Short Story: Hang Ten by Louise Rimmer-Williams

Congratulations to Louise Rimmer-Williams, winner of the Anthology Short Story Award 2023

by Anthology
Portrait of Louise Rimmer-Williams, emerging author

Louise Rimmer-Williams is an emerging novelist from Merseyside. She also works as a wedding musician and holiday apartment manager. Her stories have been shortlisted in competitions such as the Bridport Prize and Reflex Flash Fiction. She also writes academic non-fiction. Her most recent article features in the Royal Institute of Philosophy journal, Think. She recently began a PhD, with a focus on terrorism in fiction and is working on her first novel, a psychological thriller about a victim of radicalisation.

Louise’s winning short story, Hang Ten was inspired by her four siblings and the quirks of their family bond. It is also an ode to the sea and the power of nature to carry a person through grief.

When she isn’t writing she enjoys getting into the cold sea, practising yoga and being a mum to her young daughters.

Hang Ten

Louise Rimmer-Williams

The first duck-dive is the best part of the day. Against human instinct, we push head first, using the noses of our boards to shatter the lens of the wave. We emerge from the salt froth to observe the mirror image of fear and joy on each other’s faces. Kian and I release animalistic splutters and laugh at nothing as we clamber into sitting positions on our boards. My twin is my opposite in every way, but in the water, we are the same.

We inhale the crystalline air, scanning the Atlantic for danger and opportunity. We learn its rhythms. We wait for the right moment to paddle. Sometimes the sea lets us travel along its swells. Sometimes it trips us up and sends us into cyclical motion under the water, battering us with the shale. Just as we think we can’t defend our lungs for one more second, the ocean allows us to resurface.

Two individuals paddling surfboards in the ocean, arms outstretched, embracing the sea

Boxing Day. All the sane people are at home, hungover, pyjamaed, struggling to assemble their children’s new toys. My brother and I are out of our depth, sitting horseback on our boards, rocking with the building swell. We look back towards land. There is ice on the sea wall; shutters down on the arcades and rock shops; nobody around, apart from the odd dog walker, hunched and suffocating under many layers of wool. We are pleased that the board hire shop is closed. The shallows will be free of kids and kooks. Each year, for one day only, the beach belongs to us.

In anticipation of our annual Boxing Day trip, I am always conscious of my Christmas Day alcohol intake. Each year, I decline Kian’s offer of a nightcap. With a paper crown on his head and wearing his box-fresh Christmas tracksuit, my twin brother leans from the kitchen towards the stars, holds the doorframe with one muscular arm, a tipsy sailor hanging contentedly from the bow of his ship. Each year, as I sink into sleep, I listen as Kian and Mum miss all the notes of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ as they bellow it into the icy night. My dreams draw images of soft mushroom clouds of condensation that curl into ocean waves, warm breath reacting with sub-zero evening air.

I always rise early on the twenty-sixth to load up the car. Boards, wetsuits, boots, snacks, bottled water: still for me, sparkling for my twin. It is typical of Kian to choose the uncomfortable acidity of sparkling water over the plainness and purity of still. My brother deplores the mundane, the everyday. Kian undertakes all activities in their most extreme form. I don’t live like no civvy, he says. Marine mentality, mate.

As children, we would play beside each other but separately. A respectful co-existence, like that of wild animals unconnected by the food chain, unconcerned by one another, at peace. We were elephant and flamingo. I would sit in the shade, meditatively completing a puzzle while Kian would brandish his toy gun at the neighbours from the top of our twisted pear tree. As teenagers, while I grappled with Nietzsche on the bottom bunk, he noisily played Grand Theft Auto above me, his foot twitching beside my face in throes of murderous pleasure. Now I live at home, cooking with Mum and working on my university assignments while Kian completes tours of duty in wars I don’t entirely approve of. 

But together, we surf.

A surfboard resting on the sandy beach as the sun sets in the background.

At eight in the morning, I secure our surfboards to the roof of the car with bungee cords, adding extra security with the knots I learned as a Boy Scout. My earnest limbs and sinews stretch to their full capacity as I use all ten stone of my body weight to tighten the load. The boards cling to each other. A perfect fit, like twins in utero. I pack a spare car battery and a set of jump leads in case Mum’s Fiesta gives up on us during the four-hour round trip. The old girl struggles to function in the cold. This season is unforgiving.

