That Sinking Feeling
For Patrick, that August Saturday afternoon seemed like just a typical crappy day until something truly crappy happened.
Julie had taken Elle to the bathroom and told him to watch Aiden. “And don’t let him go anywhere near the water!” she had scolded in a tone that suggested that he had already done just that. “Because of that hurricane off the Cape, there are warnings about rip tides!”
Patrick remembered the early days, before the kids, when Julie seemed to revere him and never spoke to him that way. Now he was just the hired help. He occasionally looked over at Aiden, ghostly white from the hypoallergenic sunblock his mother had slathered all over him, who was digging an impressive hole in the sand, but his gaze drifted all over the beach, at the ripe young women in skimpy bikinis, whose little bit of baby fat around their navels only made them look even sexier. He patted his own belly, which was soft and white, remembering the days when he had six-pack abs. He’d never get them back again—not those abs and not those days.
Eye candy aside, he wished there weren’t so many people around. Why was it that, whenever they picked an isolated location in the sand, suddenly people would feel the need to sit right beside them? And then he’d have to listen to them gossiping, bickering over stupid things, and shrieking at their children, and sometimes it was all he could do not just to stand up and start shrieking back at them.
“Daaaad!” Aiden yelled, much louder than Patrick thought necessary. He was standing in the hole he dug, nearly up to his waist, making a face of utter despair.
“What is it, Aiden? I’m right over here!”
“My feet are stuck!”
Patrick sighed. He put down his book, stood up, and walked over the Aiden. He placed his hands on Aiden’s arms, which were too slippery to grasp firmly because of all the lotion. So, he hooked Aiden gently under the armpits and hoisted. He suddenly had a searing pain in his lower back, like the time he tried—and failed—to pull up a fence post. “Hold on, buddy!” he said to Aiden and braced himself better. He stood right over him now, spread his legs, sucked in his abs—what was left of them—and pulled firmly but gently upward. Nothing. “How’d you get so stuck, buddy?”
“I don’t know! Get me out!” Aiden shrieked.
“Mind if I borrow your shovel there, buddy?” Patrick asked and, without waiting for a response, grabbed the shovel from Aiden’s grasp and started digging. Then he had a better idea and used the plastic pail to scoop the sand away from Aiden’s body.
Something was wrong. Really wrong. Every time he scooped sand away from Aiden’s body, more sand moved in to replace it. What’s more, Aiden was sinking deeper into the sand. Slowly, but definitely sinking. Was there such a thing as quicksand on the beach?
“What the fuck?” he called out, and he heard a woman’s voice say, “Language!”
“I’ll use any language I want, lady! My kid’s getting sucked down a hole!”
As if realizing for the first time what was happening, Aiden shrieked even louder: “Daddy!”
“Oh my God!” came the lady’s voice behind him. “Keep digging! I’ll lift him up!”
The woman, dressed in a straw hat and a sundress, came up from behind and grabbed Aiden under the armpits, as Patrick had done. It was no use. “Go find a lifeguard!” he said to her. “Go find somebody!”
She ran off, and Aiden continued to sink. He was now in past his navel. Patrick continued to scoop out sand, and the sand he was digging out now was wet. Why was it so wet? “Don’t worry, Buddy! I’m not leaving you!”
“Daddy, I’m scared!”
“I know you are, buddy,” Patrick said, and stopped himself before he added, “Me too!”
“Daddy, I can’t breathe!”
“Don’t breathe so fast. Just take slow breaths, and you’ll be fine. And try not to wiggle around too much. We’ll have you out in just a sec.”
“Someone ought to get in there with a backhoe and scoop him right out,” he heard a guy say from behind. He was tempted to tell the guy to mind his own business, it was a stupid idea, but the guy was only trying to help.
The lifeguard, a kid about seventeen years old, showed up and started digging. “Thanks, but I don’t think it’s going to help!” Patrick said.
“What do you want me to do?” the lifeguard asked.
Do your fucking job and save his life, Patrick thought. “Call someone!” he said.
“Who should I call?”
“The police! The fire department. An ambulance! Call 911, for God’s sake!”
The lifeguard stood up and started talking into his walkie-talkie. He heard someone cry out, “What’s going on?” It was Julie. Only Julie could shriek like that.
