We were tanning on the sand when the man thumped between us, right in the middle of our triangle of limbs, which were bronzed but not quite baked. Thumped, really, that’s the best word: I’d use a more aggressive one if the sand allowed for a more theatrical sound. He fell from very high and made a small crater.
I turned away so sharply I whistled as I cut the air. I looked down: red droplets freckled my arms. A communist constellation that sparkled in the sunlight.
Friend 1 screamed hysterically since parts of him had come off and glued themselves onto her, but they were small parts only, chunks of teeth and scraps of skin. The big parts of him were still conjugated to the rest of his body. He looked like a tumbleweed all curled up unnaturally like that, thin and dry, teeth jutting out at weird angles. He looked like he grew out of the ground.
Friend 2 was already running away; Friend 1 scrambled up from under the man and followed suit. Someone behind me said: Someone call an ambulance.
I felt obligated to check the man’s pulse. I carefully reached out and wrapped my fingers around his wrist. It rapped violently against my finger: as if requesting entry.
I can feel his pulse, I said to Someone behind me. Someone nodded down at me as if we were comrades. Hello? I said to the man on the sand.
Hello, whispered the man through his mangled jaw and crooked teeth.
I fell from an aeroplane.
Someone tries to move Aeroplane Man’s head but this makes Aeroplane Man scream. Blood froths at the corners of his mouth and teeth in a black foam as if he is washing them with fashionable toothpaste.
Leave it, I say, and Someone obeys.
We’ll get you an ambulance, I say to Aeroplane Man.
You are sweet, Aeroplane man says.
I try to arrange his splayed legs into more anatomically correct or at least more aesthetically pleasing angles.
You come to the beach a lot? Aeroplane man asks.
I wanted to get tan this summer, but then I realised what a commitment it is. You have to spend hours on the beach and then maintain it, afterward, too. I don’t have time for that.
Oh. Aeroplane man says. You would suit a tan. You have a wild face.
What do you mean by a wild face?
I mean you wouldn’t look cheap with a tan. Some people look cheap. But you would look feral. In the best possible way.
Thanks. Someone once told me that I had a kind face. It was the worst pick-up line anyone ever used on me. I want to be dangerous.
I knew you were trouble from the second I saw you, Aeroplane Man says. I could tell.
He tries to shuffle his head to look up at me but only succeeds in rubbing his lip against the sand. The grains stick to the wet flesh like sprinkles on a cake.
Is there anyone else here?
I look up and see Someone still standing there.
Yes, but I don’t care about him.
Someone sadly walks away.
He’s gone now.
Well I see other people, Aeroplane Man says.
I glance over my shoulder. There is an inflatable hovering some distance away, on which a young woman is tanning, undisturbed by the commotion. When she sees Aeroplane Man looking, she sends him a small coquettish wave.
Oh, I say. Well I see some other people too. There’s a lifeguard coming up behind you, he’s really tall and possibly Swedish and -
I don’t really want to hear about it, Aeroplane Man snaps.
Okay, I say.
We sit in silence for a while. The Swedish lifeguard approaches, kneels quietly beside Aeroplane Man and starts triaging his limbs where the bones are sticking out.
Aeroplane man has his eyes closed and is breathing deeply, as if he is meditating. I cry but Aeroplane Man doesn’t notice. The lifeguard pats me on the back. I put on my sunglasses.
Do you want to ride the ambulance with me? Aeroplane Man asks. He says it very slowly.
I would go anywhere with you.
You don’t sound that excited.
I was trying to play it cool.
I look out across the sand, over the beach. I can see two ambulance-men walking towards us, carrying a stretcher. I see them barely because I am crying and also because I am wearing sunglasses. I look down at Aeroplane Man. He has freckles on his face. I’ve already named them.
You changed my life, he whispers.
I’ll never get over this, I say. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen every day.
It’s special, isn’t it, he says. You came into my life like an earthquake.
I think that was the ground coming up at you.
It was you coming up at me.
The pale sand around him is hot red with blood. Aeroplane Man has seeped into the sand like a maraschino cherry in a sundae.
I’m falling apart, aren’t I? he says.
I’m always doing that. Can’t we put each other back together?
In another life, baby girl.
The ambulance-men reach us and pile Aeroplane Man on the stretcher. They carry him away and there’s a mess on the sand. His blood is all over my towel. His blood is all over my hands and my bag and my bathing suit which used to be blue.
I lie back. I don’t touch my bottle of sunscreen. I lie in the sun. I lie there for months. I burn. 🌞️