But downright spontaneous! You're amazing, you!"
And we both sped towards the hidden clearing, swerving at such a sharp angle that I nearly lost my footing. The delay was more than enough for Z to overtake me, and with a triumphant yell and he propelled himself off the outcrop of rock. He arced gracefully over the water, before diving into it with a perfect splash.
I leapt in after him, and forced myself up to the surface of the water, breaking through and gasping for air. Z hovered beside me, his dark hair smoothly run back over his head, and his eyes flashing with glee.
"And I still had time to take off my shirt too, blockhead," he laughed, projecting a wall of water into my face and sending me spluttering.
"Just shut it, will you?" I snapped back, flushing furiously and splashing at him as well. "You win. Now stop bothering me."
Z clicked his tongue softly as he swam to catch up with me; I was all too aware of how the water shuddered with every move that he made. "Touchy. Are you mad already?" he asked softly, playfully. "And weren't you the one who challenged me in the first place?"
"I said stop bothering me!" I cried. I tried to swim further away, but before I could he grabbed my arm and pulled me backwards towards him. Then he forced his other hand onto my head, and pushed it hard into the water.
I saw nothing before my eyes but bleeding colours of grey and white and blue — and his face distorted above the surface, then clear once more as he dived into the water as well. I flailed my arms and legs in protest and lack of air, and his arm stretched outwards towards mine.
But instead of pulling me up, he jerked my body towards his with a pull. His other arm grasped me by my bare waist as my shirt bloated in the water — and his lips drove away all my remaining breath as they captured mine.
– – –
We broke free of the water and all I tasted was not the cool air of morning, but him — fresh, and salty, and warm, seeping into me and replenishing what air I lacked with what he could offer. He kept me locked in his embrace, pushed my head up with a hand at the back of my neck, and delved deeper into me, giving me nothing his silent, growing warmth that threatened to overcome me. I did not want to sink down — I did not want to leave him — but his legs entwined with mine, and there we stayed, safe at the boundary where the water ended and the air began, lost in each other, in a dream come true.
But then I felt my tears fall, and I drew in my breath sharply, only to find my lips breaking away with his. Deep inside I cried for his return, but all he did was to hold me closer to him, his hands guiding my arms to the small of his neck, locking my legs around his, as he held me tightly, and buried his face into my shoulder.
"I meant to tell you this . . ." I heard him whisper, very softly. I shuddered at his breaths that warmed my skin with every word he spoke. "But I didn't have a chance to . . . I didn't know how to . . ."
Was that not what I wanted to hear all this while? Was that not what I wanted him to say to me all this while?
Please don't tell me this is all a dream, I pleaded silently.
"No," he said faintly, leaning back to face me. His raven eyes glistening in the pale sunlight, and all I could do was blink at him, not saying a word. I almost feared that his image would shatter, and vanish right before my eyes — but it didn't.
"I always thought you just wanted things to stay the way they are," he went on quietly, running his hand through my hair, stroking my face, the way it once did — the way I thought it once did — at a seashore on a star-strewn night. "But I don't want to lie to you . . . I don't want to keep it from you any further . . ."
I shut my eyes, letting my tears fall freely, down and down, and all I heard then was his pained whisper.
". . . I love you."
And that promise he sealed with another bonding, as he kissed me tenderly once more — melting my heart into his, merging my tears into his, sharing with me all that he could have offered, all that I could have accepted, without a hint of holding back, to anything at all.
That was all I wanted. That was all that I ever wanted. I did not know — did not want to know — if it was real, or if I merely conceived them all. If his feelings — his gestures — were nothing but fragments of my imagination, then I only wished for them to end at the sweetest note, the swan song to a beautiful hope, before sinking back to reality.
I love you too, I whispered to him through my tears.
But too soon I felt his legs slip away from mine, and his grip loosened from around my body. With a choked cry he broke apart from me; I desperately tried to pull him back, but could not do anything to the unfathomable force that was drawing him further and further away from the shore — away from me — towards the centre of the lake.
Don't go, I sobbed to him, wretchedly, as the warm safety of him faded away, only to be replaced by a flood of icy unknown. But he shook his head, his eyes shimmering with unshed tears, as he drifted away — no — I thrashed at the water that was freezing my body without his touch, but I was as if chained to the bottom of the lake with an invisible rope — trapped — and I advanced no more.
