Their beach was known for its riptides and blowholes. Flanked by large headlands on the east and the west, two lifeguards sat on their tower chairs beside each other, staring ahead in silence. James had been fifteen minutes late this morning, so Sandra dragged the flags and the rescue boards out from the shed alone. She had a statuesque swimmer’s body. She wore a red one-piece swimsuit and he wore matching little red shorts. It was just the two of them this early in the day. He still smelt vaguely of Clara from the night before.
“Hey mate, I’m going for a dip.” He said at 6:30 am, and ran down into the water.
Sandra shifted in her seat watching James do backstroke in the crashing waves. He was a stronger swimmer than her by far, but she could beat him hands down in a beach sprint. Most mornings lately she would have to set up alone like this. Clara and James started seeing each other after the Formal a few months ago and since then have been hooking up every other night. So he would arrive at 6.15, silent, letting the wind throw cheap perfume in her face. He’d then swim for 10 minutes to wash off the night before. They’d worked together for nearly four years but it was only recently that he hadn’t been pulling his weight. Back then they would have chatted for hours about school, their parents, friends and Home & Away. These days he texts Clara most of the time and she allowed her mind to drift out into the ocean.
Sandra didn’t mind the new quiet. She used the time to observe the tides and try to predict their patterns. She would read them like words, or like friends, or like words with friends, or like a super-complex system, or like someone’s pockets full of money. James had discovered Clara, so Sandra discovered the tides. She became infatuated by them. Each morning she would greet them before he arrived. Legs spread up on the tower alone. She would say out loud, in a good strong voice—Hello, good to get to know you today. I know you not as you were yesterday, nor will I know you as the same tomorrow. She would feel the ocean rumble in approval. She’d then count the waves, gauge their strength and hierarchy. She’d twist her mind through them, do backflips through the sets in meditation. It would often speak back to her and offer wonderful gifts. About a month ago she had been in a deep connection with a particularly strong current for a good two hours. Later that evening, she walked along the shore and a perfectly round stone washed up in front of her. It was as black as obsidian so she kept it as a makeshift yoni egg. Pulse Pulse Pulse. Hold. Breathe. Drum. Drum. Drop. Repeat. Pulse Pulse.
There was a small lifeguard shed not far from the tower, up closer towards the parking lot and milk bar and the freeway. Wind would shutter through rafters to make them creak and bend. A rodent scuttled through, stopping at a forgotten paddle boat from the 70s. On the walls there were racks of dusty ores and flotation rings gathering cobwebs. The mouse wandered around quietly, taking morning inventory of her realm—counting all the boats and oars. The threshold of her space was marked by a great wooden door secured by a rusty padlock. The mouse scuttled to her door and peeked out to see a wellbuilt man in red shorts sitting in the in the sun. She took extra cover beneath a dry leaf, only her little nose and whiskers poking out. His body was so strong and damp.
“Hey babe… yep… yeah… nah… she’s being weird again.” He said, holding his phone with a towel around his hand to stop it from getting wet. The little mouse watched him walk in circles now, sniffing at his salty body.
“Can’t wait to see you later babe.”
“Lunch?” Sandra asked at 1 o’clock.
“Chicken Pie.” He said.
“Sprite. Thanks mate.”
Sandra walked up to the Milk Bar and fished out their lunch from a freezer bin. She placed the two pies in the small microwave and set the timer to five minutes. The small light showed them slowly defrost and go soggy. The thin plastic packaging curled in the heat waves, collecting condensation from the pastry as they spun in little circles.
“Busy down there today?” Asked the thin store clerk, leaning over his small counter. “Nup.” She said, not looking away from her little universe.
The timer dinged and two soggy pastries emerged. She stuffed them into white paper bags and bought them to the counter with 1 x Sprite and 1 x black instant coffee.
“Well,” he continued, “the weather’s due to turn at 12 so let’s hope that will get some little tadpoles coming down!”
“Little Tadpoles?” She asked. He was a thin man in a fitted striped shirt. He stood in front of a large window that framed her beach. She saw the tower as a small blur in the distance.
“You know, the little ones. Brandy, Cassidy, Sean, Joanna and Ruby. They come down here a lot lately.”
“Oh, right. Them.” She replied, watching the small shadow of James walking up and down their beach.
The Milk Bar clerk was just standing there grinning. He’s psychotic. His clothing fit too well. He was about 45 and had told her that he moved to Portsea for a fresh start. She thought about the abhorrent things he must’ve done to atone for in this coastal milk bar. Suddenly his counter was too sterile for her. All the cleaning agents in the room became very apparent to her nose. She saw his hand cells drying from hand sanitiser, threw him a pink $5 and left.
