The Fall of Icarus

Postscript’s short fiction contest: Third place

Justin Vessair
Justin Vessair
Photo: 

I was about to throw myself in. I was about to cast myself into the sea, a thousand layers of cloth all
about me. I’d be dragged down. I really didn’t have a chance. That was the point, I suppose. There’s
no need to struggle if you don’t have a chance. I looked out to sea, at the ships there, sailing away from land out and over the lip of the world. Between the waves crashing on the shore, I could hear the loud song two labourers were singing, back and forth, on the field above me. The sucking of the water off the rocks as it pulled back for another attempt at breaking apart the shoreline. The shoals that the waves thought stood solely to defy them. As if the rocks were even aware. We all like to think that
we’re striving against cares. Or else, why are we trying so hard?

My breathing slowed down, I felt at peace. Or resigned. Languid. Lazy? I began to wade out. The
time was right. A boy crashed into the water. I barely saw him. Only his naked legs before he
went under. Caught off guard, I couldn’t even scream properly. I tried to breathe in and scream out
and I choked myself. I sputtered and coughed. Where were the cries for help? There were people all
around. Where were the cries? I finally composed myself and cried and screamed and began to strip myself bare. My sandals, my dress, my bodice, layer after layer fell to the wet stones, gathered around my feet. Then what? I dove in.

The water was colder than I thought it would be. It wouldn’t have been an easy drift beneath the
waves for me. A simple resignation wouldn’t have come until my heart froze and my blood barely crawled beneath my skin. But I swam. The boy, he had almost landed right on the aft-deck of the nearest ship, barely a hundred feet off of the shoreline. They didn’t cry overboard or free the sails so they could come around. Their line stayed true, pointed west to the setting sun. Never wavered even.
Maybe they didn’t see the boy. Maybe they were running late. Wilful blindness is darker than dark.

I made it to where he had slipped under. Only a bit of foam showed me where he’d disappeared. Those smooth legs. I breathed deep, filled my lungs, and opened my eyes to the salt and the liquid. I pulled, my arms grasping at the water to drag myself deeper. My feet kicked, slipped through the blue. But it all drove me deeper. And deeper. And deeper. The glimmer of an arm. A single hand with a finger extended. Pointing at me, as if to say, I see you there, saviour. I see you and want you. Join me, stay with me, here beneath the sea. I caught his hand in mine, still warm, still warm. I pulled my
burden tight to my breast and ascended towards the sky and the air, the world where you can breathe and walk and ignore what you don’t want to see. Finally, back home and the sky never looked so bright. Really. My burden wasn’t breathing. Or moving, and I struggled back to shore. Still, no one was there to help. No onlookers pointed and exclaimed things to one another, the girl and the boy in the water. I made it to shore, and dragged him up on the rock and rotting seaweed. Not much of a hospital
bed. Not much of a place to die.

Hard earth and decay. Might as well already be buried. I removed the two leather straps that hung about his shoulders. Slipped them off and then wrapped my arms around his body. My hands criss-crossed and each held a shoulder. I squeezed so tight. Felt the curls of his hair damp and dripping against my cheek. I felt his thighs cold against mine. I felt a bony hip against my belly. A sound, a small, little sound. He spit water up. I felt it run down my spine, slimy and warm. It felt good against the goose bumps that stood there. He mumbled. I lay him down, my hands cradling his head to keep it off the rocks. My knuckles grinding into the granite, but I didn’t care. His eyes looked up and tried to find my face against the pain and the dazzling light.

He spoke.

“Dad? Did you see me there? I was Phoebus, Dad. I was Apollo up there. My wings were on fire and I was burning like a star. I was Phaeton, Dad. And then I fell … “Why didn’t you hold my hand? You gave me wings, but why didn’t you hold my hand? We could have flown around the world together. Up north. Way up north, where winter ends. It would have been so …
“It feels like I’m on fire again.Like my wings are burning. But it doesn’t hurt this time. It feels warm …
“I won’t fly so high this time. Not so very high again.” His hands gently touched my face.
“I love you.”

And I said, I love you too. I held him tight and felt his heart stop beating. His eyes closed and his
eyelashes tickled my neck as they dropped. I love you too. No one else saw you, but I did. And I love
you. I stayed their holding him. My boy. Your girl. I could hear the farmers’ tune drifting down from the field above. And far away a painter saw and walked away to paint.

See next Friday’s Postscript section to read the secondplace story.

Justin Vessair, ArtSci '07

Justin Vessair is a fourth-year English major and is hoping to continue his writing at the University of Toronto through a master’s in creative writing. He hails from the small town of Honey Harbour, Ont., and is launching a website to showcase his work at islandsintheair.com. Justin came up with the idea for “The Fall of Icarus” after viewing the painting of the same name by Pieter Brueghel and thinking maybe Icarus needed a better send-off than just a leg sticking out of the water. Justin will receive a $20 gift certificate from Novel Idea.

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