|As I curled my bare toes into the warmth of the sun-baked sand, I watched a family of four picnicking near me. They looked so innocent, so filled with the magic of Christmas. Red and green tinsel wrapped around the handle of the wicker basket threw sparkles of sunlight over the scene, reminding me of evenings spent in the glow of fairy lights. I sighed.
I used to love Christmas and everything about it. The anticipation, the decorating, the gifts, even the music. It wasn’t Christmas until you’d heard the Royal Guardsmen sing Snoopy’s Christmas. But that was all before. Now, everything about Christmas reminds me of my loss.
I tore my gaze away from the two chubby children making sand castles, and looked out over the waves. Even on Christmas Day, the red and yellow flags planted in the sand indicated that the lifeguards were on duty. Most people were swimming between the flags, but there were a few outliers, as there always were. I closed my eyes for a moment, before glancing back at the picnickers. I couldn’t resist. Children embodied the sentiments of the season, and watching those pudgy fingers rearrange the sand, and listening to high pitched giggles, seemed to lighten the ever-present darkness that had loomed inside me for the past year. I swallowed, but my throat was dry, and I automatically reached for the bottle of water I’d tucked into my backpack.
I watched the mother use baby wipes to clean her children’s faces so she could reapply sunscreen, and snickered when small hands smeared gritty granules of sand on those newly protected cheeks. It felt good to laugh, so I let a small smile remain as the mother exchanged t shirts for rash shirts, and took the two toddlers down to the edge of the water to play. I could hear enough of her chatter to the kids to realise she wasn’t a native, so I was pleased to see that she was being so sun smart.
I absently started eating strawberries from the punnet by my feet as I eyed up the activity on the beach, including a game of what appeared to be full contact cricket. I snorted, knowing that if David had been here, he’d have been right in the middle of that. David had never known a stranger. If something looked fun, he joined in, and his infectious personality meant that people let him. I missed him so much. I let out a careful breath, reminding myself that today wasn’t about mourning David, but about remembering the good times. It was okay to smile. It was okay to laugh. David would have wanted that. And one day, it would be okay to get in the water and swim again. I missed swimming. I hadn’t been in the water since that day, a year ago. But not today. I wasn’t ready to take the step yet.
A snore caught my attention and I looked around at the father, who’d fallen asleep in the sunshine while his wife was looking after the children in the shallows. I frowned. He was looking a bit pink. I hope he had sunscreen on. Just then, a pair of small, wet bodies threw themselves on him, and he shrieked at the temperature change, laughing at the irresistible giggles from the toddlers. I chuckled at their antics, then realised they were preparing to leave. I didn’t know them, but they’d been a pleasant distraction.
The mother set the children down with sippy cups of drink while she packed up their belongings. I watched as she flicked the towels to remove the excess sand, and placed hats on small heads, sandals on tiny feet. The father staggered to his feet, before murmuring "I don’t feel so flash". I frowned. The woman hadn’t heard him, her attention on the children.
I rose to my feet, carefully watching the man. When he wobbled on his feet before sinking to his knees, I bolted into action. I had my phone to my ear almost before I knew what I was doing, and I snatched a plastic bucket from the collection of toys that had just been placed in plastic bag.
“Hey!” the mother shouted indignantly as I ran off with the bucket toward the water.
“Make him drink!” I yelled back over my shoulder, before responding to the person who had answered the phone. “Ambulance. Ohope Beach. Man with heat stroke,” I panted as I bent to fill up the bucket with sea water.
I jogged back up to where the man was sitting, a bewildered look on his face. His wife hadn’t even noticed his predicament yet, her hands reaching for her children even as she opened her mouth to castigate me.
“What do you think…” She was interrupted by the gasp her husband made when I poured the water from the bucket over his head and down his torso.
“He’s got heat stroke. He needs to get cooler, right now. Have you got anything he can drink?”
I didn’t even wait for her answer, dashing to my small pile of belongings and grabbing my bottle of water. I held it to the man’s mouth, watching as he obediently drank. I turned to the woman. “I know you can’t leave the kids, so you make sure he drinks this, I’ll get another bucket of water.”
She stared at me a moment before grabbing the bottle and doing as she was told, her frantic gaze switching between her husband and the kids. I bolted for another bucket of water, which I used to drench as much of his clothing as possible. I knew he needed to be in the shade, that staying in the sunshine was going to counteract any progress the water made. I yelled at the other beachgoers further down the beach. “Hey! Help! Heat stroke! Help me get him to shade!” People looked over, then a couple of guys ran up.
“What’s up?” they asked.
“Heat stroke. Help me get him up to the shade.”
Two guys grabbed him under the arms before hauling him up to the trees. I turned to the woman who looked close to tears and at a loss for what to do next. “Leave your stuff. No one will steal it. Grab the kids and come up to wait for the ambulance.” She nodded, before settling a child on each hip. “You need a hand?” I asked. She gave me a weak smile and shook her head before heading up the sand at a fast walk.
A couple of women approached me. “Do you want us to gather their stuff and take it up?”
I smiled. “That would be awesome, thank you.”
I spun around, ran down to fill up the bucket once more, and then jogged up to the shade.
The ambulance didn't take as long to arrive as I had feared it might. He didn’t look great, but I think the shade, the water and the drink had done enough that he would be okay. I let the ambulance officers take over, and soon enough, the family was gone.
I accepted some praise and acknowledgements from the others as everyone went back down to the sand, but I wasn’t interested in accolades. As I sat back down on my towel and reached for my last strawberry, I smiled. David was never coming back, and Christmas would always remind me of him. But today, I’d helped make sure someone else’s precious Christmas memories wouldn’t be forever tainted by tragedy. And I knew David would have approved.