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The Lifeguard

This is Story Ten in my 38 Stories Project.

Submitted By: Tessa Cooper-Pengelly

Word Count: 1000

Character: Lifesaver

First Line Rule: One word



That’s what I can’t remember. I know I had it today. This morning, definitely. Or was that yesterday morning? When did I eat cornflakes? Maybe it was Tuesday.

Fingers at work on my fist, he wants to hold my hand. I shove the pill in my pocket and oblige. His mother is being lifted from the surf. Blue lipped, streaming. But he can’t see that.

The pill and her wedding rings would rattle if I walked. Maybe there are two pills. The radio on my hip comes to life. Keep him up there mate, his Dad’s coming now from work.

Yesterday, today. I’m not sure. I put my torpedo on the sand like a bench. Here, sit. He’s fragile, translucent in the post dawn haze. His limbs are fine, like bird bones. He perches on the torpedo, withholding his full weight.

Yesterday, today. Every day she asks me to hold them for her. My husband would kill me if they came off. Do you surf? Zipping up her wetsuit, lithe and flexible. Light on her feet in a lazy run, board under her arm, launching it ahead of her and gliding out.

There are two rings. Maybe there are two pills. I reach into my pocket and check. Two rings. One pill. One knife. The blade is closed.

Larson approaches with a man. The father. He lifts the bird boy into his arms and squeezes him. I wonder if he’ll break. What sound would it make? Eggshells cracking. The father is trying not to cry. He sets Boy back down on the torpedo bench. Stay here. I need to talk to the police for a minute, okay?

Boy stares down at the crowd of people growing on the beach below. Is mum dead? The man loses it. Snot flies out of his nose. Larson pats him on the shoulder, rubs his arm. I do the same for Boy, a mirror. Yes mate, she’s dead. He gasps, tries to right himself. You stay here, I’ll ring Nanna to pick you up.

I can hear his thoughts. How could she be dead?

The conditions were perfect this morning. Or was that yesterday? How could she be dead in these perfect conditions? An experienced surfer on her local break. How could this have happened?

It was definitely yesterday. I ate cornflakes and the coffee ran out and I took it in the bathroom. The day before maybe I missed it. That was the day Dad came over and leaned in the front door to get me to come to tea. Your mum is worried. Have you been taking your medication?

She gives me her wedding rings every day to hold. Some days the bird boy comes. He helps me move the flags or just looks through the binoculars in the tower. He doesn’t say much. I let him do his homework on the table in the office. I think there’s something wrong with him.

Don’t you like the water? He would shrug, or just say “no” and look at his feet. He looked old enough to hold the rings, but she always gave them to me.

The father walks away with Larson towards the police and ambulance party. I reach for the rings. There are two pills now. How could that be? My head hurts. Did Dad come on Tuesday or Monday? Should I take one now? It might be too late.

She’s blue and rubbery. I’ve seen it before. Like someone drained all the blood out and left a silicone dummy. Boy is crying, but he doesn’t move. His tears are just dripping into the sand. The snot is coming too. They haven’t pushed her in the ambulance yet. That’s weird.

On Monday Jill came around and watched me take it. Did I put it under my tongue? I open the knife in my pocket. Did I swallow it? Open, close. Yesterday, Monday. Today. That’s three times I definitely took it. Did she see me spit it in the bin? You have to take it. You’ll lose your job again. When did Dad come?

I leave the torpedo. I climb up the tower and pick up the binoculars. She’s still on the sand. She’s blue. I can’t see but I know. The sand is red. I open the knife. Close it.

How long have you worked here? You seem to be here every day. She was always smiling. Zipping her wetsuit. Handing me her rings. She always touched Boy on the head before she went in. Be good. Yesterday she came alone. My husband works nights but it’s his day off. They’re at home watching TV. If that was yesterday then yesterday was Sunday. Sunday?

Boy emerges at the top of the stairs. My nan is here. I’m going now. I think about the rings in my pocket but I don’t give them to him. I say goodbye. Pat his shoulder. I really liked your mum. Did I? Always smiling. Asking questions.

Three pills. I find one more in the other pocket. My head hurts as I climb back down and drop into the sand. Have I missed three? Dad, Jill. Yesterday was Sunday. Surely not. I can’t remember. All I can see is a bird skeleton. I can hear its thoughts.

How did this happen?

I need to find the packet. That will remind me. I run to the patrol car, open the glovebox. Tissues, latex gloves, sunscreen, sick bags. Nothing. Always smiling. My husband, my husband. Asking questions.

There are people moving up the beach towards me. Uniforms. Helicopters are circling. Two helicopters. Three pills. I unzip my waist pack. A whole packet, every blister intact. Twenty-three pills.

The skeleton bird shows me her nest. The eggs are cracked.

I open the knife, push the blade into my thumb.

Dad didn’t come on Tuesday. Dad died last year. Jill lives in Sydney. Jill doesn’t talk to me anymore.

Talks too much, smiles too much.

The police arrive.

Today, yesterday.


Thanks for reading.

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Taya. x.

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