Literary Orphans

Night Swimming Prohibited
by Anna Short

            There are days when I think I’ve found myself.

            When I’m ever so slightly stoned and I can hear rain through the screen door as I listen to a long coveted vinyl for the first time.

            When I‘m half drunk and in full sweat, shaking all the pains out and into the wet, dirty dance floor of a half-empty bar, the end of summer in sight.

            When I walk barefoot up the dunes on an early May morning and it’s still cold and the sand seems as untouched as the ocean, endless and unassuming, stretching out before me.

            I’ve decided that would be the way I’d go.

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            I’d choose a hot night towards the end of July, when the sky is clear and the stars are bright and the water is cool. I would sit on the damp sand, feet in the foam, and look for the lights of a ship on the black horizon. I’d listen to the waves break and crash and I’d probably start to cry. Maybe I’d think of something that would change my mind. Maybe I’d stand up and turn back, traipsing over the dunes like I’ve done dozens of times before.

            Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I’d get up and walk straight into the ocean, clothes on the sand, and swim until I couldn’t swim anymore.

            I’m not a strong swimmer—I probably wouldn’t make it very far. But I still think about it.

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            Those are the hardest days, the ones when I wake up thinking about it. I think about being there with my toes in the tide, it coaxing me like the moon coaxes it. And then I think about myself thinking about it, and wonder if someday, I’ll do it; if someday things will ever get so bad that the only thing left to do is be carried away.

            But like the tide, I ebb & flow. There are days when I wake up and it’s the farthest thing from my mind. There are days when I wake up and there’s a warmth in my chest, a great upwelling; and it tells me that I’d never do it. That it will never get that bad. It will never get that bad.

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            This sadness has no roots. I’ve dug deep enough to know. Only tiny tendrils, growing from nowhere, that twine about my brain and my bones. They constrict. They loosen. I keep on.

            I don’t know why I’m this way. I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing. I don’t where I’ll be or how I’ll get there.

            I stopped digging.

            It got a lot easier when I stopped digging. I suddenly had time to fill the holes I’d made. And after a while, other things began to grow back, better things like expression and energy and awe.

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            When you’ve spent so much of your life being sad, you learn that you have to create your own happiness. And sometimes, to create, all you must do is stop destroying; all you must do it be still and sigh and wait for it to pass.

            But you cannot let it define you. When you become the sadness, you’re really in trouble. You’ve fallen in the hole that you yourself dug, and that’s a tough place to climb out of; not because it’s too deep, but because you seem to fit in it just perfectly.

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            There are days when I think I’ve found myself, but I remain unsure. I’m afraid that if I start digging again, I may rip up those roots and nothing more would grow. Nothing new would be created. Life would become stagnant, infertile, mundane. The strange light in the little places, in the tiny grooves and the dim bars and between the grains of sand, would extinguish. In trying to define myself, I would destroy the world around me. And so I choose to be still and sigh.

            It will never get that bad.

            It will never get that bad.

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Anna Short is an emerging writer in her early twenties. She lives by the beach in Delaware. This is her first published piece. Email her at

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–Background art by Dia Takácsová