Charlie sat on the porch of his brother’s house overlooking the dock. It was so early that the eastern horizon was little more than a purple haze. Already, people were moving on the dock. Runners jogged by each at their own pace–their own characteristic run tell more about them than they knew. There was the elite long-distance runner, whose strides seemed to stretch out farther than Charlie could stretch out his arms. Two old women chugged by determined to lose weight, often alternating between slow-jogging and walking.
Through the light fog, Charlie could espy a couple recreational fisherman prepping their boats for a long day at sea. He longed for time on the ocean, away from land, alone between earth and sky.
He rarely ventured off his perch on his brother’s veranda. Alex had told him that his visage often made people uncomfortable and that he should keep a low profile. It had stung at the time and Charlie had become quite angry. Yet, experience had proved his brother right, and Charlie had withdrawn back to his perch.
It was a hard hand that fate had dealt him. He’d survived–if you could call it survival. He’d gone out confident, ambitious, determined–only to come back a shell of his former self. He joked with Alex that the only thing the Navy had given him was a love for the sea. They rarely mentioned the scar.
It was lighter now and the dock began to vibrate with the movement of people. Families came laden with picnic baskets–the children carrying bread to feed to the greedy seagulls. Charlie loved watching the children as they ran up and down the dock. He loved their little faces and their high, carrying laughter. He regretted that he had never taken the time to pursue a family. It’s quite out of the question now, he thought wryly.
A loud scream jerked him from his sober thoughts. A woman was pointing to the water in hysterics. Down below he saw a brightly colored jacket bounding in the waves. As he watched, he saw it move–a child was struggling to stay afloat.
Charlie moved faster than he had in a very long time. Down the hill to the dock he sprinted. Barely slowing down, he leapt over the railing into the chilly water. It took only a couple of his strong, confident strides to get to the child–a young girl. Careful to hold her head above water, he pulled her to the rocky shore.
Swiftly, he began CPR until she had coughed up the water in her lungs. The mother came running to embrace her child. Tears of gratitude began to well in her eyes as she looked at Charlie. He braced himself for the horrified look he usually got from strangers. It didn’t come. The woman pressed his hand because words would not come.
Charlie patted the young girl’s head then headed back toward his perch. Maybe he would go to the store today.
~ Johanne Smith, Paradise, Utah