Break the Cycle

Submitted into Contest #151 in response to: Write about somebody breaking a cycle.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of sexual violence.

Break the Cycle.

In my teenage year’s summertime meant heat and boredom. Laid out like an offering to Sun Gods on a blanket of stagnant damp, because towels soaked up sweat, Le Tan, or coconut oil products. Advised by a skin specialist in a plush Subiaco office, to rectify teenage acne by, ‘get as much sun as you can.’

Obedient out of respect for sums my parents paid, a row of framed degrees, and innocent of how men could manipulate. A time long before I learnt about worldly complexities.

Dead mussels lined shores, also rotting in glare, and seagulls pecked and cawed, white-winged sociopaths, scavenging. How much worse since they’ve achieved Finding Nemo, film talent status. Grating squawks reminders of my own gurgling stomach.

Trying to shift hunger by thinking about other oceanic creatures. Whales. Why is whale talk assumed to be soothing and blissful when nobody knew what the hell they were saying? Surely whales fight like other intelligent species, maybe they are actually yelling at each other. You miserable hump back bastard, that’s the last plankton you’re ever gonna get from me. Oh, get a life, go blow some air. Do that again and I’ll smash you… Not helping.

I watch him instead. One employed to watch. Radio crackling at his hip, whistle between lips. Pity no one guards helpless, ill-informed, trusting individuals inside supposedly comfortable homes. Looking at his white shirt, I think I could never be a lifeguard. Concentrating, not my strong suit. What if you forget, get sidetracked thinking about the vast, unknowable oceanic macrocosm. Same as I don’t always remember things.

A lifeguard could forget to look for signs of drowning. Which are? Floating face down – too late then. Putting your hand up, how difficult to do so when you can barely tread water and are being swamped with angry waves? Even I have trouble. Little kids mucking about with epic splashing games, water in faces, coughing and sputtering. Not being able to find your footing on uneven ground. Being underwater too long. Throwing up in the ocean, like what happened one-time things got a tad out of control with Ben and his pals. Bit of summer holiday, beach day fun. Tall, skinny lifeguard on duty pushing into our circle grabbing him by the hair, swearing at us. Now I know, but back then we kids didn’t know. All play which, to us, doesn’t look like drowning.

Foul smells close to waterline. Not quite pristine out here. Do they still pump sewage out into the sea? Is there a sheep-ship loading in Fremantle? Or a tanker letting off fuel out in Gage Roads. Maybe I can smell decaying seaweed, pity environmentalists won’t let councils rake sand, make it all pristine, and take away shore dumped crap like back when I was a kid. Suppose you can’t always hide nasty stuff.

If I swim, possible to escape heat, sun and smells. A dip equals worth the risk of bikini-top loss, worth bothering to duck every three seconds to avoid being smashed by a wave. Know what face hits feel like. Not always possible to go out far enough past where waves break, nor avoid a slap, sometimes it’s my fault. Besides further out is not an option because of greater shark potential.

Most man-eating sharks in history are from these waters. Un-netted waters. Not even slight, hint of protection, out there. My beach has a well-documented history of attacks. Matching statistics about women killed by partners, family members, those who supposedly love them. Offshore monsters honing in on currents relevant to lobster fishing and whale oil production. Apex carnivores didn’t get a memo informing the latter ceased back in mid-1970s. Just like some people didn’t sign white-ribbon agreements. Even if die-hards attempt to say, biting a human merely cases of mistaken identity. Or snivel, they didn’t mean to hurt her.

Not so long ago I asked a group of dedicated swimmers once, ‘which is safest place to swim.’

‘Along shore line, parallel, keep inside reefs.’ I am told.

Gazing out, I cannot see designated secure location.

‘What’s your worry?’ A concerned stranger asks.


‘Oh, come on, it’s been ten years since our last fatality!’

Suppose that’s long enough. Especially when even I see posts on face book about how long since a woman died. You know, it’s been a whole two months since he hit me.

Pity there is no-one to ask about safety when it comes to who shares your bed.

Water’s chill removes heat-haze-nausea, but my brain is sticky still. I thought I’d be free. But my head wanders back over, I hear again…you fucken cunt!

