Short Story Prompt: “The Swimmer” by John Cheever
It’s a beautiful summer morning when you arrive at the beach. You thought you would get here early for some Me-time, just you and the sand and the water and the sun. And your companion, of course. But the beach is already beginning to fill with its daily allotment of sun worshippers.
You find just that right spot in the sand. Not too close to the water and not too far away. You throw your towel down and raise your umbrella for some protection from the heat. You turn to your partner and ask them to glop some SPF 50 on your back. Don’t want to get a burn, just a nice tan, so you can prove to your friends that you spent a day at the beach. They rub you down like some greased pig, ready for a luau. You laugh at the thought and ask, “Where’s the pineapple?”
Your companion gives you that look they always give you when they haven’t a clue as to what is going on in your head. It’s good to give them a little mystery. Makes life interesting on a boring kind of day.
Last time you were here, you spread out on the sand like some cowboy in an old Western. The Indians staked him there for ant bait. You were sun bait and you didn’t bake nicely. You burned like a piece of toast left too long in the toaster. No amount of butter would save that toast and no amount of lotion soothed that burn. You’re not about to let that happen again. No, you’ve come prepared. You have your SPF 50 and you have your umbrella. It’s going to be a nice day at the beach.
Now it is your partner’s turn to be greased. You squirt some of the fluid on your hands. It’s got a nice cool feel to it. You rub their back and admire their lean physique as you do, how straight their back is, the muscles in their arms. Makes you happy that you don’t have to be ashamed of the person you’re with. Makes you feel like others can look at you with envy, their minds whispering, “Gee, why can’t I be so lucky?” When you finish, your companion leans over and gives you a thank-you kiss. Then they head for the sea.
You look out at the water, glistening from the light rippling across the small waves that come in from the sea. It makes you feel that there is magic in the world. That water reaching out toward the end of the world where the unknown exists. What great liners have followed that highway. The great ones like the Titanic and the Queen Mary. What ships have taken boys off to war on foreign shores. What sailors have followed the stars to discover exotic lands. What chantys the sailors have sung to pass their time in the rigging, searching, hoping for a South Sea island and some Polynesian girl to seduce. What sail boats have gone out to sea, freeing their captains of the troubles that all landlubbers face, giving them a sense of the grandeur and the awesomeness of nature.
The surfers are beginning to climb onto their boards and head for a distant wave. The swimmers splash and yell. Your companion returns and urges you to come on into the water. It’s such a beautiful day for a swim. But you’re enjoying things just the way they are, not a trouble in the world. You’re here on the beach and that’s enough as the morning makes its drift toward noontime.
You turn and see the lifeguard on his perch behind you. He is like some eagle, searching for his prey, waiting for his chance to prove his bravery. He turns his glasses slowly up and down the beach, like some doll on a carousel. His motions are like the movement of the music of a slow waltz.
Just what is he searching for? That woman with the large breasts he can meet and convince that he is her knight in shining armor? That girl on her first school break from college? That opportunity to yell at a swimmer that they have gone too far? To return to the shore so he won’t have to come and get them and ban them from the beach? Does his eyes search for the fin of that shark that is readying for its attack?
Or maybe he too is dreaming of the tall ships that went far into the world and never returned. Of pirates that haunted the seven seas, searching for their bounty. Maybe he is thinking of Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian and Tahiti. Maybe he is building a story of ships that search the stars. Maybe he isn’t a dreamer at all. Just some boy trying to make enough money to save for the fall. Then he will be able to eat through the next year of college. Or maybe all of these things run through the eagle’s mind.
Or maybe he is thinking, “God, when do I get a break? I gotta go pee. I gotta go pee bad.”