Back at the tower she watched James carefully drizzle sauce over his pie. The wind had picked up a little, so his wavy blonde hair flapped over his eyes. She looked at the hive of whiteheads that lived at the corner of his lips. He released a burp and leaned back after finishing. Sandra noticed a red welt on his stomach. It was like little red racetracks of different red streaks; she saw no pattern but stared at them trying to decode them regardless.
“Um, what are those?” She asked.
“Those.” She pointed down at the red streaks that emerged from below the elastic of his shorts. “Did something bite you? There are loads of White Tails around this season.” “How do you know that?” He asked.
“Portsea Ecological Foundation’s Twitter.” She said, looking closer.
“Fuck off mate! They’re scratch marks or something.” He twisted his torso to show her. “Sandflies or something.”
“Nup.” She said: “Sandflies don’t concentrate bites in one area. They’d get you everywhere. Show me!” She reached out, grasping for his shorts.
“Stop you perv!”
“Dude, I’m not perving. White Tail bites are serious if you don’t get them checked out. Maggie got rushed to hospital last week because she was bitten on the scalp. She had no idea until she was wiggling on the ICU floor.”
“Urgh fine.” He untied the red shorts and shimmied them down to the hilt of his pale dick, revealing a quaff of black hair. The whole area was welted where he’d been scratching. She saw little dark spots on his skin like mounds. She gently agitated one with her nail and his body jolted at the touch. The little thing began to crawl.
“Omg you have crabs.” She blurted.
“Why aren’t they moving?”
Sometimes when she stared so hard into the ocean, her gaze would begin to feel dense and heavy. Under the sun, with a full stomach and the ocean’s yoni egg in place, she would feel the ocean spirit tug at her like a rope tied to her tummy. When alone in the tower, she would let out heavy groans towards the sea, bleating like a goat. It would call back to her by sending gigantic waves, or a zig-zaggy current, or the blowhole nearby would erupt with her wailing.
The morning clouds dissipated at 11:10 am and true to the Milk Bar clerk’s word, a car pulled into the parking lot. About five kids ran down holding towels and lunch bags.
Their parents waved from rolled down windows and drove back towards the freeway.
“Oi!” James yelled up at the car. “Those fucking parents are leaving their kids again. This is not a fucking daycare!” He was waving and shouting. “Oi! Watch your own fucking kids!”
They sprinted across the hot sand. Sandra didn’t really mind.
“Okay, there are five of them.” Sandra called out while she noted down each kid’s description in their log. A fundamental rule of lifeguarding was the first head count. After that you just watch. And act: Sandra took this very seriously, making sure to write the date on top of the page too.
One purple one piece bathing suit, blue goggles: 10 years old approx, green speedo with a red snorkel: 8 y/o approx. two piece pink bikini w/ yellow dots: 5 total: no dog or cat.
Sandra cast her mind into the waves. She let herself drift into a soft trance. She imagined money as an animal. Then the sea as an animal. Then money as a sea or a super-complex or stupid human. If you’re just a human? Show me how you feel sorrow. The blowhole exploded. She thought of herself and James as money in the water, drifting little pink $5 notes in the undercurrent. Her eyes glazed and she felt groggy like the obsidian yoni egg pulling her over. Malaise came over her in pulsing waves but she still concentrated on the water’s patterns. Examine the 2nd wave of the 4th set. That’s the mode of the day. That’s in the 7th set and judged by the power of the 6th wave. She counted out seven waves from the first set. At the 2nd wave she saw a dark streak in the ocean like lightning, beginning right between their flags—where the kids played in the shallows. A tumultuous rip was forming before her eyes.
She watched the children being swept out but couldn’t move in her seat. The yoni egg kept her fastened down like a magnet. A tingling sensation began at her crown and trickled slowly down her sun kissed face. It was like the very membrane of her skin felt fizzy and prickly. She remembered a TED talk where a lady was self-aware during her own stroke. A soft voice came to her.
What would you give for these children? For their lives?
Are you the spirit of the ocean?
I am a spirit of this part of the sea, yes, there is no spirit of the entire ocean.
Is it you who I speak with, where I get my knowledge of patterns? Of the sea and of money?
Will you let me kill your friend? Asked the voice. She saw James over near the reef, unaware that the children were in dire need of his help.
Will you let me suck him under? I want to see his body twirl in my depths.
Not him, she said.
Which man will you give?
Sandra conjured an image of the Milk Bar clerk. The first man that came to mind.
