Tropical Surf
Tropical Surf
Artist: Lin Seslar

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Polly Dreamed Of The Beach

by Katie Smit

Polly straightened her bowed back clutching the white Keds she had dropped on the step above her left foot. As habit had dictated for the past nine decades, she always wiped her shoes at the basement sink before returning them to her bedroom closet after each use. It never occurred to her that walking out back to the communal dumpster was cause for such a chore. Yet it was this type of mundane activity that filled her day-chores, the constant companions holding back the lonely humdrum of an old woman.

Reaching for the worn, lacquered wood banister, she raised her right foot and gingerly pushed and pulled her ninety-three pounds to the next step. She had managed the flight of twenty-some steps from the basement to the kitchen just fine and decided to keep on chugging up the second long flight from the living room to the upstairs hallway. By the time she felt the dizzy spell coming, she was so close to the top she could see the white wicker stand filled with peach and pink knick-knacks that stood on the landing outside the bathroom door. Within a moment, she sensed a sudden weightlessness, as if being borne on a massive wave. The wave swept her back, crashing her against wall and step, washing her up — a landed mermaid, pinned between the bookshelf and coat closet at the bottom of the stairs. As she lay in a crumpled mass of wrinkled skin and broken bones, the warmth of a gulf stream lapped at her skull. Blood and ocean mingled, a peaceful trickle soaked into the beige carpet.

Bliss lies beneath the waves; such an odd sentiment, she thought, for a woman who had never enjoyed having more than her toes and ankles in the water. The last time she had felt the waves lap against her body, she was thirteen years younger, a mere eighty, and quite tipsy. A family trip to the Bahamas with daughter, son-in-law, and the two babies, who hadn't technically been infants for ten years, found Polly drinking Rum Runners on the beach. A splash of water as the children fumbled in the shallow waters, a toast with her sunbathing daughter, also fairly drunk, another generous sip, and a few wobbly steps to see a sliver of washed-up coral beneath the transparent turquoise. Her sudden ungainly dip in the ocean was met with laughter as sandy hands pulled her to her feet. "You pushed me."

"We weren't anywhere near you, Nana; you're drunk!"

"I am not. I know you pushed me, you little fibbers."

"Mother, sit down. Kids, go find your nana more punch."

But today, no one reached out to draw her out of the water and she felt herself doused by erratic waves. A momentary panic reached her shocked cerebrum, the dull pain of hopeless reality underlying the slap of terror before she fell back into the coma-still water.

The steady hum of some hospital machine was not an outboard motor. Nor was the soothing ring of muffled voices a low-toned buoy. Faces swam before her on one side — on the other was a blurry, red-tinged light. It would have been disconcerting, even troubling, if it weren't so much like sunlight dancing across a lightly closed eye.

Her heavy hand struggled to grasp the hands of the faces swimming around her. A watery voice repeated, "I love you, Nana," again and again. The blue of the Caribbean Sea greeted the one good eye as her daughter's scarf slipped into view. She fought her battled body to raise one hand a bit, but even then she couldn't decide if she was reaching for a steady grip to pull her from the water or waving the offered hand away.

Time continued. Over and over she fell down the stairs of her home of twenty-some years, awoke to the hushed routine of the ICU and felt the grip of a loved one's hand. For a week she stood at the water's edge. Here on the beach, the pain fell away. She liked to imagine it was the rum punch, but recognized the sound of an unseen nurse rattling in a drawer for a syringe of the twice-daily "we'll keep her as comfortable as possible." The final fear of immobile years in a nursing home bed abated as she overheard snatches of her daughter's battle to quiet the humming respirator.

The hospital drifted farther away. Maintaining thoughts was a struggle. Vaguely her mind took her back to the Bahamas where she sat indignantly in a stuck paddle boat with the two grandchildren.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, how did we wind up like this?" The children barely contained their giggling as they soberly apologized for the public embarrassment of their nana. "We tried to paddle away from the breaker..."

"I told you kids this was a bad idea. What are your parents going to say? I ought to turn you over my knee and paddle your little butts."

This only led the children into all-out laughter as a very nice man in a jet ski towed the paddle boat trio back to shore. As the children pulled her to her feet, kissing her sun-rosied cheeks, Polly vowed she'd never admit how much she enjoyed the attention of this little fiasco.

The ICU was now her paddle boat — the link to water and beach. But today she would not wave her arms to catch the eye of a beautiful dark-skinned man on a jet ski.

Around her hospital bed, a nurse was gently removing tubes and IVs and shutting off machines. In her hand, Polly felt the weight of a pearly pink-lined shell, the kind she told her grandbabies carried the sounds of the ocean. Raising the shell to her ear, she heard her daughter's smooth alto singing of the Virgin Mary. Her lungs sighed a last quiet breeze. And Polly dreamed of the beach.

Katie Smit has loved stories for as long as she can remember and is currently working to share this love of fiction with her son and her students at the local high school. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Katie majored in English, Theatre, and Secondary Education. She and her husband currently live in Maryland with their son and three cats.

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