“Our Story” Fiction by Sarah Bigam

Our Story by Sarah Bigam

Our Story

Fiction by Sarah Bigam

I tremble on the edge of the motorboat, stare out at the lake that has eaten all warmth from the air. My feet clamp around the gunwale.

“She’s not gonna do it,” Zach says, tucking his towel tighter around the life jacket he’s a little too old to wear with dignity. I should want to prove him wrong.

Uncle Mike shrugs. “That’s alright, Liv. Give ’er a go tomorrow.”

I’m turning to sit back down, face burning, when I slip on the wet plastic and fall, swallowing a gasp of green water. The cold triggers fantasies of primordial sea monsters, feathery fins hiding jagged teeth, never mind that this is Lake Okanagan and the worst I might encounter is a hefty trout. Without opening my eyes I twist toward the surface, toes clenched, pulling with arms only so as not to kick at the unknown.

In the real world sun dazzles off the lake’s surface. Laughter from the boat, now drifting away.

Three leg convulsions and I force myself to stop, because it’s absurd for someone who wants to be a lifeguard to be a wuss about the water. Pull-breathe-kick-glide, that’s what my swim instructor says. Breathe. Pull. Breathe.

            “Water’s warm!” I call to the boat, try to keep my voice steady. My cousin Noah ducks out of sight. Probably hiding under the driver’s seat again. Aunt Shannon says he’s not really shy, it just takes some time for him to get used to you.


Zach and I are alone with Noah at the lake house tonight while our parents go visiting wineries. Dad says it’ll be good for us all to spend some time together. Since Uncle Mike and Aunt Shannon moved out to Penticton, we’ve seen so little of them that we just met Noah yesterday and he’s four.

I order a pizza. I want tropical chicken, but decide I’ll be selfless and make it half cheese for Noah, half pepperoni for Zach. Then we head to the backyard. Frisbee on the beach. Noah drags us to the end of the dock to investigate a fish that jumped. I was worried he might cry or something with his parents gone but he seems happy. There’s talk of a fire.

It’s dark when the pizza comes. I run inside to get it, call Zach in a second later to bring me the second twenty Dad left us because I only grabbed the first one and with tax it’s $21.09.

            Zach opens the box while the guy’s still at the door, grabs two slices and heads for the kitchen.

“Thanks, douche.”

“Wa’come,” he says, mouth full.

I lock the door, struggling to knock the box closed with my shoulder, and call for Noah.

In the kitchen, Zach has got the Simpsons on and is onto his second slice. I shove the box down in front of him, holler, “Noah! Pizza!”

No response.

“Zach, where’d he go?”

He shrugs. “Thought he was behind me.”

I glance through the rooms, then go out the open back door. “Noah?”

But the yard is empty. Silent. It’s a Tuesday and not even the neighbours are here. I poke around their yards anyway, just in case. A breeze prickles the hair on my forearms.

I trudge back over, damp grass chilling my bare feet. I’m gonna yell at him if this is some dumb kid’s joke.

Zach is illuminated in the back door, sagging so it looks like he’s made of yellow silly putty.

I say, “What?”

“I heard a splash when I came in. I thought it was a fish.”

The surface of the lake is long, long calm.

My eyes dart from Zach to the dock, trying to force a disconnection between the two. It was a fish, I conclude, and this is just in case. “How long ago was that?” This is said by somebody else, some frightened girl.

“Ten –” He yanks my arm and we run to the end of the dock. In the day you might see seaweed curling up but now the water is a black void and there’s only our contorted reflections, ghouls gaping up at us from a drowned prison. The depth off the edge is forty feet. This is good for Uncle Mike’s boat.

“What are you doing?” Zach shrieks. I start, blink at him.

I know the reasonable thing to do. A person should get in the water. Pull out the kid. Be a hero. We learned CPR in gym class last year. They said you had to start it right away, that you only had a few minutes before brain damage begins. That is what a person should do.

There’s no other person, nothing out here but the boat and its shadow churning maybe from clouds moving over the moon or maybe because the whole dock has started spinning. Forty feet is a lot of water. It’s too much water.


My ears ring like at a concert, like his voice is 40,000 people roaring DO IT. I want to ask them: after ten minutes underwater, what are you really looking for?

The back of my neck is tight, cold, the rest of me boiling over. I imagine depth, seaweed snaring a struggling body and dragging it down, down, down. But the body I imagine is my own.

It could have been a fish. We don’t know. We didn’t see. It might not have happened here. The neighbours have docks. We don’t know.

I turn to explain this and find I can’t, not enough air in my lungs, like a fist has slammed me in the stomach. Zach’s eyes have no colour in them anymore. Black discs on phosphorescent whites. The outside edges of my vision blur and I see spit has dribbled out onto his chin. It’s red. Sauce-spit. Does he notice?

“I’m calling 911.” Zach turns to flee.

“Guys?” A third voice, the voice of a shadow that has crawled out from under the driver’s seat to stand uncertainly in the boat. A voice worried that it’s in trouble now. Zach skids to a stop halfway down the dock.

“Holy shit!” I drop down a level, back to the normal world, but the contents of my stomach have trouble transitioning. Noah starts to cry. “I was just about to jump in and get you!”

Zach slits his eyes, calls me a liar without any words. But he didn’t jump in, either.

I level my gaze with his. “Another minute and I would have gotten in the lake.”

He turns away, hauls Noah out of the boat, and that becomes our story.

That is the story we will tell when our parents return. We will tell it because we have to, because Noah is babbling “911!” We will talk over him, cut in half the time we froze. Our mother will squint at us, but never ask.

That is the story I will tell my friends when I start ninth grade in the fall. Once in a while I will change the details. At fifteen, I will tell a boy I like that two summers ago my cousin fell in the lake and I rescued him. It will almost feel like truth.

At sixteen I will tell my parents no, thanks, I don’t want to be a lifeguard after all.


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