LIt and Phil Young Writers Winner

Congratulations to Emma Clark, winner of her category in the Lit and Phil Young Writers Award. More in this Evening Chronicle report.

Here is Emma's story.

Water closes over my head as my body goes fully under. I desperately reach out in a weak attempt to pull myself to the surface. It only drags me further down. I am sinking. Slowly but surely, I am sinking. I continue to try and scramble up as I see the light of the moon get further and further away. I try to scream but nothing comes out. Only small bubbles of air which I need to preserve if I want to be found alive. I lash my arms and legs out in a desperate effort to try and swim back to the surface of the water. It doesn’t work. The black of the ocean seems to be wrapping me in a deadly cocoon. It is dragging me down.

My back hits the soft ocean floor. The sand swirls around my limbs, trapping me further. Moonlight continues to break through the water, illuminating my body ever so slightly. I can’t tell what time of day it is; I can’t remember what time I entered the water or when I lost control. I must admit, if this is it, it is quite a beautiful way to die. But I don’t want to die. I want to escape the grasp the water has on me but I can’t. The seaweed forms long, unruly fingers that are soon wrapped around my throat, holding me down to the bed of the sea. I try to move my limbs but then are being restrained by the sand’s wild swirls. I am trapped. I am trapped and I start to accept it.

My life begins to flash before my eyes, my memories from the past nineteen years playing in my mind. The day that mum and dad brought me home from the hospital, the snow falling so rapidly that I had to be bundled in five layers to protect me from the harsh wind that wanted to bite at my delicate skin. When dad took me to the park for the first time to teach me how to ride my bike, I rode it straight into a bush and when I finally came out, I had leaves stuck in my hair. The time when mum and dad first brought home my younger sister, her hands so tiny that she could only grasp one of my fingers. The day when I got my first kiss from the boy who lived down the road. The time when the whole family had a massive picnic on the grass in the local park. The week where I managed to pass all my exams. The weekend when I received the acceptance letter from the university that I had always wanted to go to. The day when I finally left home and went to live in my best friend’s new flat. All of them play rapidly in my head. I watch them intently.

But then I realise. They don’t mean anything now. They mean nothing. All of the times that mum and dad had kept me on the inside of the pavement, away from the road, only letting me in the sea if my older cousin was by my side, telling me to be careful of the ice outside so that I didn’t fall, my little sister begging me to teach her how to swim, the endless lessons on how to stay safe. All of that means nothing now. My whole life means nothing. Because this is what it has come down to. All of the skills that I needed to help me avoid situations like this had failed. I had failed.

I try to look up again. I can’t really see anything. My lungs are getting tighter as they become flooded with bitter salt water. I can’t hold on for much longer and I am not going to be saved. Nobody knows I’m here. Nobody knows that I am at the end of my life. I’m never going to be able to say goodbye to my parents, I’m never going to be able to tell my sister that it gets better and she just has to hold on.

I can feel my throat tightening, matching my completely useless lungs. I look once more at the fading light radiating from the moon. My eyes intently watch as the beams of light dance through the water, ending their journey by settling on my skin. This is it. My lungs feel like they are going burst at any given moment. Slowly, I start to close my eyes. I’m not going to fight it, there is no point. I let my eyes flutter close completely as my heart beats its last beat.

My mum holds a crumpled photo of me as her tears drip onto the ancient paper. My dad cradles my younger sister as she cries silently into his shirt. She remembers the time when she convinced me to give her swimming lessons, she remembers when she used to run into my room in the dead of night because she’d had a nightmare and I could scare away the monsters. My dad thinks back to the time where he took me out in the car for the first time and I sat there, asleep the whole time in my car seat, then looks back on the memory of me clinging to his back when we crossed that river but I was scared so he had to carry me. Mum sits in the corner, playing over what it felt like when she first held me in her arms. She looks back on the time when she walked me to school for the first time, she had checked my bag at least seven times that morning.

She looks at the mantel piece that is littered with family pictures and portraits. All the memories that I wanted to recreate with my own children. She thinks that I will never get to do that now. All of these memories are just that. Just memories. No more. My mum won’t get anymore. My whole family have reached their limit. They get no more memories of me. No more family photos and silly poses in picture frames. No more trips to foreign places with her two girls. No more “my two girls”. A tear leaves her eye at the thought.

Everyone is standing around the casket that holds my body. People who I didn’t even know are standing at my grave, sobbing, muttering that I was taken too soon and that I was so young. My best friend stands at the head of the wooden box, giving a speech about how wonderful a person I was and how I will be greatly missed. She thinks back to the time where we decided at the age of six, that when we grew up, we would move to America and have an apartment together and live like that until one of us met someone and decided to raise a family. She thinks about how my chance of that has been ripped away. She remembers the time when we would talk about that boy who sat behind her in history and how he had stolen a few glances at her and that I had caught him each time. She thinks about how I would laugh at that terrible joke every time she told it, just so that she wouldn’t feel silly for trying to be funny. Complete strangers nod along with her “touching” tribute and try to look back on the memories that they have on me, only to discover that there aren’t any. They wonder why they are here, they’re only “family friends” and “The boy who tutored the departed” and “The girl who sits at the back of the deceased’s maths class.” I didn’t mean anything to them and I never will. I’ll just become another child who was lost too soon. I’ll just become another body buried deep in the ground. I’ll just become another memory.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Memories. That’s all we become. Memories in a box, memories captured in photo frames, memories that we store in the great libraries of our minds. That is all I have become now. People will argue that I am still alive. Not physically, obviously, but in people’s hearts. That’s what everyone says to get through. I am not sure that I would agree though. I mean, yes, people will remember the times where I dressed up and put on a show, people will look at the photos that mum and dad display and will think of me but obviously, it’s not the same. Of course it isn’t. People will say that I am still alive in their hearts but as soon as they leave my funeral, they will forget me. I’ll just become another poor soul whose life was cut short. That’s all I’ll ever be now. Just another person the world has lost. Just another body buried in the ground. Just another memory. Just another memory.

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