Swimming Away From the End of the World
I am reminded of my father’s paranoia each time I open up my mailbox. No matter how quickly I run to retrieve my mail, the result is always the same: water spilling out from the box, already having drenched the package. It’s softened at the edges, cardboard beginning to pill and peel. Whatever note my father has scribbled onto the front has turned to blotted scribbles. I rush back into the one-bedroom bungalow that has been my home for the past three years, and open the package on the damp porch. In the permanent darkness caused by a gloom of rain, I puncture a hole through the soggy cardboard package with my fingers. Sometimes, it’s a pair of goggles or flippers. Lately, it has been swimsuits at astonishingly varied sizes. Each time, I take it as two reminders: my father loves me. My father doesn’t want me to come back.
My father has always feared the end of the world. His plan to start digging a doomsday bunker in our backyard drove our neighbors away. His execution of the said plan did the same thing, but for my mother. Over the years, his predictions veered from mere delusions to those rooted in a dramatic form of science: all the volcanoes in the world erupting in menacing sync, tsunamis swallowing beaches in split-second gulps, and weather patterns morphing into unpredictability. Fetching me from my school’s gates, he was always ready to make small talk on the possibility of asteroids rocking our planet or our city’s fault lines converging right as he spoke. Since my school had an intensive varsity program that worked its athletes into the night and provided a shuttle service directly to the students’ homes, I joined the swimming team. It worked against me when the earthquake cleaved our town into two.
Our house remained intact, along with the rest that lined our cramped street. So did my college’s main buildings, the grocery store we frequented, and the church. However, this wasn’t enough for my father. It took him six weeks to find me a place, far away from shaking grounds, the sea’s constant glare, and steep, landslide-ready slopes. “Here,” he’d said proudly, pulling out a world map and unfurling it on our chipped dining table. It took me a good minute to find his target, a small pinprick in a sea of red dots and jagged lines denoting bigger cities and regions. On the map, this place didn’t even have a name, so my father had to tell me himself. I turned the town’s name over my head the whole night, sating my curiosity the next day with one of the encyclopedias that survived the bookshelf’s fall with a strong spine. “It’s the rainiest place in the world,” I told my father, snapping the encyclopedia closed angrily, thinking of the constant grayness, wetness, and mold. “Why are you dumping me there?”
My father smiled, saying, “Didn’t I teach you how to swim?”
The last time I saw my father was in my new town’s airport, dropping him in the entrance and waving at him from the foggy back window of a taxi. He’d helped me set up my life here, using the last of his savings to buy the bungalow, an entire waterproof wardrobe, and official swimming certifications. When we first arrived, I hadn’t entertained the possibility of swimming as a recreational sport here, not when everywhere I looked, water gathered in puddles and rose higher. My father proved me otherwise, securing me a job in a nearby swimming center, to train children and model water exercises for the elderly. After two weeks of listening to the steady patter of the rain, embedded into our hearing, my father took his leave. “You’ll be safer here,” he promised me. “Just look around. If the world gets submerged, you won’t even notice.”
Every time the rainfall begins to seep through the floorboards and under the door’, I hear my father’s chants. They were yelled at me years ago from the bleachers, propelling me to reach the end line. Swim away from the end of the world. Don’t look back, you’ll beat it. I put on my swimsuit and goggles and flippers and prepare for the worst, crouching by my front door, waiting for the tides to channel unforgiveness. Each time, though, they reside, pulled by the strong drains our town has masterfully installed. I go down on my knees, praying to the trickle of water that it’ll drown the irrationality out of my father and sink it down amongst doubtful stones. For now, I fight to stay afloat.
Andrea Salvador is a Filipino writer, split between Manila and Melbourne. She has participated in writing programs hosted by the Adroit Journal, Speakeasy Project, Adelphi University, and Amherst College's The Common Magazine. In her spare time, she creates lists, watches horror movies, and rearranges her bookshelf.