By Bill Cook
Two boys rollick in warm sand as the tide ebbs.
As the boys race off, their mothers lie stomach-side-down on jumbo beach blankets. They gaze eye to eye and gossip about their hardworking husbands, the terribly perfect children. Their blessed lives of leisure and housemaids, manicured lawns and pool boys. They sip the white wine they’ve cloistered in plastic soda bottles, their whimsical talk tumbles into amiable laughter and taunt.
Lost in their own lives, the boys dash along the sandy shoreline, filled with mischief and glee. They zigzag with each crashing wave like it’s all some game of come-and-get-me. Olly olly oxen free, one howls, and the other laughs and almost falls.
The day is as perfect as our lives, one woman says to the other. They toast and smile, elbows drilling into the day-warmed sand.
Close by a large man gasps, “Sweet Jesus,” and grabs his chest, kneels onto this same sand, his face stricken white.
The women hearing the commotion roll over and the bright sun blinds them. Their upturned palms rise as they search for the source of the plea.
The boys wade in nearby shallows. They swirl their hands below foaming water exploring the ocean depths. One says, Neptune, and the other makes his arm into a periscope.
One woman calls for help though neither thinks of their two boys rollicking in play.
The undertow comes more forcefully with each incoming wave. The sky darkens, shadows lengthen. Downy clouds the color of brushed steel bunch the horizon.
The boys wade farther out, splashing their faces, laughing. Sometimes they gag and spit out the briny water.
The women stand and run towards the large befallen man. They kneel abreast of him, faces full of puzzlement and concern.
Damn, and we were having such a good time, one woman says to the other. Shush, the other says, almost scowling. She tucks her hair behind her shoulder and lowers her head.
The water rises above the boys’ trunks, and one of them begins to panic. Don’t worry, the other says. He tugs at the panicky boy and their feet lift from the ocean floor.
As the boy struggles, his mother bends over the large man lying in the warm sand. She checks his mouth, running her finger inside his gumline. She compresses the stranger’s chest, one, two, three. Stop. One, two, three. She places her ear on his hairy chest as the other woman stares in disbelief.
Overhead the seagulls soar above sand and sea, scouting for prey, cawing at the people as if to say, What dumb, worrisome, unaware creatures.
A young lifeguard bounds over and instructs the mothers, “Please step aside” and the women turn, eye to eye again, and say, “Do you see them?" Crepuscular rays bleed through the fading bedsheet sky. Their skin warms again as if they’re woken from a dream.
They scan the beach, squinting towards the thinning horizon. Seagulls glide on unseen currents, unknowing, uncaring. The sunset slowly dematerializes as windswept beachgoers spool back towards their vehicles with their empty soda cans, lawn chairs, beach towels. One by one they drive away.
Now one of the boys grasps at the other boy. Panicking, the other boy kicks free.
When the other boy reaches the shore, he will run up to his mother, and she will hold him, lifting him in silent relief in grey-black darkness.
The other mother will stand at the world’s edge, along the shoreline. The black-jade water will caress her toes, her ankles, beckoning her to enter. Instead, she will listen, but she will hear nothing but lapping waves, the memory of the too-loud heartbeat of a strange man lying in the sand; the fading laughter of her child as he runs towards the sea.