Featured Fiction
Lifesaving Techniques
// Solveig Mardon

Nick hears the crumple-screech of metal at the same time that the birthday boy dives off the shallow end deck, kicking the red letter-blocked NO DIVING sign. He drops the five feet from the guard chair, wet sandals clopping the deck. Throws his weight against the groan of double doors, white summer sun blanking sight for a moment. The sidewalk should be filled with a crowd, noise, sirens … but there’s only the slap-mark of blood spilling from the motorcyclist’s heaped body. The lump of the man’s leather jacket as Nick reaches his hand to palm the smashed torso. His lifeguard training marionettes him through the hopeless procedure. Nick wakes up to chlorine, sweats it into his bedsheets; has every summer for the last six years. It reminds him of the electric instinct to run, and the horror of his first corpse. Later that week, the man’s wife and brother show up at the pool. They want to see the stains on the sidewalk, the path his body traced from seat to air to ground, skimming along the pavement, an illusion. They want Nick to show them.

After, instead of meeting friends at the park’s hilltop to drink beer, throw around a frisbee, Nick goes home. He sits at his laptop and squints against the late sun slipping onto the screen, flipping his face back at him in dull reflection. He writes a message to a girl he’d messed around with in spring. Does she want to meet for coffee? Innuendo, innuendo, joke, day, place, time. He flips to a separate page and clicks through photos of her posing on a beach, clinking a glass, pretty face painted at a hockey game. He tugs at his cock and falls asleep smelling chlorine in the bend of his elbow.

On Saturday he waits outside the coffee place for the girl. A block from the beach, he’s wearing swim shorts. She’ll have brought her bikini – Nick remembers her own appreciation for her smooth-muscled thighs, tight waist. When they were fucking she used to take off all her clothes and make him sit at the edge of the bed, hands tied, while she glided towards him, turning, presenting her yoga instructor’s body like a gift on a game show. They’ll pretend to talk about their summers; as it gets hotter that small aristocratic nose of hers will bead sweat. He’ll suggest a swim and they’ll jog into the waves. He’ll make her wade towards him, then slide his hand through saltwater towards her hip. He’ll demonstrate lifesaving techniques.

She turns the corner, sunglasses and white cotton. Nick smiles and reaches to chuck her under the chin, she lifts a freckled cheek for him to kiss.
Beautiful, he begins.
I’m goddamn starving, she grins, lifts her sunglasses onto her head. Her hair is longer now, blonde ends brushing shoulders. She nods towards the sushi restaurant across the street, grabs his arm and darts into the oncoming cars, thumping him on the chest. So how’s life?

Nick had asked the south deck lifeguard to cover for him, had stepped the man’s wife and brother away from the edge of the pool where a swim lesson’s noisy splash soaked their shoes. He turned and pushed the double doors. They followed. Without words, he walked fifteen feet to the sidewalk, along to the corner where the intersection yanked sharp around the bend. He stopped. A faint outline of orange smudge still on the concrete. The morning’s clouds had burned off and Nick felt the back of his neck searing red. He felt all of their necks changing colour as they leaned over, three heads hovering, staring at that spot on the ground.

Nick and the girl eat sushi, swallow beer on the makeshift patio outside the tiny Japanese-lettered awning. It’s the hottest day of the summer, and his second large Sapporo is making him feel that he’s in an air balloon, captaining his mind, floating above this scene. He can’t remember why they ever ended it, whatever they called it. He looks at her and realizes that before today he has probably never seen her with clothes on. He laughs out loud.

No more daytime beers for you. She shakes her hair, tips her own bottle to her lips.
You’ll never believe what happened to me Monday …
He closes his eyes, glides up and over himself … the girl … the tourists eating ice cream on the sidewalk … the low-tide beach … the city … the roads.

Someone on the street had seen him crouched beside the mess, wrists covered in blood; they had called an ambulance, or maybe he had screamed for them to call one. The man’s chin and nose had been pressed to the sidewalk, torso flat to the sky. The siren’s absurdity as it sailed through the intersection, the paramedics lifting him by the armpits off the body, taking over; blue crisp linens, a neat swarm of professionals. One guiding him to the side, holding his arm as he recited procedure, what he had done, what he had tried to do. Should he have flipped him over to begin CPR? The angle of the neck … he tried to get into the ambulance but they held his shoulders, closed the doors, wailed away. Hands washed and shaking, Nick had sat in the pool’s office, dialing the hospital. No one would tell him. The late sun glided over the swim lanes, orange, unsteady. One of the paramedics called back. The man had been alive in the ambulance, had died before the vehicle glided into emergency, its sirens switched off. Nick had done a good job, had done what he could, had done what he knew.

As Nick finishes telling, the girl stands up. Her skirt is creased, flipped up, inner thigh tanned, dusted with blond hair. He steps towards her, feels himself getting hard, giddy with her closeness. He brings his hand to her waist, she lifts her wrist to cut him off, bumps the table, bottle cracks-clangs on the sidewalk in front of a passing hand-linked family, rocks back and forth. The kids, wrapped in towels, stop short at the lolling glass.
Jesus Christ, Nick.
She picks up the bottle, nods at the family, the eating ice cream, tourist, low-tide, city family and takes her sunglasses from the table. She wipes her mouth and crosses the street, slowly at first, then jogging until Nick can only see the white swatch of her skirt bobbing up and down, waving, waving.

// Solveig Mardon, Writer
// Illustration by Shannon Elliott

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