Beyond the Breakers
didn’t budge when I slipped out of bed. Out
in the condo’s living room I pulled on my swimming trunks.
A quick peek into the boys’ room assured that all was well there.
Goldie, curled up in their bedroom doorway, looked up at me quizzically.
It was 4:30 a.m.
to come?” I half whispered. The
old dog sprang to her feet and headed out to the deck.
stepped out behind her into the pleasant summer air.
Our rental unit had an expansive deck that looked out over a beach.
Beyond stretched the
tide,” I thought, glancing at the setting moon.
descended the steps and trotted across the sand to the water’s edge. The
water felt warmer than the air as I waded in.
on,” I called back to Goldie. She
shifted her weight from side to side and gave a little bark, evidently thinking
that I had momentarily taken leave of my senses.
Only after I dove through the breakers did she plunge in.
a strong swimmer and had no trouble pacing the dog as we left the breakers
behind. Once or twice I rolled over
and backstroked, wishing that more stars were visible through the pall of smog.
The sea was about as calm as it gets off the
minutes out Goldie began to complain with little worrying sounds.
I, in turn, practically collided with a round-topped wooden buoy.
It bobbed up and down in the water. In
the dim light I could make out others to either side.
boundary for swimmers?” I wondered. I
laid a forearm over the gnarled wood, not at all tired.
Goldie surged past, made a 180, and headed back to shore without
explanation. I let the old girl go.
Lately I’d noticed gray hairs on her muzzle.
years old … 56 in human years,” I thought.
“I’d probably head in too if I were that old.”
… at 45 I felt like I was barely past the height of my physical powers, and I
decided to push on for awhile. I
kicked away from the buoy and settled into a comfortable crawl.
Four more respites of backstroking and I ran into another line of buoys.
I wondered what purpose this second set might serve.
Briefly toying with the idea of pushing still further out, I had a
premonition that it was time to head back toward the shore lights.
a start I realized there were no lights in view!
I wheeled around two or three times … a big mistake I realized almost
instantly. All I could see was mist.
A fog had rolled in that quickly.
way to go? It occurred to me that,
in spinning around, I was no longer sure which direction from the line of buoys
pointed toward shore. I treaded
water and strained to hear something. But
the only sounds were those of water swirling around the buoy.
Real panic seized me. If I
headed off out to sea instead of toward the shore …
then it hit me! If I didn’t run
into the first line of buoys in ten minutes or less, I’d know I was headed in
the wrong direction.
kicked away from the buoys, suddenly vexed by the prospect of another 20 or 30
minutes of swimming if I’d guessed wrong.
And of course my strategy depended on my swimming a straight line without
anything to use for bearings!
my frantic mind seized on another thought. It
must now be at least 5 a.m. The sun
should be lighting the east. I
paused, treading water, and looked around. There
in the mist! A slight glow!
right! East!” I exulted.
I wheeled around 180 degrees in the water.
And this would be west! But
then, totally puzzled, I found myself staring into an equal glow.
lights?” I wondered. “Or the
decided to head toward the second glow. Cursing
under my breath, I pushed off. I was
beginning to feel tired, and forced myself to a less strenuous sidestroke.
I could wind up spending another hour out here!
How could I have been so STUPID? I
began counting seconds as best I could.
it’s been 10 minutes,” my mind cried 600 counts later.
And no buoys. God help me,
was I actually headed out to sea? I
knew I didn’t have the guts to do another 180.
the course,” I growled, swallowing some seawater and choking.
DAMN! I could end up DROWNING
out here! I tried to force the
prospect out of my mind and pushed on.
ten minutes later and I felt like I was running out of steam.
I was only half swimming and half treading water.
Slow progress. I tried to be
optimistic. The good part was that,
if I’d guessed wrong back at the buoys, I was only inching toward
occurred to me that my weakening motions might resemble those of a stricken
fish. And just then something
scraped my legs.
