The Rip - Short Fiction

Mark Cornell

- Mark Cornell

A perfect wave roared in. Paul madly paddled on his boogie board. The teenager was scooped up then carried to the shore. Julia knelt in the shade of her beach umbrella watching him. Paul squinted as the foaming water shimmered in the autumn light. The wave took him all the way back to the shallows.

The boogie board came to rest on the sand. A nearby toddler dug a moat with his red plastic shovel while his mother decorated their sandcastle with shells and seaweed. Two stocky, brown lifeguards grunted as they wrestled each other. Paul rested on his stomach and felt the water lap over the back of his legs. The sun caressed his face as he daydreamed. He heard the sound of splashing and through half closed eyes noticed Julia in her white bikini coming up to him.
         
‘Do you want to come in for a while?’ She crossed her arms and shivered. ‘You’ve been out there all morning. Aren’t you peckish? I’ve got a roll in the bag if you want one. ’ Her thin arms and legs were covered in goosebumps.

          ‘Did you see that last wave? Wasn’t it a ripper?’ Paul leant up on his elbows to trace his fingertip along the droplets on her ankle. He loved the blue vein rivulets below her pale skin. Julia nodded.

The teenager’s stomach growled. Paul laughed when the undertow dislodged his boogie board and carried him backwards. When the toddler screamed at a shadow in the water, his mother plucked him up and cooed as she hugged him close to her chest.

           ‘I’ll try and catch one more wave all right ? ’ Paul rode the board around and headed back out to the surf. Julia crinkled her forehead then rubbed her shoulders as she made her way back to the umbrella. Her skin was burning.

          Julia slipped her orange T-shirt on and sat back down on her towel.
She flicked her long auburn hair back off her high cheekbones, lit a menthol cigarette and settled on her side to reopen The Lord of the Rings. She wanted to share her passion for books with Paul. She told her young partner that a good story could change your life forever.

Julia was half pleased that she’d managed to get stuck into her book this long weekend. The couple had driven to Phillip Island on Friday night to discover Paul’s mate Nick, asleep in his station wagon in the driveway of the holiday house. The three laughingly stopped playing cards later on that night after discovering they were too drunk to concentrate. The following morning Nick leant Paul his spare wetsuit and flippers after they decided to go to Woolamai Beach. Julia blew a tuft of smoke up into the blue dome of sky and watched Nick disappear on his surfboard behind a wall of surf. She heard Paul yell to his friend while he paddled up next to him. Waves burst on the shore. Julia sighed then joined Gollum, Frodo and Sam Gamgee as they stumbled towards Mt Doom.

          Paul was breaking two of his own rules; never go out of your depth and come in when you’re tired. When Julia had made a passing remark to him earlier about Nick’s skill with the surfboard, Paul was determined to prove to his girlfriend that he was just as good. The teenager felt warm and secure in his rubber skin and loved the extra maneuverability of the flippers. He laughed when he heard Nick whoop as he stood to catch a giant wave. Paul snorted out some salt water then stared as his statue like mate vanished towards the shore.

          He spied Julia again and was disappointed to discover that she’d covered up her skimpy bikini. He adored her slim body and long thick hair. Nick cracked jokes about him being involved with an older woman. The boys were both nineteen and had gone through High School together.

Julia was twenty-three and had only known her partner for a couple of months. Paul felt an inner warmth knowing that she was four years older.

She was such a contrast to the girls he’d gone out with before. The teenager pictured the way Julia silently basked in the afterglow of their lovemaking that morning. She lay next to him with a far away look in her green eyes, red blushes traced her cheeks, neck and breasts, her smooth limbs clutched his body. He adored the way she raised her head to dreamily smile at a blackbird singing outside their window.

Paul didn’t notice the flat trail of water he’d just been sucked into.
He cast his blue eyes around him in search of a good wave then got frustrated when his flippers couldn’t take him where he wanted to go. The teenager suddenly felt a rip tugging him out into the ocean. The surrounding water was green and murky. When he turned his boogie board towards the beach and paddled, it made no difference; the grip of the ocean hauled him out further. Paul put his head down then kicked and swam until every muscle in his body burnt. He stared at the beach and saw Julia talking to the lifeguards; the eventually became as tiny as insects.

          Paul spotted Nick in the distance and shouted to him for help. His mate didn’t respond. Paul yelled from the base of his lungs. He wasn’t sure if he’d been heard, then Nick waved. Please God don’t let him think that I’m mucking around, the teenager thought to himself.

          ‘Help! Help! Help! Please Nick help!’  By Nick’s concerned look, Paul knew he’d got through to him. Nick battled to get close but kept getting dumped by the waves. Paul saw his friend sit up on his surfboard and gesture. He didn’t understand. Nick’s eyes and mouth were wide open, his chest heaved. The last thing Paul saw of his friend was him being dumped into the water and clutching his surfboard as he was shoved back to the beach by a large swell.

            ‘Julia! Julia!’  If she’d spoken to the lifeguards then surely they’d be out by now?  Paul punched his boogie board. He could no longer make out any people; the shoreline was now a distant green blur. Every time the teenager attempted to swim against the rip he got weaker. Paul desperately clung to the boogie board in the knowledge that this tiny piece of foam encased with plastic was the only thing between him and drowning. He cursed the cloudless sky as he felt the claw of the ocean drag him out even further.

 ‘This is it.’ Paul mumbled to the broth of water surrounding him.

The thought sped through his mind that if the ocean didn’t take him then surely a shark would. Paul spat into the swirling water. The teenager realized he’d been an idiot. There was no need to show off in front of Nick and Julia. His intuition had repeatedly told him to stop playing the fool, but Paul being young, didn’t pay attention to this inner voice of wisdom. The young man, who minutes before had behaved like an immortal, now felt like a stick racing towards a drain. How he wished he was lying beside a sighing Julia again. But that cocoon of dawn love already seemed a lifetime away.

          ‘Muuuuuum!’  Paul screamed up to blue vault of sky. His body shuddered. Through the corner of his eye he noticed some waves. With the last of his energy, Paul kicked, paddled and sobbed his way towards them.  He floated into their path then gasped as he positioned himself. The first wave broke too early; Paul rubbed the salt out of his eyes. He swore viciously when the second wave petered out. The third wave lifted him up; the teenager swam frantically to catch it as it broke.

It was like he was riding on the outstretched palm of God. The wave surged towards the shore. Tea trees and trails broke out of the green haze of land. He could make out Julia’s orange T-shirt; she was chest deep in the water, then spotted Nick’s bobbing black wetsuit and waving arm. The mother placed her smiling, sleepy son on her shoulders and walked off. The lifeguards kept wrestling. The dark blue water around Paul became clear; he could see the bottom of the ocean again.

          Paul smiled when he placed his foot upon the sweet firmness of the shore. Julia raced up to him with glaring eyes and grabbed his hand to make him promise he’d never go into the ocean again. Nick splashed out of the surf and put his arm around his mate’s shoulder. Nick said that rips were thin and the trick to escaping was to swim across them. That’s what he was trying to tell him out there. Julia told Paul that she went to the lifeguards but they said that as long as he had his boogie board he’d be all right. She led him towards the beach umbrella.

          Paul kept his promise to Julia. He caressed her in the shaded light the following Sunday morning while Nick drove off to the beach. The surf whispered in his ears as Julia swayed her body next to his. The young man turned his back to the ocean to learn something far more important than any shore could ever teach him.

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