Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Lifeguard (11/09/06)
TITLE: Stranger in Red
By Tim George
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Sally followed her husband’s eyes across the white sands toward the first approaching and then receding turquoise waters of the ocean. A brown pelican plummeted like a rock from the sky, mouth wide open as it slammed into a white capped wave. Seconds passed. Surely it had bashed its brains in. But then, it’s head popped up, gullet full of fish. Sandpipers played out their comedy of constantly chasing the waters as they rolled out and then running at breakneck speed away from them as they came crashing back in. A bottlenose dolphin rolled over, out past the second trough near the deep water, and then disappeared.
Sally eyed the scattered people in the water. She knew he wasn’t referring to the wildlife. It was a more foolish variety of life her husband was speaking of.
“Just look at them!” Richard gestured like an umpire calling someone out at first. “Rip tides all over the place. Red flags everywhere. Signs every hundred feet telling them what the blasted flags mean and yet there they are. For crying out loud, Sally, there’s little kids out there.”
Sally started to reply but paused. Sharp fragments of remembrance poked their way out from her repository of old memories interrupting her. Images of an inflatable water toy and a sudden realization of abandonment invaded the present. She could see a little girl, dragged away from the shore by a rip tide. No one saw until it was too late. Some tried futilely to get to her but could not. Wrestling with the ocean was never a fair fight.
The little girl screamed for rescue, clutching to her inflatable toy as she was dragged further and further from shore. Why didn’t her father or mother reach out and pull her back to safety? She couldn’t understand that such a thing was beyond them. Then from across the sands, a man sitting high atop a wooden perch spotted her. The stranger wearing red leapt from his perch and raced to the waters. Strong, powerful arms and legs blasted across the waves. And soon the little girl was safely back on shore.
Sally hung her head and wept new tears for an old memory. That stranger in red saved her life that day. But, he could not save his own. Or, more likely, he chose not to. Exhausted by his fight with the sea the man had used the last of his energy to get her to shore. And while everyone rejoiced over the return of a little girl no one noticed the man’s life had slipped away. His life for hers.
She blinked, suddenly aware of her momentary lapse. “I know Richard. And before the year is over someone will probably pay the price for it. “
She turned and gazed past the sand oats waving in the wind. A little white marker sat alone in the sand. A monument to a man who traded his life for a little girl many years before. Her eyes followed the shadows that fell across the marker to the high wooden perch just beyond it. On top of the perch sat a man in red swimming trunks, faithfully watching the waters while others played.
Sally had prayed and waited for such a moment for a very long time. Somehow she knew the time was now. She walked over to the man of her heart and took his hand.
“Richard. How long are you going to risk swimming alone?”
“Huh? You wouldn’t catch me out there in water like that. “
“No dear. You’re being swept out to sea in your heart and you know it. There’s a man wearing red that traded his life for yours. Don’t you think its time to quit fighting the one who is ready to save you?”
Richard followed Sally’s eyes to the tall lifeguard chair rising high above the white sands. In front of it stood a simple white concrete cross, placed there years before in memory of a life well given. In his heart, Richard could hear the call of another lifeguard Sally had often told him about. And he knew she was right. The time to surrender had come. A hint of a tear welled up in his eyes and he forced a faint smile.
“Yea. It is time.”
And the great lifeguard heard.
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