Sunday, June 6, 2010

Body Language

by Jim Valenti

The warm sand and tropical breeze of Playa Tiburon was coaxing me to sleep when I heard the voice. It was calling to me in bulleted Spanish.

"El gran blanco devadora de hombres!"

Huh? I squinted my sun-seared eyes upwards to find a black tussle-haired boy standing over me, pointing frantically down the beach.

"Rapidamente, por favor! Rapidamente!" he was sobbing.

I had been back in Cabo San Lucas barely an hour. After much too long of taking part in the ritualistic debauchery that is L.A. I had just up and left to kick back and take stock of my life. I felt the need to reacquaint myself with the ripping curls and virgin sands of my pre-corrupted surfer days and let time just take me where it may. The shimmering seas, lazy heat and cheap tequila of the Baja peninsula were the only tools I needed to start rebuilding. My possessions consisted of a pair of cut-offs, a long board and a frosty pitcher of margaritas. My brain and my Spanish were rusty, and I certainly wasn’t interested in any interaction with the locals beyond a request for a "cerveza fria". But there he stood pointing excitedly down the strand and working himself into a panic.

"Gran blanco!" he repeated breathlessly, "Date prisa!" The beach was just about empty except for the two of us, and as my eyes started to regain focus I looked past his extended finger and saw the girl. She was maybe fourteen or fifteen, foundering in the deeper water just outside the surf break and a few yards down the beach. She was in obvious trouble, flailing wildly and beating on the surface in a frenzy to stay afloat. By the way she was panicking I knew she wouldn’t last much longer. My indifference to the commotion going on around me washed away as my inner lifeguard rushed in, then instantly I was sprinting down the beach with the boy close behind. I charged headlong into the surf and came up in full swim.

I closed the gap swiftly and was on her in seconds. She was just slipping below the surface when I reached her and made a desperate lunge for her arms. They were flimsy in my grasp and I felt her strength slipping quickly away. I watched panic flash in her full, dark eyes--her mouth hung open in a silent scream as though she realized that death was upon her. Then she suddenly lunged forward and struck me above my eye with her forehead.

Hey, I’m trying to save you here! I tried to stay afloat, although her body suddenly took on renewed life and began spasming violently all around me in the churning water. I went under briefly as she thrashed at my legs from beneath the surface. I pinned her arms back to get her under control, but they soon fell limp. She bobbed up and slipped beneath the water again. As she sank in a wake of colored foam her face finally relaxed and she uttered something that chilled my soul.


She wasn’t drowning at all.

It’s funny how quickly it all comes back. Playa Tiburon. I gasped for breath as I was pulled from below with renewed strength, this time not by the girl. Shark Beach. It was suddenly so familiar. Devedora de hombres--the man eater--the Cabo nickname for the great white. I felt my torso contort in grotesque rhythm, my new life of leisure all but assured as my legs were ripped one at a time from their sockets. I looked towards the shore where the boy stood crying and pointing. My margarita pitcher was tipped over and soaking slowly into the sand.

When I leave the institution I will return to Playa Tiburon, what’s left of me, and console the boy. Instead of my long board I will pack a Spanish-English dictionary to go along with my new pair of cut-offs and my margaritas.


Jim is a professional engineer fixing the many large suspension bridges in New York City by day, and a married father of three dealing with the numbing reality of middle-age by night. Jim views life as he thinks it should be--rife with weird opportunities around every corner. He never passes up the challenge of a good wiffleball game.


Michael Stone said...

Didn't see the ending coming at all, probably because I was expecting something supernatural. This was far more chilling! Excellent work, Jim.

Cate Gardner said...

Ditto what Mike said. Well done.

Alan W. Davidson said...

I really good read, Jim. The last couple of paragraphs really grab you by the throat once it sinks in what's really happening to the narrator.

Danielle Birch said...

I really enjoyed it - intense with great imagery.

Kara McElhinny said...

Nice Story Jim! I too was expecting something supernatural so It was a surprise to me as well. :D