The black water churned as if alive. Hostile, bottomless, unforgiving. Breathless with panic, Joseph struggled to stay buoyant. He had to calm down, get his bearings and find Barbara. When their raft overturned in the violent storm, she was with him, but he had lost her in the chaos. She was a strong swimmer, but he feared the worst. He felt a sudden rush of adrenaline at the realization that he could lose her.
“Barbara! Where are you?” he screamed, but it came out as a croak lost on the wind.
As the water spattered his face, flooded his mouth and clouded his eyes, he choked her name repeatedly.
Joseph looked in all directions but couldn’t see land. No lights pierced the horizon. No sign of their raft. No lifeline.
He felt sick. His hands and feet grew numb. He had to move, swim, anything to keep his blood flowing. He thrashed his arms in all directions and kicked his legs to move forward. He searched frantically, grew instantly tired. His muscles began to cramp and burn. He had expended nearly all his energy, when his hand touched something.
He tugged her limp body to him. She floated face down. Her silky hair billowed around her shoulders. Her once beautiful indigo dress hung flaccidly on her petite body. He gently turned her over and put his cheek to her icy lips.
He felt her neck for a pulse but knew he was too late to save her. He held her for a final few seconds and guiltily released her body to drift away into her watery grave.
There was no time for him to grieve. She would not want him to give up. He had to find a way to survive, but he was exhausted. The heavy clothing weighed him down even more, but he didn’t have the strength left to remove it. He could feel his muscles surrendering. He had lost all feeling in his legs and arms. He was freezing to death.
Barely able to tread water, he decided to float on his back to conserve energy. The undulating waves slapped at his face. He had swallowed so much water, his stomach was protesting. He forced back the retching. He was so drowsy. Floating freely felt so comforting; he rationalized the need to close his stinging eyes, for just a moment.
Joseph dreamed of Barbara; dreamed of her flawless skin and her perfect smile. The dream was so wonderful that he let it consume him. The turbulent water pulled him down, filled his lungs, burned them into submission.
The storm waned and the vibrant morning sun peaked over the horizon, bathing the world in warm light. The woman plopped the skimmer net into the swimming pool and carefully fished out the toys, as her son stood anxiously at the edge.
“How many times have I told you not to play with G.I. Joe in the pool? Your sister is going to be so upset about her Barbie doll,” scolded the woman.
“Sorry, Mommy! I forgot to take them off the raft last night. I guess the wind blew them all over the place,” giggled the boy.
The woman gingerly held the dripping wet Barbie in her hand and said, “Look at Barbie’s dress. I think it’s ruined. It was your sister’s favorite outfit for her.”
She delicately peeled off the doll’s dress as she said, “Take off G.I. Joe’s wet clothes, and we’ll wash them out in the sink.”
“Okay,” said the boy, “You think G.I. Joe and Barbie were scared out here last night, Mommy?”
“Oh, don’t be silly. It’s not as if they have feelings. They’re not alive,” replied the woman, as she tossed the two plastic dolls on the patio table to dry in the sun.