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A Lifeguards Failure
The heat of the August sun was beating down on the Great Escape water park and the air seemed liked a heavy, all encompassing, wool blanket. The park was at this time quiet, as it would not open for another ten minutes. The rest of the park had come alive over three hours ago and the distinct rattling of the wooden roller coaster could be heard along with the scream of the thrill seekers who rode it.
The Lifeguard of the park had received their assignments and were heading to the assigned spots. Guests were starting to line up at the gate; it was looking to be a long hot and busy day. As the guards passed the gates they looked at the guests like animals in a cage, through the gates. A couple of the guards muttered things to the others lamenting that they were staying open until seven that night and the few who had gotten out of working the shift joked with the unlucky majority.
All across the water park Life Guards could be seen scanning into their first zones. As the gates opened at noon, the guest streamed in. Within seconds the short whistle blasts started and the usual reprimands could be heard overt the gushing of the water.
“Sir, off the wall please!”
“Hey bud, don’t climb up the slide please!”
“Off the ledge please!”
“Sir, second time, off the wall please!”
“Yes, ma’am I understand, but you can’t have him in the water in a non-swim diaper, I’m very sorry.”
“Hey bud, you can’t pee there!”
At twelve-thirty the guards subtly began to watch the gates. The breakers would be coming in soon and all were wondering who would get stuck with first break today. The event was always a matter of interest. The guards who ended up with first break got stuck with eating lunch early and a longer day after returning to work.
Presently the “breakers” arrived. All the lifeguards began to watch them subtly between scans of their zone. The four breakers entered the guard house and emerged carrying their rescue tubes. They met up with the supervisor. The watching lifeguards now crossed their fingers hoping not to be chosen.
As the breakers dispersed through the waterpark to take peoples spots guards crossed fingers tightened, muttering to themselves ‘not me…go to him no, no yes thank god not today.’ Four lifeguards with a grown and in some cases a muttered swear word, were taken off stand and trudged angrily to the break area in a room under one of the slides.
One by one four of the guards entered the damp, mold smelling room. One by one each sat at the long heavily vandalized, green picnic table. Soon all four were sitting at the table. For about five minutes all four were quiet, fuming silently over their misfortune. Finally a single sound jolted them out of their silent self-pity.
The sound `was one that the two thousand guests would not spare more than a glance, but to all ninety-four lifeguards of the facility it was the sound that got their hearts racing. It made them look around and look for the source and try to determine what had happened. This sound was nothing more than a long steady whistle blast. The sound was the signal that a guard had entered the water for a rescue.
“Where did that come from?” said one guard
“Sounded like wave pool.”
A third guard, the one sitting at the very end of the table opened his mouth to say something, but a second long whistle, obviously from the same general area, cut him off. The four guards looked at each other nervously. A second long whistle meant that a victim was unconscious.
“That was just someone else long whistling.” Said the first guard, Oscar
“Yeah or the top of a slide signaling where the first one had come from.” Said the second, Patty
“Yeah probably, maybe some fat kid stuck in the slide again.” Said the third, Josh
The three guards who had spoken forced a laugh, but soon fell quiet listening hard for any sign of what had happened. The fourth guard, Megan, said nothing, her face blank, but like the rest she was listening with all her might.
After a few more minutes the distinctive smack of a pair of flip flops running by could be heard, a radio told them it was a supervisor. The radio was alive with voices all speaking in urgent tones.
“10-20, go ahead.”
“We have a signal 20 at the gate where do you want it?”
“Wave Pool beach.”
“10-4 it’s on its way.”
The smacking of the running footsteps faded heading toward the wave pool and the four guards sat in disbelief.
“Isn’t a signal 20, an ambulance?” asked Oscar anxiously, looking at the other three
“Yep.” said Megan shortly, staring fixedly at a point on the wall across the room.
“You think it’s serious?” asked Josh
“An ambulance could be for anything.” said Patty dismissively
“There bringing right to the pool, I had a spinal injury my first year here and they took her on a gurney to the park gate where the ambulance was. I think they want this person out even faster than that.” Said Megan darkly
The other guards fell silent again. The four heard nothing, except the normal sounds of the park for the next five minutes. The four had thirty minutes left on break, when a pair of flip flops could be heard just on the other side of the gate that lead to the break room. The gate opened with a rusty screech. A fifth guard entered the room. The four that were already there turned to see who it was. All four gasped.
Standing in the door way was Dan Walker. He was a tall guard, with short dirty blond hair. His body was skinny and he had little fat on any part of his body. However what made the guards gasp was that Dan was soaking wet; he also had a large stain on his shirt. It was dark in the room, but all four could tell that it was blood.
Without saying a word Dan came and sat on the far end of the picnic table. He placed one hand out in front of him flat on the table almost as a brace it seemed. The other he curled into a fist except for his thumb and index finger which he planted on his right cheek bone, his knuckles just beneath his nose. His hands, before he planted them on the table, were shaking.
The four guards looked at each other. None wanted to say anything. They had figured out who had gone in for the rescue. Patty was the first to make a move. She slid down the bench until she was next to Dan she put a hand gently on his shoulder. Dan jumped at the contact and looked at Patty for a moment before returning to his earlier position.
