“I love the taste of semen,” Brigitte says, pouting her lips as only a French girl can. “Does that intimidate you?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Should it?”
“It’s not something guys like to hear.” She stirs three teaspoons of sugar into an espresso. “I was with my boyfriend for seven years, but he dated other nurses. What about you?”
“I’m not married, if that’s what you mean.”
Brigitte sits forward, crossing her forearms on the table. There’s that pout again.
“So, they assigned you to a singles resort,” she says. “Sandy bays with blue-green waters at the foot of the Rif mountains. It’s not a bad way to spend the summer.”
“Well, it’s my first real job since graduation, and the recruiters said Morocco was ideal for romance.”
She cups her hands under her chin. I love the way she lifts her eyebrows when she smiles. Her blue eyes have the translucence of a Portuguese-man-of-war.
“I’m all ears,” she purrs.
“Your eyes are stunning.”
“Seriously, they’re beautiful.”
It’s a Bogart-Bacall moment—seconds pass with no response.
“I like a man who is sincere—not very original, but sincere.” Her sun-bleached hair bounces over her shoulders as she breaks out laughing. She brushes the curls back and furrows her brow. When she takes my hand, her smile vanishes into the parentheses at the corner of her mouth, but there is a playfulness in her voice. “So, tell me, doctor. Do you seriously think we can be an item?”
Her eyes glisten. Small beads of sweat gather on her temples. Even in the shade of the resort’s First Aid office, the afternoon heat is smothering.
“It’s a club for singles,” she says, stroking my palm. “I don’t think you’re here to ogle me monogamously.”
A hoard of shouting children burst in. “Come quick, there’s been an accident!”
I jerk back my hand. “What?”
“A man is drowning.”
Brigitte bolts from her chair and grabs the red and white emergency medical kit. She strains to carry it. The kids push and pull her toward the door. “Hurry,” they shout.
“Hurry,” she says, throwing me a look over her shoulder.
I grab an oxygen tank from the storage rack. The heavy steel cylinder is about two feet long and five inches in diameter. Lifting it onto my shoulder, I remember to shove the regulator into my back pocket and rush down the steps toward the beach. The tank weighs on my clavicle. I run past several couples lounging on their hammocks. Music plays from the adjoining bar. People move aside to let me through to the boardwalk.
About fifty feet in front of me, Brigitte stumbles. She picks herself up, and still gripping the toolbox, starts running again. “Hurry,” the children scream. A younger one is crying.
Without flip-flops, my feet sink into the burning sand. I pant and plod across the open beach to catch up with my nurse. Sweat streams from her neck to the small of her back, shining like a thousand mirrors on her golden tan. She drags herself forward, kicking grit from thousands of crushed seashells in every direction.
An older child grabs the medical kit from her struggling hands and hoists it onto his shoulders.
“I couldn’t carry it anymore,” she gasps.
“It’s okay,” I say, catching my breath.
Several men are crouched by a teenager’s body. Their chatter roars over the whoosh of the surf.
“We just pulled the boy out of the water,” an older man says. Another takes the oxygen cylinder from my shoulder and drops it on the sand.
The kid looks like he’s sleeping. He’s maybe seventeen, with wavy black hair and stubble. The waves lick his ankles, and his legs are partially covered with wet gray slop. I grab him under the armpits and strain to pull him further onto shore.
“Move away!” I yell at the crowd. “Give me some room.”
I deliver a precordial thump to the kid’s chest. Holding my fist about ten inches off his breastbone, I deliver a second blow, but there is no response. I drop to my knees and begin chest compressions. And one, and two, and three, and four, and five, I count silently. Brigitte stands helplessly at the boy’s feet.
I pause for a breath between compressions. “Have you ever given mouth-to-mouth?”
“No,” she says. “Never.”
“Take over then.”
She kneels and stacks her palms on the kid’s chest.
“Don’t bend your elbows,” I remind her. “Lean onto your arms.”
“But, I’ve never done this before,” she pleads.
“Give him five compressions, then pause,” I say.
She pushes on the kid’s chest and counts, “And one, and two, and three, and four, and five...”
“Okay, stop for a second.” I pull a strand of seaweed from around the boy’s neck and throw it aside. I tilt his head using a chin lift. With one hand on his forehead, I pinch his nostrils and take a deep breath before wrapping my lips around his mouth.
He retches as I exhale. It’s more of a spasm than a retch, but he vomits all the same, and I cough violently, spitting and almost retching myself. I wipe my face with the back of my hand. Brigitte stops the chest compressions.
“Don’t stop,” I shout. “Keep going!”
The crowd circles. No one offers help, or if so, I don’t notice.
I ignore the sand glued to my face and fight a dry heave as I wipe foul-smelling sticky goo from my nose. I dig in my knees and sit on my heels. The kid’s eyes are open, but he doesn’t move.
I put my mouth to his and exhale into what feels like a bottomless container. I can’t feel his chest rise, so I try again.
Brigitte stops compressions and inches away from the boy. She’s sobbing. I thump once more on the young man’s chest.
“Brigitte, kneel across from me and try again,” I give the kid another breath.
Brigitte crouches in the sand. She keeps tossing her shoulder straps back on to keep her breasts from popping out of her bathing suit. With the sun in her face, she looks at me through squinted eyes. Her cheeks are flushed and wet.
“And one, and two, and three...” She leans into the boy’s chest. “Oh God,” she cries.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I felt his ribs crack.”
This is a disaster, I think. Fuck.
“He’s not going to make it,” I say to no one in particular. Brigitte stops counting.
“He’s dead.” A man from the crowd steps forward. “He’s dead, I tell you.”
“Maybe not,” another answers. “They should continue.”
“No,” the first man urges, “he’s dead, I say. He should not have been in the water anyway. He couldn’t swim. Besides, only a fool goes in the water with an inner tube.” He shakes his head in despair.
I stop my efforts and look up at the crowd. I’m still on my knees, holding back the tears. “I couldn’t save him.”
“You did your best,” someone says.
“How do we know you’re a doctor?” a woman asks.
I glare at her but I don’t respond.
The police arrive, and onlookers describe what happened. Confusion reigns among shouts, arguments, and tears. “You should go back to the club,” an officer says. I shoulder the oxygen bottle, and silently, Brigitte and I drag the unopened medical kit back to the First Aid office.
“He had blue eyes,” she says when we arrive.
I close the door. Our lovemaking is immediately fierce and untamed, as if we could extinguish our anguish in the orgasmic bliss of a brief romance. We sleep that night in each other’s arms, but in the morning, with tears running down her sunburned cheeks, she tells me she is leaving.
“Back to my boyfriend,” she says. “I’m going home.”