THE PRAT ON THE BEACH
The Gower Coast, South Wales.
Joyce turned on her back and looked up at the blueness of the sky, then trod water and looked back at the beach. Gerald, her brother, was walking along the tideline, his cassock black against the gleaming white of the dunes. She was cross with him, the elder brother who she had adored as a child.
When they had been much younger they had played in those dunes, hiding and leaping out at one another in showers of sand before swimming together in the clear sea. Then he had had his ‘call’ and gone all religious. Even today, after three days of sunshine and with the sea as warm as she had ever known it, he wouldn’t come in to swim with her. He had studied the horizon as she undressed behind him and put on her new bikini.
‘For God’s sake, Gerry,’ she had urged him. ‘There’s no one else about, I am your sister and surely even priests wear underpants. You can swim in those.’
But he had shaken his head. ‘I’ll wait for you. Don’t go out too far.’
She was out too far, she knew that but then she was the captain of her college swimming team and could swim for miles if she had to. Even though Gerald was her brother he was a prat, swallowing all that religious nonsense. He wouldn’t even read the Richard Dawkins’ books which had proved conclusively to her that God was unnecessary nowadays. Everything was decided by your genes, so-called spiritual matters were all in the imagination and Mankind no longer needed to invent a God for themselves.
She swam even farther out just to tease, then lay floating on her back again watching the small clouds drift across the blue dome above. With slight movements of her hands and legs she could float indefinitely.
The small white clouds were getting bigger, some had grey patches and, when she looked seawards, there were towering clouds, one of which had a top that spread out like a giant hammer. Lightning flickered and flashed silently in the dark, lower part of the cloud just above the horizon. The surface of the sea, so flat and calm a few minutes ago was rippled and a cold breeze cooled and tickled her face. Don’t panic, she told herself and turned to swim for the shore. The dunes and her brother’s tiny figure now seemed very far away.
She had hardly done a dozen strokes when the wind struck hard, the ripples turned to wavelets, which soon formed into larger waves which sometimes hid the land from sight, the wind edging the wave-tops with white foam before whipping it away in a cold and painful spray. She felt terribly alone and vulnerable, searching with her eyes along the dunes for a sight of Gerald, though hoping that he had had the sense to run up to the village and phone the coastguards.
She caught a glimpse of a figure in black clothes. It must be Gerald, still on the beach, though he appeared much shorter than he had looked before. It was at this moment that the cramps caught her, stabbing at her belly and stiffening her left leg in exquisite agony as had happened a month or so before in the college pool. Then the lifeguard had helped her out of the water. There was no lifeguard here, there never was on this little-used beach. She was going to die, to drown here with just that prat of a brother on the beach to tell their parents of her stupidity in swimming out so far. She tried to float on her back but the pain in her guts kept her doubled up and she swallowed a mouthful of water, salt, bitter and cold.
A black fin appeared on her right and another on her left. Sharks!
Now she panicked, striking out wildly towards the shore, dragging her stiff leg and trying to ignore the pain tearing at her guts. The fins were nearer now, moving into position, one close in to her side of her and she saw the grinning face of a dolphin break the surface. Not sharks, thank God!
Now there was a dolphin tight in to either side of her and she reached out an arm to hold round the smooth black rubbery fins on the dolphin’s backs. A feeling of love, care and security enveloped her as the two bore her easily through the waves towards the beach. The pains in her guts and leg were replaced by dull aches as they reached the breakers.
Gerald was there, standing in the waves up to his chest, holding out his arms to make a cradle to take her from the dolphins. He waded ashore, carrying the limp body of his sister and laid her on the sand above the high water mark in a place where a marram-topped dune cut the force of the wind. Joyce opened her eyes, looked up and saw him standing above her, his wet cassock clinging to his body and she could hear his teeth chattering over the whistle of the wind in the coarse grass. She was angry again.
‘Why didn’t you go and phone the coast-guards? I could have drowned out there!’
‘There wasn’t time. I knelt on the beach and prayed.’
‘God, you’re a prat,’ she told him. ‘If it hadn’t been for those two dolphins…’
Father Gerald crouched awkwardly and picked her up in his arms again. ‘We must get you somewhere warm.’
- back to the beach (gusgus64.wordpress.com)