by Stacy Stepanovich
It was a new record: more people drowned that week than any other time in the last 30 years. All the newspapers carried the story of the teenager who passed out on the beach and didn’t wake before the tide came in. The networks dispatched crews to the shore where a man was tossed into the breaking surf so violently he lost consciousness. The video of the head lifeguard saying “pile driven” was advertised every commercial break leading up to the five o’clock news.
A couple from Canada capsized in a double kayak a hundred yards from the bank of the Halifax River. Three teenagers dove off the rock jetty at the inlet; only two surfaced. A woman in her mid-60s lost her footing while stepping onto her boat, striking her head on the gunwale before hitting the water. Neighboring cities launched public awareness campaigns. Life jackets were sold in grocery stores. Doors were leafleted and children lectured about water safety. The nature of rip tides was dissected on the nightly news. It seemed as if everyone had an opinion on the best technique to escape the strong undertow.
At the corner store, Tanner and I waited in line to buy coffee and a newspaper. He hadn’t said much since I got out of the taxi at four o’clock that morning wearing a hospital gown over my swimsuit.
He watched the clerk’s eyes trace the brush burns and bruises up my arms. I smiled and combed my hair down over my temple, and I felt sand cascade from my left ear. The clerk eyed Tanner suspiciously as he rang us up.
“Don’t worry,” Tanner said. “Stupidity is not contagious.”