The sand burns the soles of Glenn’s feet, but what does it matter? He’s on a vacation he can’t afford with a wife he suspects doesn’t love him and step-children he’s not sure he loves. Let the sand burn.
“Could you hurry it up?” calls his wife, Haley. She and seven-year-old Macy are easily 30 yards ahead of Glenn, who’s carrying the gigantic mesh bag of shovels and pails and another over-sized canvas bag of beach towels, water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, and his sandals. A blanket droops from under his arm.
Every few steps Glenn pauses for four-year-old Hunter to catch up. A breeze blows sand into the boy’s eyes. “Carry me,” he cries with a seal-like bark, remnants of the previous night’s croup.
Glenn actually considers it before saying, “Not enough hands, Sport. Hang in there.”
“These make my feet scratchy.” Hunter points toward his water shoes, his arms almost perpendicular to his body due to the neon-orange “swimmies” encircling them. He’s been wearing them since the moment he woke up. Glenn’s not sure they’re enough to keep him safe. They shouldn’t be on a private beach without a lifeguard—but Haley insisted on a prime spot on the Lido Key.
Finally Glenn and Hunter meet up with Haley and Macy. They're clad in matching terrycloth jumpers; each has a hand atop a floppy sunhat. They’ve stopped at the exact center of this strand where gulf meets land. Whenever he takes them to the movies, they choose center seats in the theater, too. This should be telling him something.
Hunter points at the only two sunbathers in the secluded alcove. “Where’s the butts on those swimsuits?”
“Hey Hunter, look here—help me spread this blanket.” Glenn drops everything he’s carrying at once. “Grab this end and pull. A stream of air snags Hunter’s corner from his dimpled grasp. He squeals. Mother and daughter look on. “Can’t one of you help him out?” Macy half-heartedly jumps for a corner, misses and sits—watches Glenn finish the job.
“Glenny,” says Haley, pulling her hair back. “Don’t forget sunscreen before you take them in the wat—”
“You put sunscreen on them. I need cooling off.”
His wife removes her bug-eyed sunglasses. “Is that any way for a Christian man to talk to his new wife?” But for once, Glenn doesn’t care—his feet already chilled by damp dark sand.
There’s no hesitation, no getting used to the water. The waves march up his body until he dives under, feels the relief of near weightlessness. The wind continues inland even as the current directs him to the third set of breakers.
Glenn loses time as he rolls up one incline after another. His fingertips become puckered and his mouth feels dry. Yet, he could stay out here forever. He begins talking to God about this very course of action. Or maybe it’s a course of inaction. He chuckles at his play on words, feels the spasm gathered at his ribs, but the sound dies through the rush of air and ocean.
It’s then that he notices the water surrounding him has turned dark red, like he imagines blood returning to the heart looks. But he isn’t afraid. Maybe the heat has gotten to him, or maybe he’s thinking more clearly than ever. He arches back into the waiting palms of the water, surrounded by the blood of Christ. Forgiven of all, cleansed of all, absolved of all. Well, perhaps not the last. Perhaps he’s not absolved of all responsibility.
A trio of seagulls squawks on azimuth with the sun, which ticks at the horizon. Glenn forces his legs under him, takes a look around. Surprisingly, their beach hasn’t moved. There’s Haley at the shoreline, waving, mouth agape—in the opposite direction, a dusky spectrum of pinks.
The salt stings his burned face as he treads homeward. Haley’s shouts become more coherent. “Get out! Get out!—it’s a red tide.” He trudges through the diminishing waves, while Haley continues shouting. Soon he’s poised directly in front of her. “You call yourself a Christian?” she yells. “You owe us better. You have to take care of us.”
Glenn snatches her flailing arm, stills it. “I don’t have to do anything. What I do, I do of my own free will. Never forget that.” The wind, the persistent wind that has plagued him the entire day, relaxes.
He calls to his children, climbing along jagged rocks.
No water today—time to build a sandcastle.
Author’s Note: Red Tide is the common name for a phenomenon more accurately known as “Algae Bloom.” The pigment can be produced offshore and then blown in by a wind. The color causes alarm, but the released toxins are only dangerous to those with respiratory problems.
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