Isn’t oceanic immersion, about floating? Drifting away.

Now he can’t control my money, I could board a jet, buy/rent a van and drive it to Sydney, 5-6 hours, or 2-3 days, options to cross a continent. Finally get to swim in another ocean. A wide country is my mussel, and am its seagull. Not sure if I like placing myself into this allusion. Seagulls are plagued with too many problems thanks to their human planet earth co-habitants. Broken wings, swallowing plastic, missing and horribly disfigured legs. But I do feel kindred for those little feathered ones who are getting their own back though, spreading flesh eating and antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Probably don’t need to go to such cross-continental extremes. Rather be sitting watching, not burdened with responsibility like a lifesaver. Instead become a spectator on a beachside.

But instead of relaxing on wide shores of opportunities, I detect my lips pressing together, I swallow and blink, once again my stomach cringes in pain. This time not from his weight, his energy stabbing between my legs. Except I am noticing sensations just before my legs cramp, and my back aches. Too late to say, stop, don’t do that, it hurts, you should never…

Constrained even more so now I finally detect choices. Possible to go away, change a job, leave him. People always say, why don’t you leave...? When really, they should ask him, why does he do it? Why do you think things like swearing, yelling, hitting are okay?  

What if I get out but nothing changes? What if the whole world is filled with people laughing at dumb jokes I never think funny?

Why do seagulls have wings?

To beat scavengers to rubbish dumps.

What kind of shark is always gambling?

Card shark.

What is a shark’s favorite sci-fi show?

Shark Trek.

Why do sharks make terrible lawyers?

They're too nice!

Is my world really so full of picking over trinkets, looking for something of value?

What if new situations, posing as escapes envelope me into sameness? Doesn’t abuse work in cycles? I don’t think I could handle disappointments. Imagining another person swearing, spitting, and raising their hand to slap. What if my son grew up like his father?

Instead, I stay here, caught in summertime’s ritual of freedom. Remembering how my mother tried to get Dad to share a pay packet, instead of drinking it away. Dwelling on how a school teacher threw a duster across our room, slapped blackboards, yelled and swore, even though he didn’t think we could hear curses. How high school boys dipped tampons in tomato sauce and threw them into our bags.

‘You will never make squad, unless you swim harder. These sets are on a minute,’ screamed our swim coach.

Even I noticed how he looked at girls, floundering to complete programs. Put us behind faster, stronger boys. Almost dribbled over our new club costumes.

‘Hurry up, you useless article. How long does it take you to do 50m backstroke?’

‘I will get in the water and show you a correct tumble turn!?’ He’s already pulling off his t-shirt, flashing chest hair and muscles at a cowering group of pre-teens.

‘Don’t let him touch you,’ whispers little Jenny. I remember her race start dive lessons, his hand behind her. Other girls tell me to hide, go under water. When I resurface, he’s almost blue in the face. Hear him tell mum, ‘if she won’t listen to my instructions, no point in being part of our swimming club.’

Rip currents keep dragging me close to rocks, and I grow tired of fighting, learnt responses of self-protection. Cringe, cry silently, close, but don’t lock doors. I’ve heard Lifeguards go ape-shit about kids jumping off rocks. Despite risks of getting caught up with fishermen’s rods, lines and tackle. Radio crackling with requests for assistance, blowing their whistle, shaking their heads about swimming outside the flags. Don’t want to draw their admonishment. 

So, I go back to my towel, collect things and head up toward nearby cafes for an ice cream. Impossible to handle pre-sea-breeze heat without some sort of mediator. I struggle to maintain balance of controlling cone side-drip while still eating delicately enough not to smear my cheeks or lick in a way which doesn’t gives creepy boys quivers.

June 21, 2022 22:18

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Minerva Noiropp
04:10 Jun 25, 2022

If you want it bad enough, cycles can end. Thought provoking story. Have a blessed day.


Show 0 replies
F.J Red
20:50 Jun 26, 2022

This is such a well thought out piece! I like how you highlighted the main character's experiences with men as a cycle of the same behaviour again and again. It makes us understand why she's afraid of the same thing happening to her by another man, because that's what she's seen throughout her life. Cycles are terrifying and can seem endless when you're in it.


Show 0 replies