– – –
"Z! come back!" I cried.
He did not seem to have heard me, for he continued moving — swimming? — towards the murky far reaches of the water, until he was just a small speck bobbing in the distance.
The silence that enveloped the air was deafening — deathly — for no more did I hear the singing of the morning birds, or the sound of water lapping around my shoulders.
"I'm not feeling too good about this, Z," I muttered, more to myself than to him, as I made my way towards him. My hands sliced through the smooth water, and I grew disturbed by the familiar silver flashes of fish under its surface.
"Z!" I called again anxiously. I stopped swimming and scanned the lake once more, then froze at what I saw.
Z's arms were flailing, his neck stretched as his head tilted up high, an unmistakable look of terror evident in his eyes as he struggled at the heart of the sudden turbulence that raked the dark waters around him.
"Z!" I yelled, swimming quickly through the water to get to him. "What . . . what's happening?" I stammered, when I finally reached him. I grabbed his wrists and tried to pull him up and away from the water, but something — something very vaguely familiar — held him back.
And he stopped struggling the moment my fingers wrapped around his hands.
"It's okay, Z," I tried to assure him as calmly as I could, helping to keep his face that was so close to the surface, as high as possible. "You'll be fine. I'll . . . I'll see what's . . . what's pulling you down . . ."
But as I talked to him he seemed to be sinking down further and further, and his face went underwater again. With a cry of frustration I yanked his head upwards again, and he gave a small gasp. No, I thought I heard him say, but I merely dived down, to release him from his bondage.
In the unlit depths of the water I felt my way around blindly; at last my hands closed upon a tangle of sharp material, and I tugged violently at it. To my dismay it refused to come off, and all my yanking merely caused Z to sink once more, down and down.
I kicked up to the surface again, breaking into a coughing fit and gasping for air, suddenly feeling the release of the ghostly hands that seemed to have coiled themselves around my neck when I was underwater. "It . . ." I wheezed to Z, "it's a broken net — it's trapped your ankle . . . but I can't — I can't —"
With one last effort Z lunged for the surface again, but this time grabbing my wrists, breathing in agony. I opened my mouth to speak — and saw only his wide, dilated eyes, staring into me, staring through me.
And in those eyes I saw my reflection, his fate, in eternal capture — not unlike the eyes of all those underwater creatures we had captured all this while: reluctant, horrified, and filled with nothing but unspoken words and precious memories, flashing and exploding before their eyes in one painful instant, in a last promise before departing — a last unspoken promise of his that echoed deep inside my mind.
He let go of my hands; at that same instant a tall crest swept into us and carried me off with it. "Z!" I shouted, and tried to swim back to him. But the water merely pushed me back further — and I saw his head for the final time, before it submerged into the depths of the waters, and never to rise again.
– – –
No! I cried brokenly. Let him go! Let him go!
With all my remaining strength I thrust an arm forward, but instead my hand closed upon the nothingness of the air. The waves hummed a silent etude, and lulled me to a temporary slumber. I felt them carry me towards the shore, towards safety, and reality, and finally I fell away into unconsciousness.
– – –
Something pricked at my eyes; wistfully I opened them, only to see the blinding light from the sun shining down onto my face.
And I listened — the occasional callings of the birds in the distance, the crashing of foam onto sand, nothing more, nothing less. The tempest had passed.
I sat up abruptly, searching for a presence that I felt so unfamiliar without. "Z?" I whispered softly, expecting his smile, expecting his voice.
They never arrived.
A silver of light glinted at my chest in the sunlight, and I gazed down at it. There, strung by a single fishing line that had somehow found its way around my neck — was a miniature silver hook, its harpoon-like end tipped with a bead of pale grey glass.
And then it shimmered unsteadily before my eyes, as I held it gingerly — remembering the time he crafted it in school, the time he added the golden touch to it with the sphere, the time it disappeared into his shirt and left only a sheer line peeking out, the time —
— the time he slipped it on me, in that dream I thought never took place, in that dream I thought never came true.
I closed my palm tightly around the unexpected gift and held it to my lips, trembling even in the warmth of the sun up high. And into it I wept, lamenting the fulfilment of my selfish dream — a dream which I would have kept to myself, unreciprocated, if I ever knew what the price was. But it was too late, too late — for I had wished, and it had come true.