There was this one woman who brought her dog to the beach. It was always just around 5:00 when almost all the mothers and kids had gone home to dinner and only the people who liked the quiet and the evening and its cooler sun were around.
He knew he should ask her to leave. Dogs were not allowed on the beach. It said so, loud and clear, on the sign next to the parking lot. But she didn't come from the parking lot. She walked around the muddy border of the lake.
Still, someone had already told her. Marcie had told her in no uncertain terms. She had been wearing her whistle and the red shirt with Quinnebaug Lake on it. Official.
The woman smiled up at him on the lifeguard stand and called to her dog, which was gnawing somebody's flip-flop. He smiled and nodded. She looked like she was going to leave. She seemed to leave, but then, about 40 minutes later, there she was, tossing stones into the water and watching her dog charge after them. The dog barked twice each time she did it and then froze, looking at the dying ripples.
Simon ignored her, kept his eyes on the last few little kids. Little Anne Margaret Belmont had been nipped by a fish the week before. The parents had had a meeting. People talked very seriously to the lifeguards.
So now, when there were kids in the water, he didn't look at much else. Let Marcie talk to the woman again.
The dog was barking from somewhere. Barking furiously. At first he ignored it because the dog was a yappy dog. Every time he saw it was making some kind of racket, barks echoing across the pond. But now it wouldn't stop and he was becoming irritated. Finally, Marcie said she would take first alert while he checked it out. From the tower he couldn't see what the dog was so excited about. There was a bunch of trees that came right down into the water and the dog was on the other side of them.
When he got there he could see the dog bouncing around on the shore, rushing into the water, and then back out again. The woman wasn't around. Then he noticed what looked like an overcoat floating out in the water. Why had this thing got the dog so wired?
Then he saw the hand. He blew his whistle and splashed out to her. It was only about four feet deep, but the bottom was all scummy rocks there and he could hardly get his footing enough to pull her in. The raincoat was soggy and she was not a small woman.
For some reason the others weren't coming in response to his whistle. There was some kind of screaming going on over on the other side of the trees so he had to do it all himself. After a struggle he got her pulled up onto the muddy shore. It made him feel bad the way the mud got in her short gray hair. Her face was gray too.
He checked to see that her tongue was where was supposed to be and then started CPR. It was funny; he had practiced on the dummy, practiced on Marcie, which was funny because he knew she would never let him touch her otherwise. She let the other guys kind of wrestle with her, but not him. He had even let Jeremy do CPR on him and after being a little gross it was just, like a routine. But this was different. First, it was real, and second, this was an older woman. He felt weird.
She wasn't moving and he was beginning to worry when he heard something from deep inside her, a little growl. It could just have been gas. But then he heard it again and then all of a sudden she was coughing in his face and then was rolling over and coughing and throwing up water and some milky stuff that sank into the sand.
Suddenly, she turned and stared at his face, his hair, his mouth, and looked into his eyes.
"I drowned, didn't I?" she demanded.
"Sure, yeah, I guess you could say that. "
"I mean, I was out, wasn't I? A goner, maybe. You did CPR and such, right?
He didn't know what to say.
"And now I'm alive. "
"It's ok. It's what we do. "
She was still staring at him really hard, as though trying to figure out something about his face. Then she reached forward and took his face in both hands end pulled it toward her and kissed him. Maybe she had started just to kiss him out of gratitude; that's what he figured later; but something changed, he could feel it change, because suddenly she was kissing him like she meant it. Her mouth was sour from throwing up. It was a strange situation but he felt himself kind of " leaning into it", getting lost in it.
Her hands were shaking as she let him go. "I suppose that was inappropriate," she murmured, "But isn't every day that someone brings me back from the dead. "
The dog was becoming restless. It kept picking up a large wet stick, dashing into the water, dashing out again, and dropping it.
"Well wet or no I guess I'd better get back home. And they must be looking for you at your station.
Simon was concerned. "Do you want me to call an ambulance or something? Is there someone who can come and pick you up? You were..."
"Hell, I was dead. Never mind, I just live over there. See that red roof just beyond that little boathouse? That's me. I'm OK. I can get home. Really.
