"Run to the house and tell Grampa to call 911."
I pivoted, sprinted over the boardwalk, leaving watery footprints. But Mother grew impatient and dashed past me, lunging for the phone.
"What's going on?"
No reaction. She punched in the number. "Send an ambulance…." She paced into another room. BAM, the door slammed.
I wandered back to the beach, sucking on a salty strand of hair. Clambering onto the railing, I peered over the dune. People congregated a few feet from our umbrella. I hopped off, ran down the boardwalk, feet hitting thunk thunk thunk against the wood. Bounding over the steps, I stumbled down the hill and careened towards the umbrella.
"What's going on?"
My aunt and cousin stared from the shade; my dad ambled towards the crowd. Waves crashed like rolling static in my head.
My feet sunk into sand as I trotted over. "What's going on?"
"What does it say?" Mommy curled the page back. I batted her hand away.
"I'm not done yet!" Little fingers pushed keys, and the typewriter spat up ink: letters (click), numbers (bing), and punctuation (clink). I loved the sound of the keys, the mechanized popping as I translated myself through gears and springs, becoming bionic. Tick tick tick: the page snapped up.
"Will you read it to me when you're done?"
I gave her a toothy grin. "Yes." Ping.
I peeked through the people: a man knelt over a body, pumping the chest again and again: kathump, kathump. Everyone waited for a breath in silence, choked by waves and kathumps. I could almost hear the seconds passing: tick tick tick.
"What's happening?" I took my dad's hand, but he was focused on the man and his soggy lungs.
Tick tick tick.
A sound came louder, louder, a siren shrieking as air burned her throat. The boardwalk creaked with a stampede, and I looked up as paramedics stormed the beach. No one else saw; they were concentrating on prayer, on stretching fate.
Then it came: a little gasp barely distinct from a death rattle, and everyone could exhale.
The pumping man stood, the paramedics swarmed. A stretcher was slipped under the man. People shifted; I bobbed about, trying to find a keyhole to look through. I heard Velcro stitch together. A collective grunt: the stretcher was in the air, moving to the boardwalk, trailed by people like a parade.
I dashed back to our umbrella. "They're taking him—come on!"
My cousin and I rushed to the porch to the stairs to the balcony to see the stretcher swept down the dune.
"What are they doing?"
There was nowhere to go: one street, one police car, one fire truck—no place for a stretcher.
"Is it over?" Mommy was back at my work desk.
I pulled out the page with a flourish. "Yes."
It was nonsense: arbitrarily-chosen letters spewed across paper, symbols whimsically arrayed in what I would fashion, on the spot, into a story. I directed my mother to take a seat in the giraffe chair.
"Once upon a time there was a princess named Holly. She was very very pretty. She had a true love: Charlie. He was very handsome and nice. Everyone in the whole world loved them." I stretched 'whole' almost to breaking point. "They were getting married. She had a big white dress with sparkles all over it." I rambled on, explaining exactly how enchanting Holly and Charlie and the whole kingdom was. "But an evil, dark witch was jealous of Holly because Holly was prettier and smarter and nicer than she was. So the witch stole Holly and kept her in her evil, black castle."
Darkness passed over us—thwack thwack thwack—and a helicopter descended into an empty lot across the street, flattening grass and gusting sand.
An oxygen mask was strapped over the man's mouth. Two paramedics wheeled the stretcher across the street with the utmost caution, a slow and deliberate pace as they watched the man with the driftwood lungs. The seconds ricocheted through my skull: tick tick tick.
A door slid open, and they pushed the stretcher to it. Popping the wheels up, they hoisted the stretcher through the hatch and into the helicopter. One paramedic hopped in with it, the other jumping into the passenger seat of the helicopter.
The rotors spun furiously, grass bowed, and it lifted off. We watched it ascend, plunge down the coastline until it was only marked by the glint of sunlight off its metal shell. The crowd began to disintegrate. We went back inside, past Mother.
"Mommy, what happened?"
Her face held a gray shadow. "Heart attack. He couldn't swim."
"Charlie fought the witch and saved Holly. She was so happy her true love rescued her, and she hugged him."
I looked out the window at the street. The fire truck was blocking traffic, and a few cars were stuck. With only one road, there was nowhere to turn.
My gaze caught on one car: on the back windshield, swirly pink and white letters spelled "Just Married."
"And they lived happily ever after. The end."