Empty lifeguard's high chair facing the sea.

First Place, Spring 2023

Picture by Ryan Parker at Unsplash

on noodle float, sloshing. After all her son used to say about the dangers of the sea, threats in every waking breath, Mam, and there she is, an old sock in a washer, fighting the current, not knowing that rip currents should never be fought.
Further away, Lifeguard in rip current, spiralling. After all his training, that break the grip of the rip mantra they say every summer, the number of dead kids he’s fished out from over by the rocks, and there he is, thumping against it. Lifeguard in rip current knows the only way out is to step off the treadmill, swim at right angles, or float, but does Lifeguard do either?
Dog on beach, tied to parasol, twitching.
Middle-aged woman in rip current, limbs made of mush, noodle under arm, close to stop kicking. She could say a few things about waning hope, about the call to pull the plug on life support. She splutter-shouts to Dog on Beach but the wind eats her words.
Tired Lifeguard in rip current. Tired of being paraded like a prize at parties, of pretending he’s not petrified when his daughter’s forehead is hot. Lifeguard in rip current saves twenty lives on average every year, but who is there to save Lifeguard?
Middle-aged woman in rip current is evolution in reverse, she’s a single-celled organism coming back to sea.
Lifeguard in rip current has recurring dream he lets his girlfriend drown, lets his neighbours drown, lets the world drown.
Middle-aged woman in rip current sees Lifeguard in rip current. She knows a wounded man when she sees one; she had a son once. Middle-aged woman in rip current swims parallel to shore and observes how fast she moves.
Lifeguard in rip current, coughing up sea water, thrashing about next to Middle-aged woman.
Middle-aged woman in rip current shouts but Lifeguard doesn’t hear, or Lifeguard doesn’t listen.
Noodle float hits Lifeguard in rip current across the cheek. Between the foam and the sediment, he sees an outstretched hand.
Middle-aged woman and Lifeguard on either side of noodle float; buoyant debris, drifting.
Dog on beach barking.

Judge Anika Carpenter says:

“This flash sweeps you up in a sense of floundering despondency that keeps building right to the very end where the story lands with a calm, settling image. The author has captured the turbulence of grief, the fear of loss, and yet by the end we feel comforted. This is a story about hopelessness that is, ultimately, hopeful.”