Simon looked around, surprised that Marcie or Jeremy had not come after him. He stood and helped the woman up.
"I'm sorry. I didn't get your name. I have to file a report. "
"Oh, please don't do that! No. Please don't tell anybody this. It was just a silly accident. I just slipped going after my dog. You don't really have to file a report, do you?
"I'm afraid I do. What is your name, please?"
"Oh, never mind, Simon. Just say it was an older woman with a dog. I'd really appreciate that. "
"How did you know my name?"
"It's on your shirt. Simon what?"
" Just Simon. Just one of the lifeguards. "
"Not now you're not. Who are you, please?"
The 'please' was a little funny, like she really needed to know.
He watched her walk a round the edge of the lake, the wet cloth clinging to her body. He watched until he could no longer see her. She turned once and waved. It was sort of a girlish wave, but also saying, " I'm OK, go back to work" So he did.
When he got on the other side of the grove of trees he was surprised. The beach was almost deserted. How late was it? It couldn't be that late. Marcie came stalking toward him. Her face was pale, her jaw clenched tight.
"Where the hell have you been? You sure chose a weird time to go take a leak or something. You don't even know what happened, do you?
" No, what happened? "
" We almost lost little Angie Thurber."
" What? No. What?"
" She almost drowned. Her mother was furious, furious. Angie was on the other side of the floats, a blind spot. It's my fault. I let you go. I should've been walking the docks. I let you go. That damn woman and her damn dog! Anyhow, I have to write up the damn report, because there is sure to be in an inquiry and I have to do it anyway. So you take the tower. I know there's nobody here, but you have to. Don't let anybody else drown, please? What took you anyway? Oh, never mind. I don't want to know. I've got enough on my plate. Go, just go, get up there.
He spent another hour staring at the silver light on the water, straining his eyes to see the three kids and one old guy still swimming.
The sun was behind trees when he climbed down off the tower. Everyone was gone except for Marcie who was in the shed snuffling loudly. He was sort of surprised. She obviously had been crying. She wiped her nose.
"Don't look at me. I'm sorry. This just really gets me upset. I try to be so careful and you guys get mad at me because some of the 'procedures' and it still happens. Dumb, dumb, dumb. "
"Hey! Hey! Don't beat up on yourself. We all make mistakes. I should have come back sooner.
"Yes!" she blurted, "You should have! This never would've happened.... Why didn't you ...?"
Simon knew he should just tell her, not just to protect his ass, but because it was the rules. But the woman had asked. She had said 'please'. Somehow, that was important, too.
"She fell in the water. I think she went in after her dog and she got all wet. Her clothes were heavy, so she had trouble getting out. I helped her. She wanted to talk a little.
" Oh, well. OK. I suppose you did the right thing. I sometimes forget it isn't just the kids; it's the old people, too. God, if I had to pull Mrs. Transom out.... "
She giggled and then laughed and got up and tripped over her own foot and hung onto him, and grew suddenly sad and started to cry again. And he held her and then she was kissing him ...too. Only Marcie's mouth was different, not soft and grateful but hard and hungry, for ... what? Maybe it was something to make the day disappear.
Suddenly she stopped, her eyes widened filled with pain. I'm sorry. Why am I doing this? I didn't mean it. Oh, Simon, I'm sorry. Please ... you ... please put everything away. I've got to get out of this damn place!
She ran fast across the beach and up the rise to the parking lot, not looking back. Simon let his heart stopped crashing around. Then he put the stuff away.
Simon didn't try to hard to figure it out. It made no sense. Two women, or a woman and a girl, had both been shook up. He was there, a guy. But. What bothered him was that he kept thinking about the woman with the dog and getting excited. It was stupid. She was older and not even really good-looking. In fact she looked a lot like Hillary Clinton.
Later, at dinner, pushing his green beans into his mashed potatoes, he laughed.
His mother said, " What? "
" Hillary Clinton. Do you think she's good-looking ... pretty? "
"Maybe good-looking. Not pretty, really. Sometimes she's kind of cute. Big butt, though."
" Yeah, a big butt. " He squirmed in this chair.
