Amanda Osborne was twenty seven years, five months, three weeks and six days old. This morning she was acceptably happy. It was a good day to be twenty seven years, five months, three weeks and six days old and be Amanda Osborne.
She was on her way to the local swimming baths, which was grounds for happy in its own right. Amanda liked swimming. She liked the fact it was a physical activity and therefore felt healthy and a worthwhile thing to do. This was not a time-wasting leisure pursuit. This was positive, life-affirming and contributing to her general health and wellbeing; adding a year or two to her longevity if she was lucky. Plus, it was good fun.
For Amanda, swimming was the closest thing she could imagine to flying unassisted. Flap your arms and you travel, defying gravity and supported by a warm, largely invisible and gently yielding element, responsive to your every move. It was also a good way to relax, chill out and contemplate the universe: aquaceous meditation – during which, if the pool was quiet enough, you really could hear the sound of one hand clapping. It made for good thinking time. Amanda developed some of her best ideas during lengths fourteen to twenty. As a doctor of mathematics and an up-and-coming poet working on her first collection, new ideas were always welcome.
Amanda Osborne was a young woman on an upward personal trajectory: another contributory element to the feel-good factor of the day. The hard work she had put into getting her doctorate had paid off: theorems had been developed, articles published and she was now being paid an acceptable amount of money by a prestigious university to expand on her ideas and share her knowledge with minds as eager as her own. The following term she would be taking up a promotional post within the same institution: higher profile, more money, considerably more kudos. Life was pretty good and it didn’t stop there.
In recent months the number of Amanda’s poems accepted for publication had grown. Her name was beginning to get mentioned in literary dispatches and the possibility of seeing her first collection in print soon was looking good. As she sauntered across the car park of the local sports centre the opening lines of a new poem were beginning to take shape.
The lines continued to evolve as she went into the centre, entered the changing rooms, got changed, stashed her bag and her clothing in a locker, walked through into the swimming area and immersed herself in the almost warm waters of the pool. She pushed off and swam. The water passed over and around her.
To be fair, it probably wasn’t her most vigorous session ever. Her length times were far from being a personal best and the feeling of flying was not as pronounced as it sometimes could be, but the poem she had been working on was virtually complete by the time she was out of the water, had showered and was back in the changing rooms.
It was very noisy in the changing area, a school party was preparing to leave with all the usual running about, giggling and screaming that departure seemed to require, and for a while no one took note of the disruption taking place at the front entrance. Amanda wasn’t aware of it at all. She was deeply engrossed in polishing and completing her poem. She was playing with its rhythms in her head and, what with that and the water still bubbling in her ears, was oblivious to the noises beyond her changing cubicle, including the noise like a car back firing. She was conscious, however, of a slight sense of relief when the immediate noise of screaming children subsided.
Keen to get home so she could write her poem up, she towel dried her hair vigorously, made one last attempt to clear her ears, stuffed the towel in her bag and opened her changing cubicle door onto the day’s news headline.
Amanda was so caught up in her plans for the rest of the morning, it took several seconds for her to register the man who had stopped directly outside her cubicle or the fact he was armed. In those few seconds he had raised his gun and fired three rounds directly at her head.
Amanda Osborne was twenty seven years, five months, three weeks and six days old.
This story was first published online by Danse Macabre on 2 February 2012.
J.S.Watts has published The Submerged Sea (poetry), Dempsey & Windle; Witchlight