There’s this Shortage of Lifeguards, it’s a pandemic-related thing, a training thing, a more-kids-don’t-know-how-to-swim-now thing, and so there’s all this life, unguarded, all these people, drowning, they’re kids, mostly, in a river of an instant, all these parents becoming not-parents. So, they’re closing pools, they’re closing beaches, they’re damming streams, they’re draining lakes. But there are so many waterways. Too many. Too many to close. Too many that are lifeguard-less.
Some of us now not-parents, we got to thinking.
This Shortage of Lifeguards, it must be going through a lot. It’s seen things, we figured. It needs nurturing, we believed. Parenting.
There’s this unattended rill, a shallow one, a slow trickle — maybe it could be a place for the Shortage to chill? To settle down, even. To reimagine itself. To become less of a Shortage. Less of itself. And eventually, maybe, there’d be more lifeguards. Less unguarding. Less drowning. Fewer not-parents.
Who exactly are you? The Shortage of Lifeguards asked us.
Fathers and mothers, we said. Or we were.
Didn’t ask who you were, the Shortage said.
We offered to build the Shortage of Lifeguards a home, a little one, little enough to drop in a little lifeguard chair we’d craft from cottontails that grow near the shallow rill — little enough, yet big enough to support the Shortage on its reimagination journey. We had enough twigs and plenty of twist ties to build such a home, we said.
Go for it, the Shortage said.
We put on some music and got to building. But when Otis Redding got to singing “These Arms of Mine,” it triggered one of us to remember the face of the father of a Neil Armstrong Elementary School boy who’d waded into a rushing river, the father’s arms reaching and reaching and reaching toward the rushing. And when we heard Marvin Gaye singing “Save the Children,” plead-plead-plead-singing the word babies, our hearts sank like a self that knows what it knows.
Reimagine what now? the Shortage said to the rhythm of the rushing in Marvin’s pleas.
What, or who? shrieked a stressed-out tadpole swimming toward Safe & Soundless, the rill’s 24-hour convenience mart.
His tail not yet long enough to help him elude a predator fish in pursuit, the tadpole disappeared into the murk before reaching Safe & Soundless.
Sorry for making this about us, we said, the self in us flickering the way the light on the mart’s neon sign fishtailed into the rill, the who we are now not yet apparent, not even to the night.
Pat Foran is a writer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His work has appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Wigleaf, Best Small Fictions 2021 and elsewhere. Find him at neutralspaces.co/patforan/ and on Twitter at @pdforan.