I want to send in an application for a short story competition here in Australia so I’m giving short stories a go.
Have a read over this one, guys – and please give me feedback if you can.
I’m too cocky for my own good, that’s what my main problem is. Even with anxiety making my heart pound, I couldn’t help but smile wryly and shake my head.
My head snapped up at the sound. After all these interviews, I’m still not used to it yet.
I force myself to keep my hands calmly at my sides. The cameras are like wild animals, snapping at me as I squint into the sea of media before me. There are huge microphones tilted towards me and hands everywhere are waving to attract attention to the journalists; hoping they’ll be the next chosen to ask me a question.
“How long in total were you out at sea before the rescue?” an attractive woman in a silk spotted blouse asks.
Smile. Play your part, Jack. I remind myself.
“I’d been lost at sea for 3 days” I answer, scanning the sea of faces and counting the camera’s red, blinking lights to calm myself. “Three of the longest days of my life” I add with a wry smile. I get a few chuckles from the crowd.
“We love you, Jack!” a voice cries out from the darkness; “You’re a bloody hero!”
I smile again, forcing myself to display comfort and ease. “I uh…I appreciate that. Thanks, mate.”
The audience laughs.
“Ok – you in the blue jacket” my Media representative picks someone and all hands go down as everyone quietens to listen.
“How did it feel being stranded that whole time?” another reporter asks. She’s attractive. Her suit is well fitted, and her top 2 buttons are undone. Nice.
“Yeah, well I know I hurt terribly. My skin was cracked and raw – especially my lips, my nose and ears” I admit. “I was fortunate to at least be in my scuba gear – so only the parts that were exposed – like my hands and face – were the ones that copped the heat and seawater damage the most”. I lick my lips at the memory of it; at the thirst that seemed to drill down into the marrow in my bones.
My whole body was screaming for even a drop of life-giving water by day 3. I felt like I was going mad.
“What did you do to survive?” another reporter asks.
“In a situation like that, there isn’t much you can do” I answer. “I just tried to keep calm and kept a lookout for any ships on the horizon”.
Silence. A few clicks here and there, but the atmosphere is pregnant with expectation.
I realise more is required, so I add: “It’s important to keep your spirits up, so I hummed songs, thought about happy memories with my family and tried to conserve as much energy as I could by floating on my back rather than treading water”.
“Do you feel angry about –“the reporter’s question is cut off by the microphone’s feedback picking up on other speakers; making a high pitched squeak.
Here we go. I brace myself; knowing what was coming.
The journalist clears his throat and tries again, frowning at the sound guy who has his arms up and out in the universal “what?” gesture.
“Do you feel any anger towards your dive guide and friend, Bill Matheson? Isn’t he the reason you weren’t able to be found faster when the dive team noticed you were missing?”
There it is. The question I’ve been trying to avoid for the last 4 days of interviews with the press.
The last 3 were quieter ones with 60 minutes, A Current Affair and a segment on SBS about survival. This is the biggest interview where reporters from the major news channels and magazines are all in attendance. It feels like the whole world is here.
It was much easier discussing this in the smaller, quieter settings with 60 minutes.
But the question has been asked. I swallow to buy myself a few extra seconds.
“I’ll take this one, mate” Bill puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder and gives it a slight squeeze. The relief is palpable. I shuffle awkwardly to the side so Bill can stand in front of the podium.
At 6 feet 4, Bill is taller than a lot of the rest of us on the podium. His friendly nature comes across in the way he moves easily through crowds; in the gentle way he quietly whispers “Err…s’cuse me” as he passes each person. Bill is respectful and aware of making those around him comfortable. That’s why we all trusted him on that wreck dive. Not only is Bill a loyal mate and a knowledgeable dive instructor, but he’s also been my best friend since we were young tuckers at primary school.
Bill leans down into the microphone and sighs heavily.