“Dan are you ok?” said Patty gently
“Yeah fine.” said Dan quickly and abruptly
“What happened?” asked Josh quietly, Patty glared at him
Tears started to roll down Dan’s face. He wiped them away, but like the constant steady drip of a sink they returned and he soon gave up, letting them fall onto his already soaked shirt. Megan stood and removed a towel from a bag and put it around Dan. She leaned over patty and whispered that she would tell a supervisor what was going on, and she quietly exited the room. Dan swallowed a couple times and then wiped his eyes. He began to talk like a man on the gallows speaking his last words. He spoke like he needed to, but every word seemed to be a struggle.
“I was on wave pool, third chair. I was triple whistling and looking for a supervisor because I needed water. I heard a splash not too far from me and there was a kid in the water by the wall. A kid had gotten on the ledge and jumped, but he took it bad and hit his head on the gutter on the way down. There was a lot of blood and people screaming, the kid was just floating there.”
The entire room was silent and the noises of joy and jubilation seemed like rude and unwelcome intrusion on such a horrid event. It was like the radio that keeps playing in a car wreck. Patty was crying and was covering here mouth with one hand. Oscar was staring wide eyed at Dan while gripping the table with all his might. Josh was also staring his mouth slightly agape. Dan paused and swallowed again. A renewed look of pain came across his face as he continued.
“And I did nothing. I was standing there staring at this poor kid who was just lying there in his own f*ing blood! I could hear Delaney yelling at me to go in and finally after like forty five seconds I snapped out of it and long whistled and jumped in. We got him out and he wasn’t breathing and he had only a faint heartbeat. We performed CPR for five and a half minutes and defibrillated him once. EMS arrived right when I lost a heartbeat. They shocked him twice more, but he had been gone for seven minutes at that point. The ambulance crew pronounced him dead.”
Another long silence followed. The three were already ten minutes over on their break, but none of them were thinking of that. Each was thinking about what Dan had said. None of them had ever gone in before, and all were wondering how they would have reacted. Each sat locked in their own thoughts.
“Dan, listen to me,” said patty leaning forward to look into Dan’s face “it wasn’t your fault.”
“It was though,” said Dan not looking at her “I’m the reason that kid died, I wasn’t watching my zone. He died because I wanted some f*ing water.”
There was a long pause. For the first time Dan looked at the three other guards.
“We all secretly hope that we’ll never haven to deal with something like this, we assume it will never happen to us. And then when it does we can’t believe it. That’s the truth, isn’t it?”
The other guards looked away from Dan. The corner of his mouth twitched as if he had almost smiled.
“You all know I’m right. Well I hope you three can keep it up, but I can’t anymore. I realized that as I stood there and stared at that kid in the water. The Charade ended for me.”
The sounds of the guests outside was starting to become agitated. The three guessed that they were closing the entire water park for the day. The gate opened and Meagan and Erin, the supervisor, entered the room. Erin was a tall woman of about twenty, with long brown hair that she kept in a knot that stuck absurdly out of her Lifeguard hat. Her normally smiling face was instead full of shock and loss.
She crouched down next to Dan and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. She just crouched there for a moment looking concernedly at Dan. She was holding a clean shirt.
“Dan, I brought you a clean shirt,” placing the shirt on the table “and when you’re up to it I need you to come over to the office and we’ll fill out a witness statement.”
Dan nodded still not looking at her. The words she was speaking might have as well been in another language for all the reaction she got. There was a silence while Erin continued to crouch next to Dan.
“Dan, it wasn’t your fault, try to remember that.”
Erin stood up and removed her hand form Dan’s shoulder. She looked at the other three guards in the room.
“I need you guys to take up positions at the gate and direct the guests out.”
“What are we telling them?” asked Patty quietly
“The truth. There was an accident and we have to close down for the day and you don’t know anything more then that.”
Erin walked out of the dark room obviously trying to hold tears back. As soon as she left Dan stood up from the table and removed his bloody shirt and donned the new one. He put the dirty shirt on the table. All the guards, even as they gathered their things together getting ready to head back into the water park, stared at it like it was the evidence of some disgusting crime.
Dan removed his nametag from the blood covered shirt and replaced it on his new one. He then removed the small pin that all the lifeguards wore. It had been given to each of them when they had completed the week long training course to become Life guards for Rodney and associates and it was worn by all the lifeguards just below their nametags. It was a small pin, only about the size of a dime. It was a simple red cross with the word ‘lifeguard’ written in gold raised letters. Along the bottom in an arc was written the Great Escape Lifeguards slogan, ‘To save lives.’
Dan looked at the pin for a long moment. He was about to pin it to his new shirt just below his nametag, as was customary, but as he was removing the pin back he stopped. He ran his thumb over the words at the bottom. Still looking at the pin Dan replaced the pin back, and carefully placed it on the table. He straightened and his expression was of the struggle of a person trying to pull himself together.
Dan glanced one final time at the pin and walked from the room. When the gate opened the sun shone through the door like a floodlight. The gold colored pin sitting on the table glimmered and sparked in the afternoon sun for a brief moment and then the gate slammed shut and the light was extinguished, leaving the room, once again, dark and miserable.