Works on the main road made the going slow but forty minutes later Hannah pulled into the council carpark behind the esplanade in Beachside. A stiff onshore wind greeted her as soon as she climbed from the car, and she hesitated for a moment. She leaned on the side of the car. If she drove back to Roadside now, she would probably be in a foul mood for the rest of the week, so she grabbed her gear from the back seat and set off down the road towards the point.
Both legs throbbed by the time she stashed her cane and towel behind her favourite rock. The gusty wind was unseasonably cold, and she hadn’t checked the tide. Little breakers pummelled the sand on the usually calm little beach and out in the bay, white caps shivered and broke over each other. Hannah took a deep breath and pulled on her swim cap, signalling the start of her pre-swim routine. It was the same routine she’d used since childhood. It didn’t matter if she was waiting to step up onto a block at an international meet or wade out through the shallows at Beachy Point. She sang the alphabet song while she tucked the last stray tufts of hair under her cap and swatted at her thighs and calf muscles to the same song, backwards. She stretched her shoulders and wiggled her thighs back and forth then checked her Garmin and set the timer.
‘This isn’t going to be fun,’ she mumbled and ventured into the choppy water.
The water was like a washing machine but once she found a rhythm, she settled into counting her strokes. It was all she could do out there in the open water to stop herself from thinking about sharks and boats and all the other things that she could run into.
A voice cut through the numbers in her head.
The only people who would be out in the middle of the bay on a day like this would be either another swimmer or a surfer. She treaded water and tried to locate the source of the voice but couldn’t see well over the choppy little waves.
Not a surfer…too messy.
‘Hey,’ the voice was right behind her.
She spun in the water. A surf-lifesaver on a jet ski loomed over her. He reached out, expecting her to grab his arm. She shook her head.
‘I’m swimming. I don’t need saving.’ She laughed.
He roared at her and thrust his hand out again.
‘Is there a shark,’ Hannah said. She grabbed his hand and pulled herself up onto the rescue board behind the jet ski.
He didn’t answer. He opened the throttle and took off towards the beach. Hannah clung to the board and ran through scenarios in her head. All the reasons she counted strokes, all the fears she had to overcome each time she dove into the dark water of the bay, came circling back around. The jet ski crashed through the breakers, and they jolted up onto the beach. Hannah sat up. The young lifesaver jumped off the jet-ski and turned to face her.
‘What the hell were you doing out there, lady?’
He put his hand out to help her stand and she hated that she needed to reach for it. She pulled herself upright and wrenched her hand from his.
‘I was swimming!’ Her shoulders heaved. On the esplanade a few people stopped to watch the action on the beach. ‘Was there a reason you rescued me?’ She wanted to add, do you know who I am? She glared at him but couldn’t bring herself to say it.
The lifesaver stopped for a moment and looked her over, eyes sweeping over the expensive wetsuit, the Garmin, the swim cap with Woolf written on the side in bold, blue letters. Hannah took a deep breath.
‘I… You seemed to be struggling. Why’d you get on the board if you didn’t need help?’
Hannah laughed, exasperated. ‘Because I thought you might have a bloody reason. A shark or something.’
He looked at the sand. At least he had the decency to realise he’d done the wrong thing. Hannah crossed her arms over her chest. She would wait for him to speak, to apologise. Then she would tell him her gear was a couple of hundred metres up the beach.
She checked her watch. He stared at her in horror, perhaps just realising exactly who it was he had pulled from the water. She took a step forward and her left leg had other plans.
‘Listen, my gear is over at Beachy Point.’
Hannah gestured towards the distant rocks. There was no way, other than crawling, she would be able to get to her gear any time soon. The breakers were pounding the beach now, so she had no intention of heading back out that way. She glared at the young man.
He took a step back. ‘I’m sorry. I… But… You should always check in at the tower if you’re going out there. Especially on a day like this.’
Hannah uncrossed her arms. She sighed and nodded. ‘You’re right. I really should. Can you give me a ride up to the point?’ She nodded at the beach buggy.
The lifesaver hesitated for a moment, looking from Hannah to the jet ski and back. He shook his head and ran over to the buggy, jumped in and brought it around beside her. They rode up the beach in silence until he stopped at the edge of the rocks. Hannah climbed out of the buggy and smiled at the sheepish young man.
‘I will check in at the tower before I swim next time,’ Hannah said.
He nodded; his face serious.
‘And what will you do?’ she said, smiling.
He looked confused. He shrugged and Hannah laughed.
‘You will ask women if they want to be rescued in future.’
He smiled and shrugged again. ‘I won’t rescue you without your permission, ma’am.’
He climbed into the buggy and drove off down the beach. Hannah found her towel and cane and started towards the car. Only then did she hope that John and the kids weren’t on the esplanade to witness the exchange.