“I will never forgive myself for not equipping Jack with the emergency beacon and tracker the morning of the dive. I honestly thought I’d clipped one onto every diver’s belt. I’ve gone through that morning in my mind millions of times, and I still can’t believe I missed something so vital.” Bill pauses to scan the crowd. “I can’t tell you – or Jack or his family –“at this, Bill turns to face myself and then turns slightly more to the left to nod at Jess, my wife. “- how deeply sorry I am for the pain I’ve put everyone through, really. I created the sea-tracker for situations just like this – to help find a lost diver quickly with the GPS tracker inside the emergency fob. I thought I was onto a stellar idea, but I’m…I’m just a bloody fool”
At this, the crowd erupted.
Accusations came hard and fast.
“Are you saying the sea tracker isn’t everything it claimed to be, then?”
“What’s going to happen to your 4-million-dollar contract with the Aqualung and Oceanpro now that your fob is useless?”
“Didn’t you also get offered sponsorship with Cressi?”
Cameras clicked, reporters shouted and the media adviser gently guided Bill back to his seat on the podium along with my wife and a few of the other divers from that day. Bill sat on his foldable chair; bent forward and covered his head with his hands. We could all see he was struggling. I turned away so I didn’t have to see it anymore.
I answered more questions about my “will to survive”, about my relief when I saw a passing fishing boat, about how good it was to sip on the ice-cold water they gave me, watching land on the horizon getting closer and closer and knowing my ordeal was finally over.
The interview finished. We all got moved into a small room with platters of food, champagne glasses and bottles of the finest beverages. Everyone tells me how well I did. Members from the dive team all pat me on the back or embrace me in tight hugs. Jess squeezes my hand in support. Bill looks at me with tears in his eyes. I feel disgusted seeing him like that.
“I’m so sorry, mate” he offers for the millionth time.
I’m sick of hearing it.
To hurry the inevitable, I reach up, squeeze his shoulders roughly and jokingly remind him that his wife Jenny will be anxiously awaiting him at their home by the Bay. “G’orn – get out of here” I push him maybe a little too hard towards the exit. Bill laughs shakily, shrugs and goes out the door, his head hung low. One by one, we leave – clicking key fobs to open car doors and within what feels like mere minutes, Jess and I are on the Tonkin Highway driving home.
Hours later and the house is quiet. Jess is asleep. I can hear her soft snores from down the hall in the living room. I pull the tab on my 4th can of Toohey’s and take a long pull of my favourite beer.
As I click through the channels, it feels like the whole world is talking about me being lost at sea.
For once, I’m the star. Everyone wants to talk to me. I’m surprised at how much I like the attention. I get a rush at every mention of my name. I feel euphoric at every image of myself splashed across every paper I ever knew of and even those I don’t. Something about being famous fills an empty void in me and I’m going to ride this ’15 minutes of fame’ for as long as I can.
You see, the thing with Bill is – he’s always been the star. He’s the one who always got the girls while I stood awkwardly at his side, wishing I could have even half of his confidence. Bill was the most popular guy at school and at Uni. Bill was first to be picked for sports teams at school, first to make the callouts for WAFL, and the one who seemed to live life in the golden glow of success no matter what he tried. Bill was the tall one, the handsome one, the funny one – the brilliant one. I’d always had a crush on Jenny and fought to conceal my jealousy at their wedding. I wanted good things for my friend, but I wanted them for myself too. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?
Months after his wedding, Bill excitedly told me about his invention – a small fob divers could attach to their belts that would track them via satellites as they dived and would send off a distress signal to emergency services once pressed firmly three times – I knew he was a hare’s breath away from being a millionaire. Maybe even bigger than that.
His bloody luck. It was as if good things just fell into Bill’s lap.
So, on that fateful morning when we were all on the boat taking turns to sit on the edge and propel ourselves backwards into the ocean for the wreck dive we’d all been looking forward to for months, I made a decision.
I didn’t need Bill to “look after me” anymore. He’d always been the one to bail me out of trouble. All our lives, Bill was ‘the golden one’ and I was the ‘flaming galah’. Bill was always the bloody hero and I’d had a gutful of it. I’d looked down in anger at that stupid bloody fob Bill had attached to my belt earlier.
You might end up living in a fancy house in Byron Bay with the sales on this stupid thing, mate – but I’m not having a bar of it.
So I unclipped it, turned it off and when no one was looking – dropped it into the deep blue below.
But no one but me knows that, do they?
I’m going to make sure it stays that way.
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