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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.
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.
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.
in and started swimming.