Sunday, January 27, 2013

“The Beach” a short story by Dean Manton



Betsy walks across the sand towards lookout station number three as quickly as her pounding head allows.

Shit, late again, she thinks, weaving her way through an obstacle course of lounge chairs, already scattered about for the day’s early arrivals. The sweet smell of sunscreen assaults her senses as she sidesteps a mound of beach umbrellas yet to be deployed.

A mom kneeling on a red plaid blanket slathers a little boy with white goo, the kid looks unimpressed. To her right, two more little angels sit blubbering as they wait the prescribed 15 minutes for the lotion to absorb into their delicate white skin. For most of these families a day at the beach is a once a year perk of working for a big corporation and a painful sunburn is a perennial souvenir.

Just make it through the day, Bets, she thinks as she approaches her station. An over-sized armchair is perched on top of a three meter metallic pole that’s as thick as a tree trunk.  It curves out at the bottom like a bar stool in a diner and riveted to a concrete base with bolts as big as her fist. The sour taste of what passes for gin in the New Coast coats her tongue and she yearns for coffee, water, hell anything wet and non-alcoholic.

A metal platform, two meters square with a handrail on either side rests on the concrete below the chair. Betsy steps one sandaled foot tentatively onto the gleaming surface and grabs the rail on her right.

The platform lurches up towards the chair with a loud whine, leaving Betsy’s stomach back on the ground. Arch your back, she thinks absentmindedly. Straighten your left leg and point your toe. Remember girls, a lifeguard always looks her best!

 The boarding routine is second nature to her by now. This is not her first season working in the Beach Dome and her training resonates in her thoughts, despite her nagging hangover. An orange plastic flotation device swings from the opposite rail as she comes to a sudden stop at the foot of the chair. Betsy turns, facing the water and slowly surveys her section. 

Fifty meters of shoreline on either side of her chair, beyond that more chairs and more sections. One and two on her left and sections four to ten on her right, a kilometer of beach and ten lifeguards to keep it safe. Only a few swimmers are in the water. It’s early yet. A line of floating white buoys marks the end of shallow bathing area and two hundred meters of crystal clear water beyond.

A perfect blue sky is projected onto the ceiling of the dome twenty meters above her. Two fluffy white clouds float by on a continuous loop, one big, one small. They’re old friends. Tiny waves lap rhythmically on the sandy shore. Ocean sounds play in the background of a canned music soundtrack that she knows by heart. Ancient surfing tunes from a bygone era.

“If everybody had an ocean, across the USA….,” Creepy how shit comes true, she thinks. They had no idea what was coming.

She tilts her head back and removes a pair dark, over-sized sunglasses. Eyes closed, her tanned face drinks in the soothing heat from the artificial sun. She had never actually seen the sun, artificial or otherwise, before she landed the job here two summers ago. A low ceiling of drab, grey, clouds, delivering constant drizzle having obscured the real sun from view for generations. 

One day of artificial sunlight every year is a pleasure reserved for wealthy or well-connected families. Twenty-four hours in a luxury hotel and a family day- pass to the beach dome is something she could only dream of as a child. Landing a job at the beach was like winning the sweeps, though today she doesn’t feel especially lucky to be here.

The echo of electronic dance music tethers her consciousness to the night before, her shift at the club lasting until the wee hours. It was quiet, only one customer all night but he just refused to leave! An older guy with dark, grey-flecked hair and weathered skin, different than the usual corporate assholes that frequented the place. This guy was well-dressed but made of a courser material. Something about him said, I’ve been on the road for a while, travelling, searching perhaps. He kept buying gin shots, rounds of two,

 “I don’t like to drink alone,” he said.

She had a feeling that alone was often the case however. She kept up with him shot for shot, waiting for the inevitable pick up line. It never came. He just sat there, dark mahogany eyes staring into her soul, asking the occasional question. 

Not the ones she usually got from tourists, husbands painting the town red, wives back at the hotel bedded down with the kiddies. Questions directed at her chest, always beginning with so. So… what’s your name sweetie? So… who do you have to screw to get a drink around here? 

Flashing her pearly whites, her well-rehearsed answers never missed a beat. No, these questions were more personal but at the same time careful not to cross the line, a friendly interrogation. Good cop and bad cop combined.

The screech of a nonexistent seagull drives an ice pick of pain into her skull. I hate that damn gull, she thinks as she takes her chair. It’s going to be a long day.

She presses her hand, palm down, on the touch-screen that’s attached to her left arm rest.

“Elizabeth Munroe,” she says in a monotone voice.

The console emits a musical chime and replies, “Elizabeth Monroe, section three, lifeguard,” in a pleasant female voice, “Time, oh eight hundred plus ten minutes, we currently have fifty nine days without a fatality. Have a nice day!”  

The words fifty-nine are in a different voice. Male, digital sounding, missing the whole point of the message, the updated number is automatically inserted at the beginning at each day provided a family didn’t return to the capitol minus one, the day before.

“Yeah whatever,” she says.

A slow trickle of tourists all searching for the perfect spot on the beach begins to fan out across the sand. A line of palm trees separates the beach from the Midway. Concession stands running along the rear wall of the dome offer food, drinks, beach toys, even t-shirts with a picture of your favourite life guard on the front, all to be had at sky-high prices. 

An arcade overflowing with privileged teens plays top forty at ear splitting decibels. Pubescent boys wearing tank tops and identical haircuts flex and preen before girls in microscopic sun dresses. The churning mass of hormones spills onto the boardwalk in front, the remainder spends their parent’s hard-earned wages on virtual entertainment inside.

Her touch screen chimes again and then flickers. The face of a girl appears. Smiling, tanned, early twenties, same sunglasses.

“Hey Bets,” she says, “late again, huh? What time did you work till last night?” she asks, not waiting for a reply. “You we’re still serving that guy when I left. Creep?”

Betsy finally gets a word in edgewise, “No, he was alright,” she says. “Good tipper.”

Charlie, also a lifeguard by day, bartender by night is the closest thing she has to a best friend on the coast.

“My table left pretty early,” she says. “Three rounds of shots, a round grab-ass, and then straight home to mommy!”

Charlie drags a knowing smile out of Betsy. Dealing diplomatically with drunk, horny patrons is part of the job description at the club. It’s a little hard to get used to at first but not a bad deal when you consider the tips.

A voice crackles over the PA system accompanied by a loud fanfare.

“Welcome to The Beach Dome, ladies and gentlemen, brought to you by Phoenix Corporation and The New Coast Visitors Board.”

Another cheesy fanfare and then the same voice,

“It’s time to introduce our lifeguards!”
***
Dean Manton is a freelance writer and real estate broker from Guelph Ontario. A contributor to the Guelph Review community newspaper, his bi-weekly column is called Real Estate with Dean. As a retired chef, he spends a good portion of his time creating decadent meals for his wife and two daughters. His interests in sustainable food include urban chicken ranching and gardening. Dean explores all things real estate in his blog, www.guelphblog.ca

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarket, Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.


2 comments:

  1. Very nicely written. Mature control of language and set a believable provocative scene. Felt it was worth my time reading it.

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  2. Modern day Summer of '42, but much more civilized...yet more sexually sophisticated given the geographic location ;) <3

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