Batgirl in the Sea by Bronwyn Sharman

She was the one with the cardboard box on her head. Its top was shaped into a point, painted grey, and then stuck all over with yellow paper rectangles. On her arms and torso were a hundred smaller boxes. When I walked into the party with my black cape and mask, she saw me and came straight on over.

“Hey Batgirl,” she said. “I’m Gotham City. Wanna save me?”

Later, I found out her name was Clarissa, and she worked freelance as a graphic designer. By then, she’d taken me in with her wry smile and her round hips and her scent, which was sharp and salty and fresh like cut herbs. In a month we’d moved in together, that way couples do when they haven’t really moved in together but they cook together and they bathe together and they sleep together and they— and they— can’t just break up.

Here’s a thing about Gotham City: it always needs saving. One day I learned “freelance” was code for “too unstable to maintain full-time employment” and that the smaller boxes of Clarissa’s costume were empty packets from all the prescription medications she’d needed over the past several years. She’d papered over her antipsychotics as they’d papered over her illness, but underneath, it was all still there.

And sometimes, it was all I could do just to wrap her up tight and plummet with her, freefall.

The worst part of everything was being misunderstood. Was I busy or just unavailable? Whose side was I on? Why would I stay when she seemed so empty of affection, or so full of bizarre accusations? I wish saving never meant sacrificing, wanting never involved hoping, and hope never seemed lost. The thing about Batgirl: she always needs a mask, whether she’s walking in the daytime as if life’s just ordinary, or setting her jaw to face down her foe.

Now, I want to peel it all off. To stand bare and naked on a beach in the sunrise. Just me – with the wind blowing across from Antarctica and straight, smack onto my skin.

So before this dawn breaks, I pick my way clear of the saltgrass and let my clothes fall into the recesses of a sandstone outcrop. The ocean is bitterly cold, yet I notice, within it, dozens of shellfish survive, wrapped and closed.

On the first try, I get ankle-deep in the water. It aches all the way to my knees. So I wade back out, and I perch at the edge, all huddled up on a rock. There’s that sharp, salty smell. Goosebumps on my arms.

On the second try, I get chest-deep in the water, and my skin throbs and prickles as the blood rushes inwards. My heart pounds. I gasp, airways flooding and tightening. Then I scramble from the water, scraping against the shore.

But I don’t put my clothes on. Once more, I think steadily, because I see now, that I can get out when I want to. I can haul myself onto the shore. I can do this. Perhaps you can call it my superpower.

So the third time I force myself into the water, I lie back so my hair floats and sways with the seaweed, and I let the waves lap up and over my face. Small fish nibble at me, my skin numb to their bites, as it is to the thousand broken shells beneath my body.

I hold my breath. Float upward. Blow out as my lips break the surface. Then I refill my lungs and submerge.

At last I stand upright and stride back to my outcrop, where my phone holds Clarissa’s latest message. “Where are you?” I read, swinging my towel round my shoulders.

Fifty metres off shore, a fisherman speeds past, and we give each other a wave.

***

Bronwyn Sharman writes about kids, travel, the future, geography, history, social responsibility, logistics, marine biology, civil engineering, the philosophy of science, and sometimes, coffee or maybe wine (plus anything related). Her short story “The Game Of Virus” was published in “Tales of Two Cities”. She also performs poetry, so be warned.