Honourable mention in the 6th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.
We were supposed to be spotting wildlife for him to photograph. I pointed out pigeons and other everyday animals. He wielded his camera more like a telescope than a machine gun. He gazed through the lens but didn’t fire, didn’t try to catch the heron I spied mid-flight.
“It’s got to be something special,” he said.
I drew a line in the sand with my big toe. “You can erase what you don’t like.”
He looked to the distal end of the spit; I eyed the point still fused to the land. The rocks were cluttered with debris. Beer cans and Ziploc bags, a sandal and some silver fishing thread: twice rejected and doubly lost, objects orphaned by their owners and then by the sea.
Suddenly thunder cracked the air. The ocean swelled in anticipation.
“We shouldn’t be here,” I said and pulled at his elbow.
He stood his ground, dug in his heels until they were buried and said, “Imagine we lived in the Congo.”
I coughed, incredulous. It was a callous comment, all things considered.
“Their weather never changes,” he continued. “There’s lightning year-round.”
“That doesn’t seem fair.”
His lips parted and formed a faint smile. “But think of how beautiful it must be.”
Then the clouds changed. Molten tones of red and pink replaced the grey. Veins of lightning split the sky.
“Here’s your shot,” I said.
He nodded but stood still. The camera hung from his neck like cheap costume jewellery.
The next strike was so close it may as well have hit us. I caught a whiff of damp campfire. Thought that, maybe, something had ignited.
He passed me his gear and waded into the water. The tide crept close and swallowed the sand bar below his feet. His ankles disappeared next, followed by his knees and his hips. His shorts ballooned around his waist like a parachute. He was shivering, holding himself with crossed arms. His lips were a hypothermic shade of blue. I thought about a rescue attempt, about asking him to turn back. Instead I shouted, “We’re electric, you know. We aren’t safe in these conditions.”
He never considered risk. He didn’t care that our bodies carried currents and the potential to combust. He just shrugged, shucked his T-shirt and left me alone on the shore.
The waves heaved against the sand as he swam. Eventually the beach broke in two. The far end became an island, severed from the shore. I peered through the camera’s eyepiece and snapped a few frames. From a distance he could be mistaken for driftwood. The lightning, while startling, lacked the spark of a sub-Saharan strike.
I retreated to the car to review the shots I’d taken. The world shrank into a small square, diminished but definitive: A man lost at sea, a woman trapped on land. The forecast had been for fair weather and we’d been foolish enough to believe in it.