St Malo

Nancy Ludmerer

I’m at the edge of the hotel’s parking area, looking north. An endless expanse of grey sand, distant blue-black waves. Andrew has gone to register. It’s our last night in Brittany, a three-star hotel, known for its menu as well as its view: my favorite, oysters, and Andrew’s, lamb. Andrew is pleased with the room he’s reserved for us, with a small balcony overlooking the sea.

I’m eager to get on the beach while it’s still light but figure I should wait for Andrew. A door slams in the hotel. Through the hotel’s picture window, I see the clerk waving her hands, Andrew pounding fist into palm. I don’t want to witness this. I don’t care what it’s about. Is that bad to say? Although never directed at me, Andrew’s anger is a thing to behold. It can be exhausting. I find the steps, remove my sandals, and descend, drop them beside the bottom rung. The beach is long and wide and for a moment, it’s all mine. Almost. A black-bearded man, 60-ish perhaps, in a T-shirt, with hairy, muscular arms, pushes a woman in a wheelchair, heading west, parallel to the hotel. Her hair shines white-blonde to her shoulders, topped by a beret of indeterminate color – navy or black. Blankets hide the rest. I trek in my bare feet, loving the feel of the sand, dry but coarser than at home in Long Beach. I keep a polite distance, or what I think is a polite distance, but perhaps not distant enough. The man glances in my direction, then leans over his companion. He maneuvers the wheelchair until they’re heading directly out to sea. It’s a long way out, and there’s plenty of sand to cross. I want to get closer to the water too. It’s natural, isn’t it? We come from water. Nothing else is so healing.

Still, I lag behind, watching them make their slow, laborious, tender way. Then Andrew is beside me, his hand clapped hard on my back. “Sarah! Didn’t you hear me calling? We’re going.”

The ocean, even though it seems far off, keeps up a deafening roar. “Sorry! Where are we going? Isn’t this something?”

“We can’t stay here. Our room is no longer available.”

“Don’t you have the confirmation?” That’s probably the wrong thing to say.

“Of course. The manager doesn’t give a shit. Her colleague gave our room yesterday to two professors, who come here every year. She says they’ll put us in another room. She showed it to me. It’s a closet. It faces a wall.”

I tell him I don’t mind. It’s only one night. I’m sure it will be fine. Besides, dinner will be good. We came for that, too.

“I’ve lost my appetite. Really. They say Americans are bad? The French are much worse.” He turns toward the stairs. “Are you coming or not?”

His voice cracks in the wind but I’m looking elsewhere. Pools of water are soaking my feet. I don’t know if I feel it first, or hear it first, or simply see it. Everything is happening at once. The sea is higher, closer, rushing at us, at them. The man with the wheelchair yells. “Help me. Please help me.”

“Andrew!” He is walking away. “Please turn around. Please.”

He turns and finally, sees. Peels off his running shoes and socks. We race toward the couple. The man is soaked, and so is she.

Andrew and the man lift the woman off the chair together, blankets and all. They struggle with her up the beach. Andrew calls out, an afterthought, “bring the chair.”

Like it’s nothing.

The chair is heavy and cumbersome, made heavier with wet sand; the wheels catch. I grip the metal with freezing, slippery hands.

In years ahead, Andrew will tell this story. Always, he will be the hero. Always he will tell how he saved the woman. He won’t recall, much less mention, the chair.

I will sit tight-lipped, remembering the icy water lashing my legs as I grappled with the wheelchair. Pretending, as I did then, that it’s nothing. Pretending I’m not afraid. Pretending that if it gets too bad, I can simply leave it behind.

Nancy Ludmerer's short stories and flash fiction appear in Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, New Orleans Review, Best Small Fictions 2016 (a River Styx prizewinner), Fish Anthology 2015, Bath Flash Fiction Vols.1-5, Carve, Masters Review, and other great places. She practiced law in New York City for many years and continues to live there with her husband Malcolm and their recently adopted senior cat, Joseph. Twitter link is @nludmerer