84. Don’t Go Swimming on an Empty Stomach

Pete had lived in Florida for 20 years. boring 20 years, he often thought. His house only a 10-minute walk from the Gulf. He to the sandy white beach almost every day. ’s Liquors was at the corner, halfway to the . It was the only store within a mile. sold cold beer and cigarettes, which were the two things that interested Pete today. The owner Bob’s was Bill. Bill had bought the store Bob, but never renamed the store. “'Bob’s' has nice ring to it,” he told curious customers. , of course, keeping the old name saved him , time, and trouble.

When the water was unsafe, lifeguards would put red flags all up and the beach to warn swimmers to stay out the water. Today was a red flag day. riptides and lots of jellyfish were predicted for next 48 hours.

Although windy and completely overcast, was a warm September day. Pete stopped at ’s. Bill said hello and told Pete to be because of the riptide reports. He asked, “What’ll be today, Pete?”

Pete ordered the usual—a pack cigarettes and beer. Bill put the six-pack into double paper bag because that helped keep the cold longer. Pete paid him and said goodbye. walked out the door and crossed the two-lane , not bothering to look in either direction.

The were flapping loudly. Small waves were splashing onto beach. Sea gulls were walking at water’s edge. thunder rumbled occasionally in the distance. An irregular showed where wet sand met dry sand. Pete down on the dry sand. He opened a of beer and lit a cigarette. There was one else at the beach, except a woman away from him, stopping frequently to examine seashells. watched a pelican dive into the water. Far on the horizon, a stationary ship floated.

Pete a strong swimmer. He had learned to swim he was four years old. In grade school high school, he won numerous swimming and diving . His parents had high hopes that he would in the Olympics.

Pete opened the fifth beer lit yet another cigarette. The woman collecting seashells disappeared from sight. He got up and walked the water. When the water was almost thigh-high, felt the current tugging at him. A jellyfish him behind his right knee. He took a drag on his cigarette and flicked it into water. He finished the beer, filled the empty with sea water, and threw it back onto beach. He looked at the ship.

Then he in and started swimming.