I screamed gutturally, visions of “Jaws” flashing in my mind’s eye.
I stopped dead still, barely keeping my head above water.
Again! Something sniffing my
legs! I savagely dove forward and
grabbed the attacker, dragging it to the surface.
Tears squirted from my eyes when I saw that it was only a piece of
seaweed, broken free from the seabed and drifting along a few feet down.
later I found myself agonizing over the prospect of Janey and the boys having to
go on without me. Would I wash up on
the beach? Or would my disappearance
be a mystery? Surely Janey would
notice the pajama bottoms and the missing swimming trunks.
Would she conclude that I’d actually been stupid enough to go into the
ocean, alone, in the dark?
I pushed on with leaden arms, I could tell I was crying.
It had been years since I’d shed tears.
Not since my mother’s funeral.
now your own,” I acknowledged ruefully. “Burial
God,” I cried aloud, “Give me a sign. Show
me the way.”
immediately I heard it. A faint
Where had it come from? To
on, girl!” I shouted across the waves. I
listened as well as I could, trying to make headway toward the last sound.
Goldie, bark again,” I willed silently. “Come
on, girl!” I cried out again. “Speak,
there was no more sound. Nothing but
silence. But then … snuffling
sounds dead ahead. Out of the mist
Goldie’s head came plowing through the water.
I was too overcome with joy to greet her.
It didn’t matter. She swam
up to me, assessed my condition with a couple of sniffs, and veered back from
whence she’d come. I followed her
like a puppy.
was too weak to keep up with her, but she doubled back several times so that I
could keep her in view. It occurred
to me that things were getting brighter. The
fog was lifting.
keen ears probably hear the surf,” I guessed.
And before the thought left my head I could make out the white line of
breakers and scattered shore lights beyond.
the time I slogged up through the surf I was so exhausted I fell to my knees on
the hard wet sand. The old dog
licked the salt water from my face, whining solicitously and wagging her tail
mia!” I grunted, struggling to my feet. Goldie
had taken the shortest line back to shore, and our rental unit was a quarter
mile to the south. I started the
trek back, weaving on the sand slope like a drunken sailor.
Goldie, who normally would have taken the point out in front, seemed to
sense my exhaustion and padded along at my side.
minutes later we’d made it back to the condo. I
was so tired I had to use the handrail to drag myself up the wooden steps.
you BEEN?” Janey scolded, coming out onto the deck.
swim,” I smiled wanly.
SWIM???” her eyes seemed to ask.
I smell coffee?” I asked, trying to hide my exhaustion and ward off further
down,” she commanded. “I’ll
bring you a mug.”
sank into one of the chaise lounges. It
felt unbelievably wonderful. Within
seconds Janey set a steaming mug of coffee on the table beside me.
I took a sip, warming my hands around the gaily-painted container.
Janey seemed to sense that I was cold.
The truth was I was chilled to the bone.
she said gently, draping a big beach towel over my shoulders.
“Relax and drink your coffee. I’ll
fix some breakfast.”
lay with her back to the deck railing.
GIRL,” I said softly. Her rope of
a tail thumped the decking a couple of times.
Then with a groaning sigh she laid her chin on her paws and began
best friend,” I marveled affectionately.
picked up a pair of binoculars from the table and scanned the sea.
The first row of buoys was clearly visible.
But try as I might, I couldn’t find the second line further out.
Did they even exist? Or had I
circled around after Goldie headed back to shore?
The hairs on my neck tingled when I considered just how turned around
I’d probably gotten out there in the fog.
on the beach a dozen quarreling gulls swirled around what appeared to be a
stranded fish. As I took the scene
in, I realized that it could have been my carcass washed up there on the sand.
Powerful feelings of gratitude and self-reproach swept through me
had seemed like a miracle when Goldie answered my cry for help.
But now, in hindsight, I realized that her sharp ears had probably heard
my voice floating in over the breakers.
an explanation for everything,” the engineer in me mused.
“There are no real miracles.”