Life Preserver

Life Preserver

by Karin Britt Gall

Kelly Bond watched her husband Justin fall asleep in a drunken haze. She hated boating, water skiing, and everything that was connected to the water, but there’d be no peace at home if she wasn’t a good sport about it.

“Try to relax. God knows, you’re not fun anymore,” her athletic husband had said. “That’s why we bought the boat, right?”

At least, she could enjoy herself for a few minutes. She’d work on her tan until Justin woke from his latest episode of drinking. Kelly removed her white cover-up and smoothed a modest black bathing suit into place before sitting on the deck chair. She studied the other boats in the area casually and stretched in the midday sun.

A movement across the azure water caught her eye. A young tow-headed boy played on the deck of a yacht anchored across from their sloop. The boat was about 50 feet away. She scanned the deck area of the yacht to see if there were any adults but saw none. His parents were probably taking a nap in one of the cabins below or preparing a meal. I bet they think you’re taking a nap too.  She looked at the Tampa Bay horizon and saw other boats—white dots sailing calm waters.

She glanced back towards the yacht. She estimated that the boy was about five years old. He was playing on the metal railing that surrounded the boat. At first, he rested his chin on the lower bar twisting to and fro. Before she could take a drink of the bottled water sitting beside her, the boy climbed to the top of the second railing and fell overboard into the water below.

Overboard! Don’t panic. He’s probably got a life jacket on. The boy came briefly to the surface, his arms flailing wildly. He didn’t have a vest on and it appeared that he couldn’t swim. Well, neither could she—at least not very well. She’d almost drowned when her brothers had been kidding around and thrown her into the lake,

“Justin, wake up,” Kelly yelled into his ear. “Someone is drowning.” She shook him roughly.


“A kid is drowning.”

”Throw him a life preserver or something. Leave me alone.” And with that, her husband turned over on his lounge chair and went back to sleep.

Life Preserver. Good idea. She grabbed the round patriotic red, white, and blue flotation device from its storage place on the side wall of the boat and threw it into the water. It floated helplessly about ten feet from the sloop she was on.

The kid bobbed to the surface again. Kelly yelled across to the other boat. “Hey, over there. Man overboard.”

No response.

“Your son is in the water. He’s in trouble”


Kelly’s mind flashed to the day on the lake when her brothers had thrown her into the water. She’d been about five years old too. They’d laughed and thought it was funny. “You’ll have to learn to swim now.” But she hadn’t. Not until years later, but by then the damage had been done. Her father had insisted she learn the basics of swimming, but she still wasn’t comfortable in the water, and Justin never lost a chance to tell her what a baby she was.

“Float,” she called to the boy. “Get on your back and put your arms to your side. The salt water will hold you up.”

If the boy heard her he didn’t show any indication. He panicked and tried to grab the slick hull of the yacht. She was close enough that she could see fear climb his face and his mouth gape open and fill with brackish water. She could almost taste the water herself.

Kelly couldn’t watch the boy drown. She had to do something. She took a deep breath and dove into the water swimming toward the life preserver. She grabbed the object and held onto it kicking her feet behind her as if her life depended on it. She tread the waves of the bay hoping that no stingrays were nearby. While the rays wouldn’t kill a person, they were painful, especially to a young boy.

Kelly kept kicking her feet through the water. She aimed the preserver toward the area where the boy went down. When she got to the yacht, she didn’t see the youngster. Without thinking, she let go of the life preserver and dove deep, opening her eyes. She saw a dark shadow and grabbed for it, hoping it was the boy. But the shadow moved farther away. She held her breath and dove again. When she was just about to give up and go to the surface, she saw the shadow again. She swam toward it and grabbed the boy. At first he fought her, then he relaxed when she pulled him toward her. She hoped they didn’t both drown. When they finally hit the surface again, she told him to kick his feet and dog paddle while she retrieved the life preserver. When they both were holding onto the round tube she called up to the yacht. “Hey, Hey up there in the yacht. What’s your parents’ names?”

“Amanda and Ben,” the boy replied sputtering, water dripping from his nose.

“Amanda and Ben,” Kelly cried, her voice loud now, “I have your son. What’s your name?”

“Derek. Mommy . . . Daddy. Help!”

In what seemed like minutes but were probably only seconds, a red-haired woman peered anxiously over the railing of the boat. “Derek, my God, what have you done?”

A blonde-haired man took in the scene and lowered a ladder over the side of the yacht. He climbed part-way down and grabbed his son from Kelly’s arms. Then he offered an arm and hoisted Kelly onto the deck. When Kelly arrived on board, Derek was engulfed in his mother’s arms.

Both parents looked terrified. “How . .  . What . . .”

“He was playing on deck and fell over,” she said, getting to the point.

“He was supposed to be sleeping. What did we say about never going on deck by yourself? Or without a life vest?” Both parents talked at once.

Once Derek was settled into dry clothes and settled in his bunk with his favorite stuffed animal, both Amanda and Ben Bates thanked Kelly over and over again. “Is there anything we can do for you? We are so grateful.”

Kelly shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m just glad I could help. I really don’t swim that well, but we managed.”

She looked around the luxurious cabin of the yacht. The caramel buttery soft leather chairs and built-in couch were surrounded by polished gleaming teak walls and floor. She wondered what this kind of stuff cost. Probably a lot. But most people worked hard for what they had, and the Bates’s were probably no exception.

After Amanda refused offers of a soft drink or wine, Ben Bates cruised the yacht alongside Kelly and Justin’s fishing sloop. Before Kelly returned back to the boat, Ben handed her a business card.

“If you need anything in the future, please let me know. I mean it. Derek is everything to us.”

Kelly smiled and nodded. She didn’t look at the business card. She hopped onto the sloop and waved goodbye to the Bates. It might not have been the most elegant rescue, but she’d saved a life, and she was proud of herself.

She glanced over to where Justin lay and shook her head. He hadn’t moved. Still dead drunk. She started the boat and headed toward home. She steered the craft carefully into the boat slip and tied it up as she’d seen Justin do. She left the keys in the engine and walked off, letting her husband sleep.

For the first time, she glanced at the business card Ben Bates had handed her and smiled. Bates was a partner in one of Tampa’s largest law firms. Good. She was going to need a lawyer when she filed for divorce.

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Karin Britt Gall

Karin Britt Gall lives in a rural village in Central Ohio. Her recent short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in “Siren Lit” and the anthologies “Feisty After 45” and “Tomato Slices.” She can be contacted on Twitter: @karin_gall or her blog at:

4 thoughts on “Life Preserver

  1. Good tension–like a shark flic. The snapper at the end might work better with more initial marital interchange. AGB

  2. I like the idea that the person least capable of pulling off the rescue is the boy’s only hope. Then, in rescuing the child, she gains the courage to rescue herself.

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