Drowning on Dry Land: Chapter One

When something really bad happens, everything in your life gets divided into two distinct parts: before it happened and afterwards. Everything is suddenly defined in terms of it. You remember where you were just before, compared with where you are now. You remember how you felt before, as opposed to how you feel now. And worst of all, you remember who you were before.

And then, of course, there is the afterwards. That’s the really hard part.

For twenty-one-year-old Peter Williams the before was North Bondi: he was still drunk having just seen the first sunrise of the New Year break over the Australian surf and was amazed that he wasn’t feeling worse given the amount that he’d had to drink last night. He’d met up with a group of fellow back-packing Brits and they had partied like the world was about to end, just like everyone else here at Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Now they were sitting on the warm golden sand waiting for the new day to break gloriously around them because, of course, the world was not about to end or so Peter thought.

Some people had already crashed out, lying prostrate and dead to the new year, safe in the knowledge that it would still be there when they awoke. A couple were kissing fully clothed in the waves, making drunken promises to each other for the twelve months ahead; and behind him Pete could hear the Bondi lifeguards opening up the tower almost two hours earlier than usual in anticipation of one of the busiest days the beach would see. It was still only five-thirty in the morning.

Before.

“Happy New Year!” Pete whispered to the sun, slowly climbing above the horizon and through the lager haze it seemed that just then, for that brief moment, the world was held in perfect balance.

Before.

Then his phone rang.

It took him a while to realise it was his phone that was ringing, and then an equally long time to locate it in the pocket of his boardshorts. He looked at the caller i.d. It said simply HOME. But home was over ten-thousand miles away. He tried to calculate the time difference as he pressed ‘answer’.

“Hey, Happy New Year!” he laughed.

“Happy New Year,” came the voice at the other end.

It was Rick, his youngest brother. He sounded small and far away, but then being on the other side of the world will do that to you. Rick bit down on his lip. He’d said that without thinking, an automatic response. He took a deep quivering breath.

“Pete, you have to come home. Now. Something terrible has happened.”

After.

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1 comment

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Alan Gough ‘drowned’ on dry land at the wheel of his car hours after capsizing while canoeing because he still had water in his system

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