Breaking through

Sarah had described it as a struggle; it was like breaking the surface of the water as she came up, late, for air. Sarah spent many hours recalling those summers, when her hair hung in long briny ropes down her back as she arched, face full to the sky, laughing as she shook off the droplets. It was easier to tell the story of an itinerant surfer girl than reveal the truth.

Mostly it was mounting tension before an abrupt break between Sarah charging towards where the full harvest moon breached the horizon, and the moment when she was no longer Sarah. Afterwards, at the first promise of sunrise, Sarah was once more herself. In the predawn hush, her pupils big, lungs straining, tears streaming, nerve endings on fire, Sarah dug her fingers into the dirt to anchor her return.

This morning Sarah felt…numb. The strain was gone, and the adrenaline hang over. She wiped her eyes, shook her sore head, stretched her arms, and saw her wrists, red raw and purple, but not painful. She watched the sun breach the line of distant hills — and found no warmth in it. Sarah blinked, remembering.

There had been the mob. Visages twisted in fury as she was netted and dragged in the car headlights. She recalled the engines and shouting. The bullets. The sharp stones slicing into her flesh, and then the rope tightening. She gulped and rubbed her neck.

Sarah took a deep breath. She supposed it had been a relatively quick, if ignoble death, and had thus broken through another barrier. She stood and paused, searching inside to work out if her wolf-self had come with her. Wherever here was.

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This story first appeared, in a slightly different form, as experimental fiction for If:Book Australia’s Open Changes in 2014. It was just after I’d completed my MA and I was in a hurry to escape academic reasoning and just dive in to imagining something. And so I did. I’d thought I’d lost this story, and had forgotten what I had written about. Thus, when I found it today I was happy with the central conceit, even if the execution felt underdone. But that’s the way of it. We make breakthroughs, learn lessons, and grow, and with that our perspective on our personal histories and the stories we have told changes too.