Dog Day

b>95 Degrees
“How was it?”

She smiles. “It was perfect.” She pulls a smaller towel out of her bag and dries off her hair and her face. She bends and corrals her long hair with both hands and then pulls it back over her head, slicking it down with her hands. Her hair does exactly as she bids. She pulls on her sunglasses and smiles at you, not seeming to mind that you’ve watched her every move.

“Your stuff is safe,” you say. “A couple of bandits came around while you were in the water, but I fought them off.”

She studies your slight runner’s build and says, “That was very nice of you.”

“Think nothing of it,” you say, shy as a bumpkin, noble as a knight.

You can’t believe your luck. Try to decide if the time is right to press that luck. Wrestle with that in your mind while your mouth passes the time.

“What do you do back home?”

She grins shyly and looks down. “I am in school, of course, in fashion design.”

Hesitantly, she adds, “And I also model.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”


Shake your head emphatically. “No. Not a bit.”

Your answer seems to please her. It seems like the perfect time to ask if she has any plans for the evening. For the first time maybe ever, there’s no one around to horn in on your flirting and make their own move, none of your friends are around for you to play second fiddle to. The moment belongs only to you.

“I’m going to go back to my book,” she says, before you get the words out. “I’m not sure how much more of this heat I can take.”

Nod. Consider that. Know you can’t leave here without at least asking her out. She’ll only be here three more weeks. She doesn’t know anyone, she said it herself.

“Sure,” you say. “Go right ahead. I think I’ll just close my eyes for a bit.”

She gets comfortable on her stomach with her book and you lie back on your warm towel. Despite your excitement, you’re tired. Swear to yourself on everything you’ve ever found holy that you will not fall asleep. You hear two children run past, laughing as they kick up dry sand that sprinkles your shins and feet.

Fat chance of that happening, you think. Fat chance of anything happening.

The old negativity rising up unbidden angers you. It’s never gotten you anywhere and you don’t need it anymore. It’s no longer an option.

Promise yourself that you will ask her out today, if it’s the last thing you do.

97 Degrees
You can’t decide if she’s sleeping or just resting. Her head is resting on her left arm, which keeps her book propped open to the page she’s on. Loll your head over and laugh just a little bit in amazement. Somehow she looks even prettier asleep. Sit up and look out at the water. There are more clouds now off to the west, the kind that could mean rain later. Sweat glistens on your skin. Under your left arm on your side is a jagged red strip of skin you completely missed with suntan lotion. It’s going to hurt tomorrow and look silly in the mirror.

Get out your suntan lotion again and slather it on the trouble spot. Place it quietly back inside the grocery bag. The heat is intolerable now. The water calls out to you.

Check again to make sure she’s not going anywhere and quietly get up. The beach and the shallow water are jammed with people. As far as thirty feet out from shore, you have to pick your way through bodies to get to open water. You feel confident wading through the crowd—sure of yourself.

When the water reaches your waist, drop down so that only your head is showing and swim out for the ropes. It feels wonderful. You’re not a great swimmer, but you took lessons as a kid and remember some of them. You’ve always been very comfortable in water. Lighter, more graceful.

Let your momentum carry you out to the ropes. Off to your left, you can see people on an adjacent beach. Between the heat and the water and the girl, it’s become the perfect day.

Take a minute to catch your breath. Back on the beach, Carla is standing up.

She’s looking around, perhaps for you. Perhaps not. Then she bends down and starts to gather her things. You raise your hand and wave but she doesn’t see you. This is your worst nightmare come to life. She crouches down in the sand and seems to be searching for something. You could shout, but she’d never hear you above the din of the crowd. Realize you have no chance of reaching her before she leaves—none. Still, you have to at least try.

The marker rope is limp and gives you nothing to push off of. You’re a long ways from shore. Ask yourself angrily, Why couldn’t you have waited to take a swim? Then, Why aren’t you a better swimmer? Stroke. Kick. Stroke. Kick. She’s stuffing her book in her bag. Stroke—she picks up her towel and looks around again—kick! You’re lost in a tangle of bodies. If you shout now, you’re going to look like the desperate fool you are.

Hear your muffled, insistent heartbeat in your ears, the sound of yourself desperately gasping for air. Consider how you must look from shore. The lifeguard is probably just about ready to blow her whistle and jump in to save you.

Forget about that! Keep swimming! Just keep swimming!

She steps smoothly into her sandals.

The people in the water with you are perfect obstacles; moving around, splashing.

You go left, right, you wait while a father pushes his daughter by on an air mattress. You duck underwater, swim beneath the mattress and come up gasping for air. It takes you a second or two to find her in the crowd. She’s moving away from the beach towards the walking path and the street, her bag in hand, her towel slung over her shoulder.

You’re up to your knees, up to your ankles, and then finally free of the water. The dry sand is hot on your feet. You jog a couple of steps and try to look natural about it, failing with each step. She’s at least fifty yards away from you now. If you put on your sandals and ran, you might be able to catch her. And then what? Say, Hey, you’re really hot. Care to join me for dinner? None of the scenarios in your head end well for you.

Your day at the beach is over. You’ve missed your chance.

Tell yourself, like you always have, that things work out for the best. Say to yourself quietly, “It wasn’t meant to be.” Resist the urge to kick yourself in the balls for being so stupid. Put your head down and plod back to your towel. Small children run past you, screaming bloody murder. Get out of their way. It’s a lot easier just to move aside.

The space she occupied looks depressingly empty. A lot of people have left for the day so no one comes forward to claim it. Look for her in the crowd one last time, but there are too many people; you can’t find her now. She may have stopped to pull her shirt on. Maybe she was never there at all.

Exhale. Let your head fall to your chest. Close your eyes. Open them and notice an empty water bottle near your towel, something written in the wet sand. Carefully walk up to it and take a good look; ten small numbers are etched there.

A phone number.

Blink once and smile. Commit the numbers to your permanent memory. Promise yourself that even if a million years pass you will never forget the sequence of these numbers. Then gently erase them with your left foot. You’re not a genius, but you’ve always been good at remembering numbers.

Take a look around before you leave. Pick up your things. Stare out over the water one last time, at the city looming in the distance. Shake your head and grin.

87 Degrees
It’s hot as hell again in your apartment, but you don’t care. You’re freshly showered. The damp towel around your waist helps keep the heat at bay.

Pick up the phone and dial a number. When your co-worker answers, tell him you won’t be able to make it tonight.

Tell him you have other plans.

Fiction fan? Read Brad Zellar’s short fiction blog at

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