Creative Nonfiction: Nightswimming by Jennifer Todhunter

Photo by Nicholas Santoianni

I wait until dark to walk to the beach so nobody can see me drinking, open my third or fourth beer as I lock the front door, weave past the dandelion-filled sidewalk crack my kids jump over every morning they’re with me, the shitty motel with smoke-stained drapes, the yellowed missing cat poster, the phone number tabs at the bottom long gone. 

The sand is still sun-hot on its surface, cooler and damper the farther I dig my feet in. I text a friend nightswimming, slouch against the concrete wall that runs the shoreline, watch my dog stalk seagulls half a mile out. Let me know when you’re home, my friend responds and I reply with a thumbs up, but what is home now. 

I begin another beer, adjust my earphones, restart the playlist of sad songs I’ve stockpiled since leaving him, because sad songs make me cry and crying feels cathartic, feels like something afloat in a bay of dead fish. A half-waterlogged tree, maybe. Something with one foot in and one foot out of a no-man’s land of living.

My dog sprints after another group of birds, her paws thundering through the murk, and she gets close to one this time, within inches of its feathers, and the thought of having to wrestle it from her jaw when she brings it to me like she did that rabbit last week makes my stomach flip, but the birds are faster than she is this time, and while I don’t think she’d hurt anything intentionally, I wouldn’t bet my life on it anymore, because I didn’t think he’d hurt me either, yet here I am, all bruised up on the inside.

The ocean is on its way in and I strip down, walk to greet it barefoot and naked like I may have walked down here. It varies, what I remember on nights like tonight. Sometimes, I have to piece it together through the dampness of my clothing, the seaweed in my hair, the sand lodged underneath my nails.

The water brushes against my toes sending a zip up my spine, and it’s always a rush when my knees submerge, when the waves lap against the hip-dips of my stomach, until I dive below and pull myself through the currents, the noise of the night silenced for a moment. It’s the only time I can drown it all out. Lying on my back, I stare up at the stars, think about the salt in the water supporting me, wonder at what point the dilution would drop me, at what point I’d end up on the bottom with the dead fish and birds and beer cans. 

Back on shore, I wrap myself in a towel with the map of Croatia on it, my son’s souvenir from the last trip we took as a family, and shiver. My dog lies down, the length of her sandy body against mine, her head on my lap, her eyes fluttering in and out of sleep. My friend texts, you home? and I think for a second before texting back, yeah, because if not here, then where? I open my last beer, stick my earphones in, start the saddest of all sad songs.

Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in The Forge, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions, and Wigleaf´s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes and founder of Trash Mag. Find her at or @JenTod

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