" Why did you ask?"
" Well I was just thinking about why guys choose the women they do, you know, like coach Anspach and Mrs. Anspach, or say... the President and Mrs. Clinton. "
" Well, have you ever thought that maybe it's not always really the guys that do the choosing? Did something happen?"
" No. Yes. No. Aw, mom."
" Who? "
" Never mind. Don't be nosy."
" Simon! Come on, who? I'll know sooner or later."
" Well, maybe Marcie, you know, on the crew."
" She's nice. A little thin maybe."
" Fit, not thin."
" Hey, whatever makes you happy." She mussed his hair.
That night in bed he was drowsy and doing what he sometimes did, but never before had he had, like, a real person to think about that way. He kept trying to remember kissing Marcie but he kept seeing Hillary Clinton getting off a plane, standing on the top step of one of those rolling stairs and waving, only she was naked and dripping wet.
The next day Marcie had them running drills any time "business was slow ". But it was only during Dolphins class when he was too busy taking the kids through their paces that he forgot about what happened the day before.
Today was a little chilly, so the kids were a little wired, squeaking as they hit the water and shimmying on the dock, stomping their feet and hugging themselves. He had to be pretty bossy because Taylor Wells and his sidekicks, Matt and Stephen were in a mood to tease the little kids, pushing and splashing them.
With the jolt, Simon realized it was Angie Thurber they were teasing most. He was amazed her mother had let her come, and then to have the boys goofing with her, pretending to drown, threshing the air as though they were sinking and trying to reach the surface.
He was about to come down hard on them when he realized that Angie herself thought it all was a riot and the other girls were giggling, too.
He was glad Marcie was running guard drills with the others. If she had been on the dock she would've been furious, and he knew that would have made things worse for the kids.
It was during the timed heats that he realized that Mrs. Transom was sitting on the bench at the back of the beach, almost invisible under the shadow of the trees. The dog was sniffing around, but she was ignoring the dog and staring right at him. He started to wave but changed his mind, just nodding his head in her direction.
The next time he looked that way she was gone and he realized he was disappointed.
Marcie didn't seem to act any different. She was very busy trying to seem more efficient and on top of everything, blowing her whistle about twice as much as usual. So he assumed he should pretend nothing had happened. Because, in a way, nothing really had happened. She was just pretty wired from almost having almost lost Angie.
What kept getting him was having them both kiss him on the same day, like there was some kind of force moving in his direction from women and girls. So now he was asking himself, "Is this something I should be paying attention to?" But then he blew it off because it wasn't like every female was coming on to him. Lynne, the girl he usually was on shift with, didn't seem any different. Well, maybe he caught her looking out of the corner of her eye or something, but that was probably nothing.
On the last day before they closed the beach for the summer, about 6:00 in the evening, when he was checking the cables and anchors from floats to see if he would have to dig them up, he saw Mrs. Transom again. She was walking along the shoreline fast, calling the dog again and again to stay close. She was smoking a cigarette and she stopped for a minute, looking over at him, then dropped the cigarette on the sand and ground it in with the toe of her boot.
He was tired when it got to the parking lot and headed toward his bike. One car, an older white Ford station wagon was there with its motor running, fine clouds coming from the exhaust. At first he thought it was Marcie's mom, who usually came to pick her up, and he waved. But then he remembered that her mom drove a Lexus.
As he was unlocking his bike the car drove over. She didn't say anything, so he didn't see that it was Mrs. Transom until he turned around and stood up.
" Simon, isn't it? " He was sometimes surprised that women could have such low voices and still not sound like guys. She spoke very slowly and carefully.
" Could you come here, please, Simon? "
He stood by the car door and she lightly touched his elbow with a finger of the hand that was on the sill
" I was wondering if you would be in a position to do me another little favor." She paused. "You'll be finished here after tomorrow, is that correct? "
Simon nodded. "Pretty much. Yeah."
" Then you probably will not start school for a couple of weeks. Is this right?"