“Aiden’s sinking into the sand!”
“You’ve got to get him out of there!”
“What the hell do you think I’m trying to do?”
Julie fell onto her knees and started clawing sand away from Aiden. A couple of other people joined her. Elle got on her knees and started digging too. “Honey, go sit down. This is a job for grown-ups,” Julie said and then asked, “How did he get stuck?”
“I have no idea!” Patrick growled at her. “Let’s concentrate on getting him out!”
Aiden, now up to his ribs, was hyperventilating full-speed, heralding another one of his panic attacks. Patrick stopped digging and grabbed Aiden under the arms again. “I’ve got you, buddy, and I’m not letting go!”
A man about his own age—40—came through the gathering crowd and said, “I’ve got a Jeep Wrangler. It’s a four-wheel drive. Let’s get a belt around him, and I’ll bet we can drag him out of there.”
“Sure! Let’s try it!” Patrick said.
“I still say you should try a backhoe,” he heard another man say for a second time.
By the time the man returned with his Jeep, Aiden was in up to his shoulders. “We’re going to have to free up his arms!” the Jeep driver said.
Patrick began furiously scooping sand away from Aiden’s arms, but the sand kept filling right back in again. Then he lay on the sand, burrowed his hands under Aiden’s arms and grabbed hold of his back as firmly as he could, given that it was greasy with sunscreen. He inched his fingers forward until he could interlace them behind Aiden’s back.
“Hold onto him, guy!” the Jeep driver said. “I’m going to put the belt around you!”
The Jeep driver slipped the belt on Patrick, latched it behind his back, and ran back to his truck.
Aiden’s head was disappearing into the sand, and his moaning became muffled. Now Patrick felt himself pulled forward. And down. The sand was scraping his chest like, well, sandpaper. “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” he heard Julie wail, and he really just wanted her to shut up.
“Got him?” the driver called out to him.
“Yeah, but I don’t know for how long!”
As his own head began to bury itself in the sand, he could hear the gears of the Jeep becoming engaged. He could no longer hear anything and held his breath, but then he felt something grabbing at the belt and slowly pulling him back. Aiden didn’t seem to be coming with him, and his own arms felt as if they were coming out of their shoulder sockets. He was sure he was dislocating Aiden’s shoulders, but he had to remind himself that this was the least of his worries.
At first, he wondered whether Aiden’s arms had been ripped off, but he realized something had released the pull on Aiden. Quickly, now, he was being dragged out of the hole, Aiden along with him. When Aiden finally surfaced from the sand, his eyes were closed.
Patrick looked around to orient himself. In the time he’d been under, the tide had ebbed some, and there was a crowd of fifty people around them. Now there were a male and a female paramedic, both in their late twenties. The man gently pulled Patrick back, and the woman picked up Aiden by his waist and smacked Aiden’s back with the heel of her hand. Then she used a special bottle to squirt water into Aiden’s mouth until he started making a choking sound and then threw up. She cleared out Aiden’s airway with her finger and then lay him down on his back and did chest compressions. The other put his finger on the side of Aiden’s neck and then listened to his beath. He nodded at Patrick.
“Looks like he’ll be all right,” he said, as the other paramedic put an oxygen mask over Aiden’s nose and mouth.
“What the hell happened?” Patrick asked.
“I was going to ask you the same thing.”
“He was digging a hole in the sand and just kept getting sucked in deeper and deeper.”
The paramedic frowned. “I’ve never seen anything like it. But if I had to guess, what with the ocean all stirred up from that hurricane, the riptide created some kind of vacuum in the water table under the sand and sucked your boy under. If the tide hadn’t gone out, it might never have let him loose.”
Patrick saw the man get out of his Jeep, waved, and called out, “Thank you!”
Julie was hovering over Aiden as he came to. “What happened, Mommy?” Aiden asked.
“You were sucked into the sand. Daddy and another man pulled you out!”
Patrick was happy that Julie had acknowledged that much. But, of course, he had never been in it for the glory.
About the Author
Rob Dinsmoor, a frequent contributor to Lowestoft Chronicle, has published three memoirs: Tales of the Troupe, The Yoga Divas and Other Stories, and You Can Leave Anytime. His short story collection, Toxic Cookout, was recently published by Big Table Publishing.