From Horseshoe Beach by Kelly DuMar

I. From Horseshoe Beach, The View

You ride the motorbike, a rental, to this good luck named beach. Your wife, a happy passenger, is craving solitude and sun and no children to mind. She lays her towel on pinkish sand and kneels. Her back against the limestone cliffs, her view is of the sea.

One other couple shares the beach and this is how it feels to be remote. In this season of sunbathing, no lifeguard is on duty to stop tourists from swimming or drowning. You watch her husband estimate his strength and stroke against the swells and current he can see. How he calculates his risk and what it costs to play it safe or venture out. He makes his choice.

On this honeymoon of beach, in place of one you never took, you watch the waves and make your guess and choose your wife, who has her beauty. You have this middle age, your towel touching hers. You choose the heated calm of easy love, the rocking, restful sound of surf.

When the swimmer out to sea starts waving wildly to his wife—for hope, for life— her screaming asks you for another choice. You calculate his strength, your stroke. You guess the distance, know the cost. You pick your towel up off the sand and leave your wife and swim, your lifeline dragging like a weight.

From shore the wives watch how the swimmers chose and feel the cost.

II. Horseshoe Beach, Revisited

A small spark may perhaps lie hid.” ~ The Royal Humane Society

The parchment, flown by airmail, arrives at our home in 1969. With a paring knife, my mother slits the seal of the envelope, unrolls the commendation, reads aloud the elegant calligraphy. From the Royal Humane Society, Patron of the Her Majesty the Queen. With grubby fingers we reach. No—you can’t touch it! Soon, behind glass in a sealed document frame, it appears on the wall of the bedroom she shares with my father. For thirty years, we look and don’t touch.

After she dies, when he sells the house, we pack everything for my father. Lifting the commendation off its hook, we wrap it in newspaper, pack it in a box we label for his new home with Sylvia. This is where we hang it on his new bedroom wall. Later, when we move my father and Sylvia, this time into Independent Living, we wrap and pack and hang it in his new bedroom. Soon, when he moves into memory care, this is where we hang it for him, for the last time.

During visits we show him pictures. We like to take him on so many trips to Bermuda with my mother. We take his arm. We like to show him the commendation. With some prompting, he reads the printed calligraphy to us:

It was Resolved Unanimously that the Honorary Testimonial of this Society, inscribed in Parchment be hereby given to DUSTIN BURKE for having on the 6th of November 1968 gone to the rescue of a man who was in imminent danger of drowning in the sea off Horseshoe Beach, at Southshore Road, Southampton, Bermuda, and whose life he gallantly assisted to save.”

One visit we find an empty hook. We look under his bed, the shower, the closet, a drawer. We search and imagine the voice of our mother, asking. How could you have hung it here? Where residents pass through unlocked doors, entering and exiting each other’s privacy with treasure they have no idea doesn’t belong to them? Look she says. Look at what has gone missing.

We call Marge, the cheerful unit director, report it lost. And Marge is hopeful. She will rescue it from another resident’s room. She will see exactly who belongs to it. She will know our father’s name, printed in calligraphy, on a parchment from the Queen. Marge dispatches the entire staff to search the unit.

Within a few days, Marge calls to tell us the commendation is in her office—where we insist it should remain, under lock and key, until we retrieve it. We drive right over. We carry it home.

Kelly DuMar is a poet and playwright from the Boston area whose chapbook “All These Cures,” won the 2014 Lit House Press poetry contest. Her award winning plays have been produced around the US and her poems and non-fiction are published in many literary magazines, including Lumina Online, Corium, Poydras, Tupelo Quarterly, and Milo Review. Her website is