" So I was thinking that perhaps you could do with some extra pocket money before you begin school; and I have some things that need doing. I am really not very happy with my yard service. "
" That's O.K. You think about it. Here. Right here is my number. " She stuffed a small piece of paper in his hand. " Call me. Call me when you're ready. I'll pay you twenty...five dollars an hour, if that's all right?"
It was only when she was driving away and he was saying " I will " at the tail lights that he realized he had been holding his breath. Then Marcie was coming over the hill, smiling, and asking if he needed a ride and then seeing his bike.
"You ride all the way home? I couldn't do it. I'm too damn pooped. Hey, you be careful." Her mother pulled into the lot." People like my mother drive like a madman, and you know how winding these roads are."
She grabbed the zipper on his jacket and pulled it up to his chin, pulled the visor of his cap, patted his shoulders.
"Well, here's my ride, see tomorrow."
For a second he was sure she was going to kiss him on the end of the nose. But then she was gone, sprinting to the car.
He wheeled into the driveway of his house without remembering one thing about the ride back from the pond.
The Pullout Party was great. Everybody showed up to get the floats and the docks out of the water. Marcie was trying to be really in charge again, probably because she mostly wasn't. The town Rec Supervisor was there and he was checking everything out so she was also showing off for him and since he was this guy right out of college and the assistant coach of the soccer team, and really good looking, Simon knew she was trying to impress him and probably flirt with him, too. So Simon knew, dammit, that he was kind of jealous, especially since he was basically just one of the peons. And this guy wasn't there for the day-to-day stuff so why should he be in on the party except that the Rec Department paid for it?
Then, before they had the food, they elected a new Leader of the Guards. It turned out to be him. Then they had to do The Ritual, The Drowning Of The Leader. So they took Marcie out in the boat and dumped her in the middle of the pond. For a while she screamed and splashed. Then it was his job to go and save her.
It was only half a joke, really, because they took the old leader really far out and then the new leader had to swim out and get the one without the board or the boat or anything. Then the old leader was supposed to act stupid and act desperate and try to drag the new one down.
He didn't figure she would give him a really hard time, but he was wrong. She kicked, then twisted around and put her hands on his face and pulled on his hair and sank down so that had he had to pull her up again.
Finally, he got smart and swam away under water and just let her hang and scream and then he swam back and grabbed her knees and spun her around, wrapped a strong arm around her and struck out for shore with a regular side stroke.
He was pooped, but felt pretty good, and it was a bonus that the inside of his arm was up against her breasts and he could feel her nipples hard against it. She struggled for a while but then she went limp. He figured she was making him pull dead weight, just to test him some more, except that when he stopped to shift his hold she just slipped under. He realized that she must either still be acting and or maybe she really fainted. Anyway, he took it seriously.
By the time he got to where he could touch, his heart was knocking around his chest like a sneaker in the dryer. Everybody on the beach was screaming and calling him the weakling and out of shape and everything, but he could hardly hear them. He just kept swimming until he slid on the sand in the shallow warm water. Marcie was lying on his chest, her legs all tangled in his.
He could have stayed like that forever. It seemed like time had stopped and there was nothing but the sand, the warm water, and the strange mix of bodies. But then he realized they were all shouting, " mouth to mouth, mouth to mouth, mouth to mouth". He had to do the last thing, which was doing all the right CPR things with his "drowning victim."
The ritual was to start C P R, mouth to mouth with the victim and then everyone had a turn, guys usually did the hand thing with other guys, but the girls mostly just went ahead and did it.
So they helped pull Marcie up onto the beach, and she was either out of it or pretending really well because she was really limp. He checked her pulse and breathing opened her mouth to make sure she hadn't swallowed her tongue, and then began the first breath. He had established a good rhythm when somebody tapped him on the shoulder.
"Good job, Chief. Mind if I cut in."
It was the Rec Leader. Simon was a little ticked. Outsiders weren't supposed to do this, but the guy was "the boss. He stepped aside and the Rec Leader started CPR. He couldn't be sure but it looked like Marcie was enjoying it.
He didn't call Mrs. Transom until the following Monday night, and then a little too late, maybe 9:45. She was awake, though her voice sounded kind of muffled. They agreed he would come at two on Wednesday and work other days until the job was done or school started, whichever came first.