We open at the pier. The light on the horizon is holding on to the day and the water ripples in the wake of small boats heading to shore. Henry puts another quarter in the viewfinder, which starts buzzing, signifying that he’s got a few minutes to look around at the open water. He spots gulls swooping low, trying to catch fish and sailboats racing to get in before dark. Henry stops at the pier every night on his walk home. The walk helps him clear his mind before the next day and the pier is his favorite part.
Much closer to cross beams of the pier, Henry notices something. He squints in the viewfinder to make out what appears to be a man in the surf. Funny, Henry thinks, it’s mighty cold to be swimming. He sees that the man is struggling and then, he disappears.
Henry runs. Sprints up the boardwalk for what feels like ages and stops where he thinks the man went under. Henry is not a strong swimmer. He wishes in that moment that he would have taken the lessons that his mother was always pestering him about. He takes a deep breath and his feet leave the dock. He does a pencil dive off the pier.
Nothing. The sun has now sunk into the night, making it very difficult for Henry to see anything, much less the man he hopes to save. His mind is ticking like the last seconds of the viewfinder and he gasps and dives down into the choppy water. Nothing again. Henry calls for help, but no one seems to hear him at the boat dock hundreds of yards away.
Henry is frantic, hoping for some sign when all of a sudden, the back of a large man breaks the surface by the cross beams under the pier. The tide picks the man’s body up and crashes it into a splintering beam.
All out swimming on Henry’s part; he is swallowing a lot of salt water. His eyes burn as he grabs the man’s body by the midsection and throws a limp arm over his shoulder.
Then comes the real struggle. Henry tries to stay afloat while swimming with the man’s lifeless body at his side. Treading water, Henry trudges through the waves and finally, with his lungs exploding, he makes it to the sandy shore under the pier.
Henry pumps the man’s chest fervently and breathes into his mouth after compressions. The man does not sputter or stir, he simply lies on the beach in common work clothes; motionless.
After 30 minutes of spastic attempts to restart the man’s heart, Henry takes a break and for the first time, looks into the face of the man he has dragged from the water.
His gut wrenches.
It’s impossible, Henry says aloud. He brushes the man’s hair to one side and cleans off the blood from the man’s cheek.
Henry is staring down into his own face.
The man has 20 years on him, but Henry is sure that he is looking down at an older version of himself. There is no way to describe the bewilderment that Henry feels.
Off in the distance, the men from the boat dock appear to be sprinting to Henry’s position with flashlights in their hands. The beams of light are angling in all directions as the men scurry to see what’s the matter under the pier.
Henry panics. He cannot make sense of what has happened. He looks down at the man, knowing that he is dead, and decides to run.