The Lifeguard

And now I have to tell you about a dream. Or rather, several dreams, or rather, one continuous dream over several nights. In the dream a guy I know, who is actually an electrician, was a lifeguard.

The guy I know was trying to save someone who had been destroyed by something in the water. By destroyed I mean shredded to some capacity, as if by animal, but in the dream the general assumption by all bystanders was that the boy was swimming and got sucked under a piece of machinery, the way one might while swimming in a quarry. I suppose this means the dream took place in a quarry, but as is the case with most dreams, what makes the most sense will not actually be the case, and instead, one will find that the opposite, whatever makes the least sense, will be true, and so my dream did not take place in a quarry, but in a school cafeteria.

The electrician-turned-lifeguard sat at the destroyed boy’s feet and smacked them on their bottoms, the softer, pale part of the foot. To everyone around and in the laws of the dream, this made sense. The foot-smacking was curt and rhythmic, much like CPR would be. We all thought it should be working, but honestly the boy wasn’t making any effort to stay alive. He was smiling, and his eyes were in another world; they were shining and brilliant like he’d won a spelling bee. Honestly, he looked high as hell, like he was tripping balls. But he wasn’t winning a spelling bee. He wasn’t tripping balls. He was dying, he was covered in blood, and he was naked.

What made the scene more disturbing was that he was not only naked and smiling and covered in blood from his shredded skin, but also, while the lifeguard was smacking his feet to keep him alive, he was, I’m sorry to say, touching himself. He was touching himself in an awful way, in a desperate, flicking motion of the hand, he was slapping at his own penis, in rhythm with the foot-smacking; in rhythm with the man trying to rescue him, and deriving from the whole thing a great pleasure. I looked away.

When I looked again, the lifeguard had moved himself to the top of the boy so that the boy’s shoulders were resting in the lifeguard’s lap. The boy was completely limp. The boy was now dead. And the lifeguard, who is actually an electrician, was weeping over the loss. He was weeping to have been part of the jerking off. He was weeping because he was neither lifeguard nor electrician, when you thought about it long enough. He was weeping because he was unable to save the boy from dying. He was weeping because his foot-smacking had been the same rhythm as the jerking off, and there was no telling the difference.


Katie Quinnelly is a climbing instructor in West Virginia. Her work has appeared in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, the Travelin’ Appalachians Revue’s 2018 Anthology Zine, and Threadcount Magazine, among others. Her chapbook, Sparrow Pie, will be available through Eggtooth Editions July 2018.