With some expert movements she expelled the yoni egg and ran down the ladder.
On hearing her scream, James immediately ran for the life boards and grabbed two. He followed her sprinting into the waves, ready for any command she may throw at him. He’d been a lifeguard for nearly four years now but she was far superior. Halfway out they were paddling beside each other and he saw the drive in her eyes, the waters ripple in her pupils.
“How many again?” He yelled.
“One purple 10 green speedo red 8 two bikini…” She chanted all their descriptions. It all sounded like nonsense to him, but he trusted her. Five.
At the spot where the kids went under, they stopped to gather their breath bobbing on their boards looking down into the depths for any sign. She felt the under currents sucking them deeper and deeper away from her. She told James to secure the boards together for CPR.
“I’ll take the first dive,” she said and went under.
Down in the ocean where the waves above were far off, there lived a small hermit crab called Michelle. She had beady eyes like black pools and the most fabulous shell on the peninsula. Today on her walk through her shipwreck she saw some five little children, drifting down towards her.
Yay. She thought. What a nice surprise.
Maybe one will land right next to me. Maybe I can watch the air bubbles trickle out of its mouth. She thought of all the ways she could nibble on their skin once it became waterlogged enough to eat. She hoped that they would land near her so she could crawl over them. Oh she hoped this would happen. Oh what a blessing from the tri-goddesses of the reef, of the waves, of the shipwreck. She thanked Goriodisg’skkaffa. She thanked FFslkd’lldklld, she thanked YUU’Ullfl. But then a darker shape approached and snatching them all up away from her. She raised her tiny pincers and nipped up at Sandra as she swam them towards the surface.
Sandra hurled them onto the boards. They took it in turns to revive the children one by one. Eventually they were surrounded by five coughing and spluttering children. Sandra and James moved to the back of their makeshift raft and paddled it back towards the beach, side by side.
“How did you know?” He asked.
“Dunno,” she said, “just had a feeling.” There was no way James would believe her connection with their beach spirit, or whatever it was. She could feel it now though. Stronger than ever, below her, speaking with her, attached to them, she would forever be in conversation with her. Her father, her goddess, her friends, her be all and end all, her love, her guides, her limbs and heart. The goddess, her goddess was below her—touching her, caressing her legs with currents. Keeping her warm. They gathered the children under their tower to wait for the Toyota Camry to return.
Once it did, James and the father nearly got in a fist fight up in the parking lot. She had never seen him this angry, but the father was both ashamed and very tipsy, so Sandra separated them. The mother was crying and hugging all them in a big mound of towels. Pretty much everyone in Portsea came down to the Back Beach that afternoon. News outlets all the way from Melbourne had driven up to report on the events of the day. Triple Threat at Portsea Back Beach said one of the headlines. The brave rescue of five local children was eclipsed by the sudden death of a nearby Milk Bar clerk. Two drunk drivers arrested at the scene—thought to be the children’s parents. Children safe in protective services.
After the press left and the children were whisked away into the hands of the government. Sandra and James slowly began to pack up the their station. Up in the tower, James found a strange black object on Sandra’s plastic seat.
“What’s this?” He asked, picking it up.
“It’s a… um… I dunno, I found it on the beach.” She said, mortified.
“Pretty cool shape.” He said.
“Well yeah, I kind of use it for… exercise.” She said.
“Oh, right. Cool.” He said, acting casual.
“Goss about this to anybody and I’ll goss about your… things.” She laughed.
“Ok deal,” he said. “Better not see Clara for a while.”
They sat in the car together as dusk moved into the night. The cool change had come so they wore matching black hoodies that said Portsea Lifeguarding Society on the back. Slow dubstep played over the radio. Sandra rolled down the window and lit a thin joint hidden in her glovebox.
“What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” He asked, taking a long drag. He hadn’t asked her a serious question for years.
“I don’t know exactly what yet, but I want heaps and heaps of money.” She said. “I also never want to part with this part of the ocean. I think they’re connected. I have a feeling that if I stay by this ocean, lots of money will come to me.” “Cool.” He said.
“What about you?” She asked.
“I’m thinking of doing a year of TAFE up in Melbourne but I’ll be back. Maybe like Graphic Design or something low-key like that.”
Sandra reclined the seat and covered her mouth to yawn. James took out his phone and showed her: 21 missed calls – 42 messages (Clara). She rolled her eyes. She thought about having a little nap here next to James. He would take her home eventually.
“What’s she going on about?” Asked Sandra, then drifted off to sleep.
“Clara’s older brother is a- ”