The swimmer reaches the shore, drags herself from the water and collapses, exhausted onto the beach. A knot of holidaymakers gather round her and gawp at each other while the officious tell the rest to give her space, let her breath. A young girl asks her mother if she can use the first aid she learnt to get her badge at Brownies. Hermother shakes her head and pulls her precious daughter close, remembering the lilo incident and dying inside at what might have happened. She sees her daughter lying there, motionless. Not this woman, muscular and broad-shouldered, wearing an all-in-one, swimming hat and goggles.
‘Let me through!’
The crowd parts and a man appears, kneels beside the woman. He places his hand by her mouth.
‘It’s ok. She’s breathing.’
Sighs of relief and cries of ‘well done, mate,’ all dry up as another voice is heard.
‘Of course I’m breathing, you twat. I’m just exhausted. Got any water?’
With this she sits up, rips off her goggles, hat and nose clips, grabs the bottle the man offers her and drains it.
‘Phew!’ she says. ‘That was freaky.’
‘What the fuck happened?’ said the man.
‘Don’t give her a hard time, you dick,’ said a bystander. ‘The poor girl.’
‘Nah, you’ve got him wrong, sorry,’ said the woman. ‘I’m a triathlete.I’ve been sea training and I got a bit cocky. Looked at the sea and set off without my support crew. That’s Jez here, by the way.’ She clapped Jez on the shoulder and smiled, wearily. ‘But you wouldn’t believe what just happened. I mean, we’ve all heard the stories but for it to actually happen …’
The woman emptied another bottle of water and took an energy bar from Jez’s bag. She breathed out heavily.
‘Don’t keep us in suspense, for fuck’s sake, Tam,’ said Jez.
As Tammy looked around her she saw the expectation on the faces. ‘Ok, ok,’ she said. ‘So I set off …’
‘Alone,’ said Jez, darkly.
‘Yes, Jez, alone.’ She shook her head, smiling. ‘So I set off …’this time she paused until they could synchronise the word ‘alone’, and shecarried on. ‘I swam to our first mile marker, then our second, but halfway towards the third I suddenly felt something was wrong. I stopped, looked around, and nothing. No shore, nothing.’
‘What?’ said Jez.
‘I know, right?’ said Tammy. ‘I think the third marker wasn’t as permanent as we thought.’
‘What was it?’ came a voice.
‘Oh, a drilling rig,’ said Tammy.
‘That’ll be FirstGas Fifty-niner,’ said the voice. ‘They started towing it to its new position this morning.’
‘Shit, no wonder I got lost,’ said Tammy. ‘So, I’m thinking “where’s the sun” and “which way do I want to go” when I was bumped from behind. Hard. As if I’d been hit by a small dinghy. After the bump, well,’ she shivered. ‘I saw the fin. Oh fuck, I thought. Shark. That’s it, I’m chum.’
‘Anyway, I can see the fin circling back towards me when itfairly leapt out of the water, and this fucking dolphin had come out of fuckingnowhere and rammed it. Another shark, and another collision. Then the dolphin swims over to me and rears its snout out of the water and clickety-clicks at me and leaps forward as if it’s pointing. I start swimming. As I swim I can feel the turmoil about me as this dolphin keeps the sharks away from me, occasionally swimming beside me to alter my course. I swam a fair way. That dolphin saved my life.’
As she finished her tale, there was a huge splash as a dolphin leapt from the sea, clicking away merrily as it did so.
‘Thank you!’ shouted Tammy as the crowd clapped and cheered.
‘You saved my life,’ said Tammy, to herself this time.
Nearby, an old fisherman sat resting against his boat. He shook his head. ‘Happens every year,’ he said, his gravelly voice rasping across the sands.
‘It’s amazing, isn’t it?’ said one of the crowd, a journalist if ever the fisherman had seen one. ‘They’re so … intelligent.’
‘You don’t know the half of it,’ said the fisherman. ‘But I’ll tell you something for nothing. You never hear the stories of the ones they push out to sea, into the shark’s mouth, now do you?’
The journalist looked at the fisherman, his confusion mounting.
‘Now you think on that when you’re sipping your next sumatran skinny almond chai latte – you just think on that,’ said the fisherman, but the journalist turned back to his story. ‘Thought as much,’ said the fisherman to himself. He tipped his cap over his eyes and went back to sleep.