He couldn’t hear Sarah’s feet thump the sand as she sprinted away – his daughter’s screams drowned out everything. Left alone with two distraught children, Jeff felt sick with panic and dread. Lucy’s blood still dripped onto the pale sand, despite the tightly wrapped towel. He held her close and repeated his lie that everything was okay. Her brother bit his fists and grimaced, tears flowing.
An hour earlier they had emerged from the green shade onto this beautiful, calm beach. Half a mile of clean, rumpled sand, ivory white up near the seagrape and palmetto trees, sloping away towards the bright ocean. The lower beach was smoothed and gently lapped by sparkling wavelets inviting them into the warm turquoise water, glinting and clear under a high blue heaven. It was deserted. The sun was hot, as expected, but there was a welcome onshore breeze. Lucy and Sam had yelled and darted down to the water, shoes abandoned, soft grainy sand mulching under delighted toes.
Sarah had lugged the beach bag and Jeff limped along with the sunshade, beyond the mangrove-bridging boardwalk until the sand showed only crab tracks and scuttled burrows. Jeff had been busy persuading Sarah that it wasn’t impossible – they could actually move here, make the Bahamas their home.
‘But the house wouldn’t be easy to sell, Jeff, and then there’s my Dad. I can’t leave all the visiting to Mum – she needs me to drive her. And for support.’
‘What about your brother? He hasn’t helped much. Surely it’s his turn now.’
‘John’s useless. Too far away. Not interested.’
‘That’s just not fair. Look, this is so fabulous, Sarah. Think about it. Andy says the school would hire us like a shot. We could be back in September with three year contracts.’
He brooded while they swam, careful with yesterday’s urchin-spiked toe. Later, as the others played in the shallows, he rehearsed his arguments under the umbrella, peaceful until the screaming erupted.
Lucy writhed in the water, blood spreading around her. Sam gasped as Sarah lifted her, releasing a crimson cascade. The knife-like stingray barb slid from her leg and fell back into the water. A raw, jagged wound poured bright blood. Jeff splashed in for Lucy. He carried her up the beach and under the shade. They knew the mobile was useless here. There might be a phone at the car park. Sarah dashed off.
Face drained white, Lucy jerked in his arms, limbs flailing, eyes wild. Her screams were knives, eviscerating him. The leg had stiffened, swollen blue round the ragged, impossible wound. The towels, the sand, everything was red. So much blood. Sam sobbed, terrified. Jeff felt his world shake apart with Lucy’s convulsions. She was dying in his arms, under searing sun on this barbaric beach. He couldn’t save her. Stupid, useless bastard.
‘Hey, mon. Here, I take her.’ A black guy was there, reaching down. ‘Hot water. Ease her pain. Come.’
Jeff hobbled behind with Sam, pausing to wave and beckon the distant Sarah before following through the casuarina trees, towards the shack. It had a satellite dish and a chained-up, barking dog. Jeff felt a surge of relief. Deliverence. Local knowledge and assistance.
That evening, back at Andy’s house, Lucy slept, drugged and bandaged in the bedroom. Sarah cuddled Sam silently and Jeff held her hand, calm but exhausted. They would fly back to England on Thursday. He was glad.
Will Ingrams, March 2019