We went to the beach in my uncle’s new silver Ford Capri with black stripes. It was really hot and when we arrived the beach was deserted. My aunt sat on the sand and we plunged in. We kids didn’t go out far but my uncle swam out further and further. Eventually we returned to my aunt and waited for my uncle to have enough and come back. We couldn’t see him at all. We waited and waited and the heat and grit started to irritate. Then from far away to the left, way down the beach came a group of figures hallo-ing and stumbling. It took a while to recognise my uncle slung between two men who were dragging him along. Eventually they reached us and they let him go in a heap at my aunt’s feet. He almost drowned, they said. He was in a strong current far out being carried swiftly away but parallel to the beach. It took two of us to drag him out.
My uncle was shaking with the terror of having nearly drowned. He couldn’t speak. The men left. We sat and waited for him to recover his voice; to tell us what to do. And so my aunt — who my mother and all her sisters and sisters-in-law mocked for being a doormat — had to make a decision. It wasn’t an easy decision to make; it was obvious he couldn’t drive and she would have to get us home — a two-hour journey on a treacherous road with forestry trucks and oil tankers.
They’d been married for 12 years at the time of the near drowning and she had stopped driving (and working) the day they got married because he wanted a traditional, stay-at-home wife.
We drove home very, very slowly. My aunt gripped the wheel, my uncle lolled in the back seat. We kids were too terrified to cry.