by David Bachner
Traveling north, up from Saint Augustine and Savannah,
I stop for the night at Pawleys Island, the South Carolina
resort community where my in-laws used to rent a beach
house for a week every summer. I look out over the sea,
remembering a day nearly forty years ago.
The beach and the weather are perfect today, just as they
were then. The water is calm, the waves blown into low
white crests by slight westerly winds. The sand is clean
and clear of seaweed. Pieces of driftwood seem arranged
by a painter. Pelicans skim the Atlantic’s surface. The humps
of dolphins are visible a hundred yards offshore. Perfect.
Several of the beach rentals lining the coast today were here
all those years ago, including the second house from the end,
where I was in the living room reading while my in-laws sat
drinking coffee on the porch facing the sea. So peaceful,
until the shouts.
I ran to the porch, then down to the sea, then into the water.
Our neighbor jumped in beside me, pushing a canvas raft.
By the time we reached the swimmers only their hands
were visible above the surface. We managed to put them
both onto the raft and get them to shore. We began CPR,
my neighbor on one of the men, I on the other.
The next morning I sat on the porch, vacant of feeling.
“Here it is,” my mother-in-law said, pointing to an article
in the local paper.
–August 29, Pawleys Island, SC.
Two men drowned off the beach yesterday when
a rip tide pulled them out. Two residents of nearby
rental units tried to save the swimmers, but they
were dead by the time a rescue squad arrived.
The drowned men were…
I stopped reading and went down to the beach, avoiding the
section where the two men died. I walked to the channel
dividing Pawleys from DeBordieu, the next town to the south.
Sunbathers tanned. Fishermen cast lines. Seagulls swooped for
bait. Swimmers snorkeled and rode waves. Children gathered
sand dollars. Toddlers and dogs splashed in shallow tidal pools.
Countless storms have altered the beach and widened the channel
since then. Infinite generations of new granules have realigned the
shore. Today, though, is as perfect as that other day. Waves roll in.
Pelicans skim the sea. Dolphins glide by, past Pawleys, past the channel,
past DeBordieu on their way south, towards Savannah and Saint Augustine.
PHOTO: Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Photo by Scott Davis, used by permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Pawleys Island is a three-mile long, quarter-mile wide sandy barrier on the Atlantic coast. It’s a popular tourist spot in summer, when the year-round population of 100 or so swells dramatically with an influx of vacationers who rent the homes lining the beach. Residents from the surrounding area frequent the public beach at the southern end of the island, where the house my in-laws rented was located.
MAP: Beaches along the Southern Atlantic Coast of the United States. Map courtesy of livebeaches.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Bachner is a retired college dean and professor, most recently at American University’s School of International Service. His research, teaching, and program administration focused on international education and intercultural relations, career-long specializations that were deeply influenced by his experiences as a university student in Japan and Peace Corps volunteer in Korea. David lives in Washington, DC, and is a frequent visitor to upstate New York, where he participates in an ongoing poetry workshop sponsored by Bright Hill Press and Literary Center of the Catskills. His recent publications include Capital Ironies: Washington, DC Poetry and Prose (Woodland Arts Editions, 2020) and four poems selected for Seeing Things: An Anthology of Poetry (Woodland Arts Editions, 2020). Several of his haiku will be published in Sequestrum in 2021.