Flash Fiction: Water Baby, by Amanda O’Callaghan

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Highly Commended in the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize 2020


Even though it’s late, the water doesn’t seem cold. I’m used to it. I close my mouth, let myself sink, feel it flow over my head. My toes dance against the smooth concrete of the pool. It’s so quiet under here, my hair flowing around me, my feet paddling without sound under the glossy skin of the water. I keep my eyes open. Dad’s party lights, snaking through the old mango tree, cast oily patches of colour above me. The music on the verandah is muffled; a dull beat drumming like impatient fingers on a hard surface. I must rise soon. I wish again for a mermaid’s freedom, to flit, deep in the shadows, sealed into my muscular tail. The far corner of the pool lies just beyond the feathery reach of the garden lights. When I come up for air, I will not gasp. I have taught myself this.

People are leaving, at last. “See you soon,” they call. Cars turn on the gravel driveway. The spit and crunch of small stones. My mother squints into the darkness, spots me in the pool. “You’re such a little water baby,” she’ll tell me later. “I wish you wouldn’t swim alone when we have people over.”

Uncle Davey is on the verandah. He’s leaning on the rail, his back half-turned to the pool. Dad is beside him, listening to some story. They laugh together in their easy way. Uncle Davey is not my real uncle. He moved to town last Christmas, bought a place just down the hill. “Gotta help my old college buddy,” Dad told us. “It’s not easy for him, starting over.” We have lots of summer parties now.

I watch Uncle Davey from the water. He knows where I am, I can feel it. The broad, patient white of his back has eyes, has ears. He will be one of the last to leave. Until then, I will wait here, letting the water hold me.


Amanda O’Callaghan is an Australian writer whose short stories and flash fiction have been published and won awards in Australia, the United Kingdom, and Ireland. Her debut short story collection, This Taste for Silence, was shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2019. 

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