We were lounging on the beach chatting about Toofer’s troubles — his wife had just left him and taken the kids.
The sea, I noticed, had begun to swell strangely, as if a great behemoth lurked just beneath the cold, blue-green surface and undulated with the waves.
“Hungry?” Toofer asked.
I said I could use a bite to eat.
“I’ll get us something,” he said and headed back up the beach to get us lunch.
I fell asleep on my towel thinking about my wife. It hadn’t been easy for me to get away. She was busy at work and our little girl was sick. She’d given me hell about leaving but I was worried about him, afraid he might start drinking again. He’d been sober for almost a year.
When I woke, he was there beside me drinking a beer. I got a sick feeling in my stomach and wished I hadn’t come.
“I got you a hoagie,” he said.
I sat up and opened the bag. There was one sandwich and a bag of chips. I asked if he’d eaten.
“Not since they left,” he said and continued to stare out to sea.
It was high tide and the water had crept closer. The small waves lapped at the sand maybe ten yards away from our feet, and a storm appeared to be brewing on the horizon. Rusted clouds flitted across the sky. And there was still the strange undulation of the water.
“You’ve eaten nothing?” I said. “They’ve been gone for almost a week.”
“Maybe something. I don’t know. I don’t want to eat.”
I ate some of my hoagie then looked in his cooler for a drink. There was one beer left which meant he’d drunk five already.
“You mind?” I said.
He shook his head.
I drank the beer with the rest of my sandwich.
Soon after, he rose.
“I don’t like the look of that water,” I said.
He nodded. “I’ll be back,” he said and headed up the beach. He disappeared over the dunes and came back a little later with several cases of beer.
“You really want to start this again?” I said.
He shrugged and sipped a freshly opened beer.
“Maybe we should move,” I said. “The water.”
“We’ll be fine,” he said.
By the time I’d finished drinking my second beer the water was lapping at my toes. The more the beer went to my head the stranger the sea became. It was as if a creature lurked there beneath the waves, just beyond the surf, some gargantuan beast that moved up and down.
“I’m moving,” I said.
Toofer drank his beer and stared ahead at the water and the clouds that had begun to swirl and eddy on the horizon. It was as if we watched time-lapsed photography of the scene.
“I don’t like this,” I said and dumped the rest of my beer. He downed the rest of his. I looked back and saw we were alone on the beach.
“Look,” I said. “I’m not kidding. I think we should get going.”
“We’re prepared,” he said and just stared.
I was finished with him. I picked up my towel and magazine and trotted up the beach. When I reached the stairs that lead up and over the dunes, I stopped and turned back.
In horror, I watched as the water engulfed him. His head disappeared. Then an arm appeared but reached at nothing. I watched, helpless, as the water churned.
What could I do? Risk my life to save him? I had a wife and child. Tears filled my eyes.
And then he appeared on the crest of a massive wave bobbing, buoyed by a raft of six packs of beer and his Styrofoam cooler. He waved to me.
Stunned and a little ashamed for having deserted him on the beach, I waved back.
I prayed silently that he’d stay afloat long enough to reach shore.
CHIP O’BRIEN is a teacher, musician, and writer. He has had stories published in Bartelby Snopes, Barbaric Yawp, The Fringe, Words of Wisdom, SlugFest Ltd, and included in anthologies. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in East Nashville, Tennessee with his wife, Amanda, and their two boys, Gus and Patrick.