It's Not Safe to Swim Today

Tim Tucker

From the beach, eight year old Clay Ramsey watched his mother as she sliced through totally macking fourteen foot waves like a human blade. She carved through the waves trough with enough force and precision to tame the fury of the sea itself, and for one brief, glorious moment as she hanged a perfect ten at the crest of the wave she lived up to her self proclaimed moniker of Kaha Huna, the Hawaiian goddess of the surf.

The moment passed as quickly as it had come and Kaha broke through the wave.

Clay ran to the waters edge, clapping and stomping with unabashed glee as his mother emerged from the water like some majestic Siren, surfboard in hand. In her, Clay could see his perfect reflection as clear as the surface of a pristine pond; from their sun dried skin and hair the color of golden sand to their eyes as deep and blue as the ocean, but it was the intangibles that she passed down to him that mattered the most. Kaha Huna had given him life, she had given him the surf, but most of all, she had given him time.

It was late summer and all the other kids were preparing to go back to school save for Clay, for young Clay's lessons were taught on the waves. Surfing was life, surfing was death, and what Kaha Huna had really given her son was the opportunity to live his life without the awareness of time and death, which seemed to make their lives flow as gently as the tide.

Just go with the flow.

"Mama, mama! That was the most super omega raddest thing ever!" Clay jumped into her waiting arms, the scent of salt heavy on her body.

"Whoa keiki, you're getting big!"

"Oh mama can I go in the water now too, can I? Please?"

"In a bit little dude, mama needs to rest first."

Clay stood there and watched the sun take away the water beads on his mothers body. He watched the waves come up and fall down on the beach with powerful elegance. Mother and son trekked further along the beach where Kaha spread open a fuzzy magenta blanket for them to lay on. There were only about a dozen people on the beach, the numbers becoming increasingly low as the days became shorter and everything slipped towards the sadness of Autumn. Along the boardwalk sand blew up in curtains against the lonely vendor stands and the merry-go-round stood silent, the horses and griffins and unicorns frozen in mid stride with only the wind for music.

Kaha Huna and Clay began to build a sand castle the way they always constructed them, with mother crafting one side and son the other. While they worked, Kaha smoked one of her funny cigarettes, her pakalolo as she liked to call them, its pungent yet sweet aroma mingling with the scent of the ocean and although the cigarettes always made her eyes look like she was crying, Kaha could never have been happier.

A short while later Kaha Huna lay sprawled upon the towel, her eyes distant and bloodshot but with a look of great serenity on her face.

"Mama I want to run up the beach a ways," Clay said.

"Sure little dude, but don't be gone too long, and don't go near the water." She droned, eyes staring into nothing.

Clay ran, the sand swirling between his feet and his arms outstretched as if he were flying. Mama withdrew into the distance, unmoving. Soon she was only a speck and Clay was all alone.

Being alone was not a new thing for Clay but as he looked up and down the beach to secure his solitude and slid into the water, letting it cool up to his stomach, he felt a new sense of loneliness, one that put his mind at peace.

Foreboding waves stumbled like flourishing lace as Clay waded a dangerous distance into the water. His tiny bones and muscles cramped with fatigue and his breathing became ragged. A stuttering wave washed over Clay and in an instant he was taken under, the light from the sun disappearing into blue abyss. The water settled quiet, but would not let young Clay Ramsey return.

Somewhere, the infernal hands of time ticked away with enough shearing force to cleave a body in half.


Clay closed his eyes and went with the flow.

Twenty years later.

Clay Ramsey strolled along the deserted stretch of beach, surfboard in hand. The shore was even lonelier this day than what it was on that faithful day all those years ago. All of the vendor booths were boarded and nailed shut as if Summer itself was interred inside of a multitude of coffins and the merry-go-round was hidden beneath a large tarp, forever still, forever silent. Further along the beach an old bag lady sifted through litter strewn about the once clean sands.

Clay watched her for some time as she picked through discarded cans and food containers, perhaps searching for something to eat but only finding more sand. She dropped to her knees and began to mold and shape the sand with her hands, oblivious to anyone watching her. When she was finished she seemed to stare upon her creation with great admiration.

One half of a sand castle.

Without warning the bag lady reared back her arm and swiped away the partial castle into the wind. She grabbed fistfuls of sand and let it run between her fingers, like the ashes of destroyed dreams. After sprinkling more sand aimlessly, the bag lady continued her ritual of molding and shaping sand, perhaps waiting for some little keiki to come along and finish it.

The lifeguard boat pulled up to the shore, its scarlet emergency beacon gently pulsing in the twilight air. The lifeguard stepped out of the boat slowly, something in his arms.

Clay stood frozen. His lungs burned as he tried to exhale, like a fish out of water as the lifeguard emerged from the water with a gray sack, his face as ashen as the sands.

Clay walked slowly down the beach to where the lifeguard stood. For a moment, neither spoke. The lifeguard stared at Clay as if he were squinting into a murky pond. He put the gray sack down on the sands, the water whispering over its surface.

"What did you find?" Clay asked, his voice small.

"A body," said the lifeguard.

A dry wind blew along the shore.

"Damnedest thing," he continued. "He's been dead a long time."

"How long?" Clay asked.

"God, probably about twenty years I'd say. There were thirteen children that drowned in these waters but we recovered all of them except for one, so at least twenty years. It's not...pleasant."

Clay stared at the sack, at the lump that glistened with beads of water. "Open it," he said.

The lifeguard fumbled with the sack. "I really outta warn you it's not a pretty sight, a shark must've got a hold of him at some -"

"Hurry up dude!"

"I better not," he said, then as if unnerved by something he saw in Clay's eyes he reconsidered and opened it part way. That was enough. Daylight died and the sea breathed and Clay stared down at the tiny little body, his face mercifully out of view.

"Where did you find him?"

"Down the beach, that way. Body probably got caught in a nearby reef, that's why we couldn't find it even after all these years. Do you, uh...know this kid?"

"No sir. No I do not."

Clay fished in his back pocket and retrieved an old Hawaiian Waterhouse coin. He flicked the coin into the body bag. For you safe journey to the afterlife keiki,

The lifeguard tied the sack again.

A short while later Clay drifted down the beach, alone. He came to the spot where the lifeguard had found the body and watched the great slab of water roil and tumble with unconscious grace. Clay followed the little golden prints of feet leading into the water towards fourteen foot glassy monolithic waves that pumped from far distant lands.

They looked so epic, live.