My brother is always still asleep at our scheduled departure time of nine o’clock. I wake him cruelly by opening his window, allowing the white light and callous December wind to invade his bedroom. Kian wrestles me out of his way in a soft mock fight. He throws a slow-motion punch to my stomach. Cat-like, he stretches out his impressive torso in a futile attempt to expel his Christmas hangover. Each year, I hand him a cup of coffee. Without bothering to sip tentatively to test the temperature, as most would, he downs it in one. He trusts that I will not scald him. In the name of efficiency, I have laid out my brother’s jacket, gloves and hat by the front door as if he is a schoolboy. But we still leave, every year, later than planned.

I am the second-born, weaker twin. I know that my pallid complexion and narrow shoulders are a result of the fact that my brother took more than his share of nutrients in the womb. Siblings never truly resent one another, though. He made up for it through his role as bodyguard in high school. Despite my glasses, sexuality and chess club membership, the bullies knew that I was untouchable. I was Kian’s twin.

The journey is the same each year. I drive, he dozes, slipping into clear-cut, bish-bash boyish dreams that I could never comprehend. Side by side, we glide through light traffic, hypnotised by the rhythm of the motorway and frozen scenery. We are then enlivened by those familiar butterflies as motorway turns to A-road, A-road turns to residential seaside town street, and finally into gravel and sand. We turn into the beach car park, straining our necks to catch the first sight of the waves. Still strapped in, Kian dances with restricted movement and lets out a series of childish celebratory woop-woops as we pull into the bay, knowing how much it makes me laugh.

It will be strange without him this year. I regret the words I said at the airport as he left for his last tour. I hope he forgot them too. He is not cold-blooded. Not a thug. Kian is a good man. Was a good man. No, is a good man.

A surfer with a board in the sea

Winter is the best season to surf. We are often the only ones in the water. What looks like danger and desolation to others is delicious to us. No crowds. Bigger swells. Perfect waves. Sometimes we ride together; other times we allow the other to be carried away alone to enjoy a solitary waltz with nature. The proud chest of the silky wave carries us until it eventually whimpers out of existence, leaving us hyperactive, paddling back to the danger zone to seek out its taller, faster relation. We repeat this intoxicating cycle until one of us – usually me – admits defeat to our chilled limbs and, breathless, points a thumb towards the shore with raised eyebrows. One more wave, Kian always pleads, miming his words across the sea’s white noise.

I don’t think him a brute, like I said. I wish I could take the words back, travel in time. He is not a sheep. I now know that he was right to follow orders like all the others, to trust his superiors to make the right choices. His submission to the rules of war was honourable, brave.

Back on land, battling violent shivers, we peel off our thick wetsuits. Then, in gloriously dry tracksuits, we pad wordlessly across the sand to the beachside pub. Every year, we order more food than we need and drink Coca-Cola that tastes like nectar. We watch the tireless ocean as it continues to surge and break under the magenta clouds.

Killed in action. That’s the phrase they used. ‘In action’, like he was striking a pose. It happened this summer. A roadside bomb, the officer said. We lost a good man.

The waves will still turn up, so I will go to meet them alone. I rise early on Boxing Day and pack one board, one wetsuit and a bottle of still water. I leave promptly at nine in the morning, drive for two hours under a colourless sky.

The beach is empty. Dangerous and desolate. I paddle out alone to ride the cruel, grey waters, rhythmic but unforgiving. I let the sea carry and control me. I catch bigger and stronger surges than in years past, the waves that only Kian would have dared to take on. The final ride of the day is so forceful that it allows me the freedom to edge forward to the tip of my board, like a tightrope walker. I have never been able to hang ten before. That was Kian’s trick. I soar, allowing nature to spit in my face. I roar with the sea. She implores me to carry on standing so that I can dance with my brother.

  • ‘Short Story: Hang Ten by Louise Rimmer-Williams’ is published in Anthology Volume 21. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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