Ankle-deep in the surf. That’s his place. Not knee deep, waist deep or no deep. Ankle-deep. Yet after several hours, his jeans are soaked right up to the knees. He is shuffling in small bursts, north, and south, with his long slender legs in his narrow territory. He’s wearing a heavy brown coat, collar turned up around his neck and a blue wool cap, covering a large mound of dark hair. And that’s his summer clothes.
Just above the sound of the breakers, onlookers can hear him talking. He’s got a walkie-talkie in his left hand, antenna fully extended. He drops it in the water then bends his tall frame to pick it up and continues talking, saltwater dripping out of its works.
“Is serious?” he asks.
His eyes squint tightly in the rising sun.
“Is serious,” he says deeper.
He’s looking out over the ocean, left, then right, then back out to sea.
“Take the walk. Take the walk,” he says in his hoarse voice.
A young woman darts close, heading toward the water, surfboard tucked under her arm. William’s spider eyes open wider than they’d been in years.
“Is her,” he says, holding the dripping radio up to his lips. “Is her!”
He shuffles his way into her path, arms stretched out like a barricade, radio in his right hand, his left hand up, fingers together in a stop sign. She stops abruptly and falls in the sand in the ankle-deep water. On her right foot, in sea blue ink, it says “Kristina.”
“What’s wrong with you?” she yells without mercy.
Getting to her feet, her surfboard stuck in the sand, fin down, she runs to the lifeguard stand yards away.
“Asshole,” she shouts without looking back.
The lifeguard is putting up a red flag. Rip currents today. He’s seen Kristina surfing this beach all summer and taken a liking to her.
“Is serious.” His black calloused thumb presses firmly down on the talk button. “Take the walk. Take the walk. Is serious,” he says.
Looking down, making sure he is ankle-deep, he shuffles away south. Kristina yells to her lifeguard friend high up on the red platform.
“Did you see that shit?”
Smiling down he explains, loud over the surf, “That is William. William is. Is William," he laughs, "Way off,” drawing a circle around his ear, “Never seen him fuck with people, though.”
Overhearing, William looks back. “Is serious,” he says, when a gust comes out of the east, creating a fine mist atop the breaking swells. Shuffling on, William tucks his walkie-talkie into his coat pocket shaking his head. The sound of the increasing turbulence obscures the static from inside his coat.
Later that afternoon the young lifeguard finds Kristina’s surfboard tossing in the surf a mile north by the church in the high tide.