‘Come on then, Rusty. There’s a good boy.’ I let my faithful friend off the lead and he immediately dashes onto the sand. The place is deserted, and it looks like it’s a high tide today. Rusty is soon hopping about expectantly so I rummage around my pocket for the ball. He’s always ready to chase a ball on the beach. He’ll keep on until he’s panting and his tongue is hanging out. He’s not the only one who enjoys coming here, though. I love this beach, always have: miles of flat sands and a tidal sea that ebbs twice every day.
When I was young my father would sometimes take me to work with him. He drove a yellow truck back and forth along this beach as he warned people about wading in too far. ‘There are strong currents,’ he would say. ‘Watch out for mud when the tide goes out,’ he would urge. Then he would turn to me in the passenger seat and sigh. ‘They just won’t read the signs. Why won’t they read the signs?’
‘Is it because they’re silly, Dad?’
He would sigh and nod. ‘And I reckon they must be colour blind. I mean, can’t they see the red flags?’
Red means danger. You learn that early in life. I knew this because on certain days my father would plant red flags along the beach as part of his job to prevent the tourists going into the sea in particularly bad conditions. It was also forbidden to wade into the muddy banks on the shoreline at low tide.
They still use the same system. I notice that someone has put out the red flags today. Quite right, too, as the waves are being whipped up by the wind and cresting their white horses. I kick Rusty’s ball into the air and he sets off at an unfeasible pace. He misjudges the bounce in the strong breeze and the ball hits him on the top of his head.
My father never got used to people ignoring the cautions. As a beach warden, he had a megaphone inside his car. I thought that was pretty cool. He would unhook the transmitter and I would hear his amplified voice bellow at the miscreants. ‘Attention. Do not go into the water. The red flags indicate danger. They are red for a reason. Please respect the red flags.’ He would shake his head and tut. There were other times when people went too far out and get stuck in the mud, then my father would have to call the coastguard to come and rescue them.
I see Rusty running towards the waves. His ball has been blown in the direction of the sea by the gales.
He doesn’t stop. Dogs are determined and single-minded creatures when they want to be. Rusty splashes in and starts to paddle. ‘Rusty, stop.’
I know Rusty is in danger and before I know it I’m charging into the spray. The waves are so powerful that I have to heave my legs forward to make any progress. The water is soon past my middle and up to my chest.
Bloody dog. ‘Rusty, stop.’
I watch as Rusty starts to paddle in a semicircle. He has the ball in his mouth. As he passes me, I sense the force of the tide drag me out. I can no longer feel the sand beneath my feel and I’m bobbing like a piece of driftwood. Then my soaking clothes start to pull me down. Soon after, I hear my father’s voice. ‘I reckon they must be colour blind. Can’t they see the red flags?’
I saw them, Dad, but I never did learn to swim and it’s probably too late now.
Henry Bladon is a writer of short fiction and poetry based in Somerset in the UK. He has degrees in psychology and mental health policy, and a PhD in literature and creative writing. His work can be seen in Entropy, FridayFlashFiction, thedrabble, Friday Flash Fiction, The Ekphrastic Review, and Spillwords Press, among other places.