Chester opened the trunk of his car. He took out a rolled-up beach towel, small ice chest, picnic basket, toiletries bag, and a large rainbow-colored beach umbrella, and set each item on the ground. He then closed the trunk and put the keys in the pouch of his white, hooded sweatshirt. He took a tube of white zinc from the toiletries bag and applied a thick layer to his nose. He put the tube back, put on his sunglasses that dangled from a strap around his neck, and lifted the hood of the sweatshirt over his partially bald head. He put the umbrella under one arm, the beach towel under the other, slipped his thumb through the strap of the toiletries bag, picked up the ice chest and picnic basket by their handles, and walked to the edge of the parking lot. He leaned against the “No Lifeguard on Duty” sign and scanned the crowded beach, looking for a space he could claim for the day.
He wound his way through a maze of tanned and sunburned bodies, beach towels and blankets, beach chairs, playpens, large ice chests, coolers and beach umbrellas. The spot he found was squeezed between two couples sharing beach towels, but just wide enough for him to roll out his towel. He set up his umbrella at the head and placed the basket and ice chest under it. He set the toiletries bag on the chest and removed his flip-flops, sweatpants and sweatshirt and placed them neatly at the foot of the towel. He took his sunscreen with an SPF of 45 out of the toiletries bag and lathered it on the pale, white flesh of his legs, upper body and balding head, and then stretched out on the towel. The umbrella only protected his head and chest from the sun’s harsh rays. He sat up, drew his legs up against his chest, wrapped his arms around his knees, and in the shade of the umbrella, stared out at the throng of beach goers frolicking in the water. Their numbers decreased the further it was from the shore, until only one person was swimming alone near the point where small crashing waves rolled in. He couldn’t tell for certain, but the swimmer looked like a woman.
While keeping an eye on the lone swimmer he tried to tune out the conversations he was overhearing from the couples on each side of him. It didn’t take him long before he knew their names. Brent and Angie were on the right of him. By appearances, they were in their early twenties. She was very shapely with long black hair that she wore in a pony tail. She wore a bright red bikini. He was trim, toned, and very tan, and had on a pair of dark blue board shorts.
“Why don’t you want to get married?” Brent asked Angie.
“I do, just not yet,” she answered.
“I’m just not ready.”
On the left were Ted and Marie. They were in their late forties. Ted was large, on the verge of being obese. He had a bright orange beard and a shock of orange hair that stuck out in all directions. His yellow swimming trunks resembled boxer shorts made with heavier material. Marie was petite. She wore a one piece lavender bathing suit and was freckled from head to toe.
“Did you turn the stove off?” she asked him.
“Yeah, I turned it off,” he said.
“Are you certain?”
At thirty-two, Chester had never been married or engaged. In high school he had a girlfriend for one semester of chemistry during which he did all of her homework, but the relationship was confined to the classroom. It ended when the semester ended. Chester liked women. He adored them, even worshiped them to some extent, but his adoration was never reciprocated. He lived alone in a one bedroom apartment. He spent his time when not at his job as a telemarketer, sitting in the library reading books about air and sea disasters. Anything about the Titanic thrilled him.
When the couples lay silent and still, allowing their bodies to be fried by the sun and heat, Chester ate bean sprout and tuna sandwiches and drank ice cold bottled water. He watched the woman who swam alone as she gently glided back and forth across the choppy water. She had been out in the water for a very long time and never seemed to tire from swimming to and fro within the same range of distance. He hadn’t stepped foot in the water, or even gotten very close to it, but he imagined that the water was cool enough to warrant caution about being in it for a prolonged period. Chester could swim, but he chose not to.
Maybe she’s an Olympic swimmer, he thought.
Maybe she’s a mermaid.
Late afternoon, Angie and Brent were having a tiff.
“I don’t want to go to Jeff’s party,” Angie said.
“Why not?” Brent asked.
“I just don’t.”
“That’s not an answer. Why don’t you ever answer anything I ask you?”
Chester stretched his cramped legs and then stood up outside the protection of the umbrella. The afternoon sunlight felt like burning coals being applied to his skin. He put his hand above his sunglasses to reduce the glare and stared out at the swimmer. She seemed to be slowing down.
Marie was rolling up their beach towel while Ted stood by and watched. Both were badly sunburned.
“I hope our house hasn’t burnt down,” she said.
“It’ll be okay,” he said.
“How can you say that? You don’t know if you turned the stove off.”
“So sue me.”
She put the rolled up towel under her arm and marched away, headed toward the parking lot. Ted followed.
Chester raised his sunglasses and searched the water for the woman. At first he couldn’t find her, and then she popped up in the water. He was almost certain he saw her wave her arm. Images of Titanic survivors signaling desperately to be saved from drowning filled his head.
He looked around, frantically. Why aren’t there lifeguards on duty on a day like this?
Brent and Angie were lying on their sides, turned away from each other.
Fearing the woman would drown by the time he found someone to save her, Chester ran to the water and dived in. He swam past the last of the beach goers still in the water. His thin arms and bony hands sliced through the waves. His kicking, skinny legs and small feet churned up water in their wake.
I’m coming to your rescue, my beauty, he thought.
When he reached her, the her was plastic bags and plastic water bottles entwined in and around seaweed. He treaded water and watched it sink beneath the waves.
When Chester returned to his spot on the beach, Angie was sitting in the sand. Brent and the towel were gone.
She looked up at him with doe-like eyes. “Do you think you could give me a ride home?” she asked.
About the Author: Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over 240 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies since June, 2016. He has two collections of short stories, Sandand Rain, that have been published by Clarendon House Publications. His third collection of short stories, Heat, was published by Czykmate Productions. His YA collection of stories, The Tales of Talker Knock was published by Clarendon House Publications. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice. His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com/. He is on Twitter @carrsteven960.