Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
What The Living Do (inspired By Marie Howe’s Poem)
by Jane Holly Love
Salmon Creek Beach, Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I are here to escape the inland heat, to fling ourselves into saltwater, to run shivering back to our blanket to eat bread and cheese, potato chips and nectarines.
The sun is turning from white gold to blood orange when we hear a shout, where Salmon Creek spills from the hillside, pooling into a small but deep lagoon. First, no more than one raised arm, another shout, one person diving down and coming up with a cry. then two arms raised. Then a small knot of people running into the water, something going on where swimmers are surface diving, coming up for air, going down again, then swimming to shore with something in tow.
Every person on the beach is turning toward the lagoon, not running over, but turning that way and sitting, as you would at a Fourth of July picnic where you watch the band performing from a discreet distance. All the splashing children have gone silent.
We see it clearly now, effort being made over the large, pale form on the sand, the pumping that is going on, people running up the sand dune in lines, like purposeful ants. The pumping rhythm does not stop and soon we hear the faraway drone of a helicopter and then it whirs overhead and lands near where the people are kneeling and pumping. We see someone in a uniform, running.
Then, paddles placed on the pale form and limbs jerking upward, again and again, and then falling, still. Nobody on the beach is moving, everyone is still, watching from a distance, on beach towels as colorful as magic carpets. No human sound, just gulls, just the water sucking at the sand, in, out, receding, returning.
The helicopter lifts and spins at a crazy angle and some people take the pale form and lift it on a stretcher and cover it, then stagger with it up the path to the parking lot. No one is running now. The sun has slipped to where it sits low and inflamed on the water. I hold my daughter close to me.
One by one we rise, brush off sand, fold towels. Thin wail of a baby. My daughter takes the last of the nectarines and sprints to the water. Hurls it in a long, clean arc toward the setting sun.
Jane Holly Love, former Events Coordinator for Copperfield's Books in Sonoma County and editor of "The Dickens" is now living and writing in Eugene, Oregon.
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