Something else happened on the weekend that I forgot to mention yesterday. Something that made the latest rejection of MS #1 look trivial at best.
We went for a run Saturday morning; Llew hasn’t been pounding the pavement much in recent months thanks to long hours in the office, so it wasn’t long before I’d pulled ahead. As I reached the south end of the beach, I saw a crowd gathered along the promenade outside the Man Town SLSC, gawking at something on the sand. I glanced across and saw what looked like a demonstration. There was a camera and boom, too, a film crew, so I just dismissed it as a training exercise, a simulation for the benefit of the cameras and the endless dirge of reality TV. In among all the lifesavers and life guards gathered in a circle, a pair of legs was visible, sticking out toward the surf just like the stockinged feet of the Wicked Witch of the East after she’s unceremoniously flattened by Dorothy’s house. They were a man’s legs, but slim, tanned, and I assumed they belonged to a lifesaver who’d volunteered to be “revived.” I kept running.
Turning around at Shelley Beach, I was surprised Llew was nowhere in sight. There’s usually no more than a couple of hundred metres between us, but this time he lagged well behind. When we finally crossed paths, he stopped and said, “Did you see that poor guy?”
“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t think it was real. There’s a camera there, right in his face.”
“It’s real,” Llew said glumly. “And it doesn’t look good. Poor bastard.”
“I don’t know. I think they pulled him out of the water.”
“But I saw his legs,” I said, still struggling to compute. “His legs looked young!”
“Well, he’s grey,” Llew said. “Grey hair, balding.”
“How awful! That’s terrible – there’s all these people standing around watching!”
We looked at each other.
“Petty things don’t matter,” I found myself saying.
Llew shook his head.
“I love you,” he said.
“I love you too.”
And we kissed, just briefly. I reached out to touch him before we went in opposite directions: be safe, my love.
When I came around the bend, I saw things had changed on the beach, and not for the better. An ambulance had arrived, and now the lifesavers were shielding the man not only with their bodies but with what looked like a plaid picnic blanket. The crowd had grown. The snout-like boom was still snuffling into the shot. I slowed down, partly to avoid colliding with any of the onlookers, but partly too because bouncing by while a man was being given mouth-to-mouth just seemed beyond crass. It didn’t seem right to stop, and it didn’t seem right to continue merrily on my way. More curious still, I had a sudden, intense urge to make the sign of the cross. I caught myself, caught the instinct, and started wondering about it as I slowly made my way around the front of the club, past all the people. Instead my hand crept up to cover the round O of my open mouth – an entirely inadequate replacement gesture, almost rehearsed, signifying none of what I wanted to send the universe’s way.
Be well, stranger. Breathe.
That is all I wanted to convey, simply the hope that this man’s life would be spared. But I had no invocation, no mark of respect, no ritual, and no right to pray to a god in whom I do not believe. My arms dangled; I was instantly clumsy and self-conscious. Where the urge had been spontaneous, resisting it caused all manner of creaky posturing. And all this happened in a second, the time it takes a lifeguard to pump a single breath into a still and silent heart.
Further along the beach, out of sight of the rescue effort, children squealed, couples held hands, day-trippers paused to take photos of the waves, while just a little way down the sand a man’s life was ebbing away. The message was part obscenity, part salvation: life goes on. A second ambulance came screaming down the street and people turned, a little dumbfounded, to watch as it passed.
I listened to my breathing. I willed the man to resume his own. I ran on.
By the time Llew passed the scene on his own return lap, it looked like they’d succeeded in finding a pulse. Finding? More like pounding; by this time they must have been performing CPR for at least twenty minutes. Llew said the ambos had the man on a gurney, but he was still unconscious and clearly wasn’t in great shape. Grey hair, and now grey skin too.
I wish – how I wish – I could tell you he lived. But he didn’t.
Alive. I am alive, and being alive makes me feel lucky. Writing makes me feel lucky too. Lucky, and alive.