Pete had lived in Florida for 20 years. A boring 20 years, he often thought. His house was only a 10-minute walk from the Gulf. He walked to the sandy white beach almost every day. Bob’s Liquors was at the corner, halfway to the beach. It was the only store within a mile. It sold cold beer and cigarettes, which were the only two things that interested Pete today. The owner of Bob’s was Bill. Bill had bought the store from Bob, but never renamed the store. “‘Bob’s’ has a nice ring to it,” he told curious customers. Also, of course, keeping the old name saved him money, time, and trouble.
When the water was unsafe, the lifeguards would put red flags all up and down the beach to warn swimmers to stay out of the water. Today was a red flag day. Fierce riptides and lots of jellyfish were predicted for the next 48 hours.
Although windy and completely overcast, it was a warm September day. Pete stopped at Bob’s. Bill said hello and told Pete to be careful because of the riptide reports. He asked, “What’ll it be today, Pete?”
Pete ordered the usual—a pack of cigarettes and beer. Bill put the six-pack into a double paper bag because that helped keep the beer cold longer. Pete paid him and said goodbye. He walked out the door and crossed the two-lane street, not bothering to look in either direction.
The flags were flapping loudly. Small waves were splashing onto the beach. Sea gulls were walking at water’s edge. Low thunder rumbled occasionally in the distance. An irregular line showed where wet sand met dry sand. Pete sat down on the dry sand. He opened a can of beer and lit a cigarette. There was no one else at the beach, except a woman walking away from him, stopping frequently to examine seashells. Pete watched a pelican dive into the water. Far away on the horizon, a stationary ship floated.
Pete was a strong swimmer. He had learned to swim when he was four years old. In grade school and high school, he won numerous swimming and diving tournaments. His parents had high hopes that he would compete in the Olympics.
Pete opened the fifth beer and lit yet another cigarette. The woman collecting seashells had disappeared from sight. He got up and walked into the water. When the water was almost thigh-high, he felt the current tugging at him. A jellyfish stung him behind his right knee. He took a final drag on his cigarette and flicked it into the water. He finished the beer, filled the empty can with sea water, and threw it back onto the beach. He looked at the ship.
Then he dove in and started swimming.