THAT'S her. Michael stood up and lent over the railing. She was part of a group of teenagers, skylarking as they made their way along the lower promenade behind the beach. He'd been thinking about her since the attack, but had no idea who she was or how to contact her. He wanted to call out but she was too far away.
Stephanie had wanted to catch up, said she felt bad about him being in hospital and not visiting. Was she keen to try again? So here he was in the bar, waiting.
It was his first drink since the attack. The doctor said a few drinks would be fine, just don't overdo it. The UK websites said three to four a day; the Australian sites were more wowserish. He would take pommy advice on this one.
He'd chosen an outside table with a commanding view down the coast to Dudley. It was a beautiful clear day, the resting sea resembled a large bowl of blue-green jelly with a slow wobble. For once there was no one surfing at Merewether, no Saturday afternoon grommets or kids on esky lids, just a few bathers floating between the flags. Dead flat.
A paddle boarder glides lazily up the beach, dolphins cruise past underneath. The coal ships point nor-east, a gentle breeze bringing cool relief from the growing heat.
Stephanie was late, leaving him to the scenery. That wasn't too bloody hard, he thought as he emptied his beer. He was a bit light-headed, but wasn't going to just sit there either. He found himself back at the table with another beer.
On the rock platform to the south, the group of teenagers were jumping into the sea. On most days this would result in being scraped and smashed against the rocks. Today, it looked the perfect activity.
There she was, about to jump.
He thought she had been youngish, with long hair. She gave directions as the ambulance arrived and asked his name while they waited. He'd forgotten hers. He was sure he saw a halo around her as he looked up.
The doctor said he owed his life to her. Much of it had been a blur; unconscious, dragged out, CPR, defibrillator, swift action of others.
He did remember shivering as he lay beside the pool, the concerned conversations, drifting, onlookers, lifted into the ambulance, oxygen, aspirin. Shuffled from ambulance to trolley bed, auto doors and the white overhead lights of the hospital.
The surreal calm as everyone went methodically about their jobs. Not like the American hospital shows. If there was an emergency then no one had told him.
"Ya beat the rush," the wardsman chuckled. "Turns into a product'n line later."
Mum died from an attack on her 40th, no one saw it coming either.
"Myocardial infarction," reported the doctor. "We'll put a stent in. Works great most times."
"Picked a hell of way to chuck a sickie," quipped the nurse.
"I feel worse than crap."
The doctor fed the catheter through the groin. Everyone watched the screen as the probe snaked its way towards his heart.
"How do you know where to go in there?" he'd asked groggily.
"New model, it's got GPS."
Two days on his back in hospital, sore leg, wires and tubes hanging out wasn't his idea of fun, but he kept reminding himself how lucky he'd been. He'd taken it easy so far, still off work; there were no light duties in landscaping. The ocean baths were closed for renovations so there'd been no swimming. Rehab started at the hospital next week.
Ding. He checked his messages: "held up cant make it sorry steph". What had he expected? He downed the last couple of mouthfuls, which had become warm and bitter.
He needed to meet her, thank her. The group was still jumping off the rock. A walk to the rocks wouldn't hurt.
The baths' renovations meant taking the longer way through the car park. Behind the amenities block, a few steep stairs left him short breathed and grabbing the handrail. A young lycra-clad couple sweated the long way to the top for their umpteenth lap. Normally he'd fly past them. Today he struggled to stay out of their way.
The construction fencing blocked his view of the baths. As he plodded on he tried to look over, feeling an ominous squish beneath his runners. An unmistakeable odour seeped warily into his sinuses.
Dog turd. No grass to wipe it off, just a short sandy beach before the rock platform. He wondered about approaching his heroine with this aroma. He left his shoes on the sand.
The rough gravel dug into his feet as he walked along the concrete pipe behind the exposed rock platform. He could see her back, long blond hair flowing freely, whooping as she entered the water. She seemed much younger than he remembered.
The barnacles were digging into his feet, but he pushed on over the platform, feeling excitement at being close to piecing together his jigsaw.
She climbed carefully out of the water now, watching the rocks, making sure she didn't cut herself.
"Hi!" he called. He was looking straight at her.
She looked up quizzically, her smooth tanned face and almond-coloured eyes not registering.
"The pool. You called the ambulance."
"It's me, Michael."
"Who?... Are you OK?"
"Yes. CPR. You saved me."
"Don't know CPR. This is kinda weird."
"Must be you."
"I'm not who you think."
"Yeah." She jumped, her friends laughing as she disappeared under water.
The laughter faded as Michael walked back slowly. A dull throb pulsed through his groin where the catheter had been. As he reached the sand cusp between the rock platform and the pool, a small swell surge swirled gently around his feet. The tide must be turning.
From this angle the renovations looked complete. He'd soon be back, getting through his 6am laps.
Entrants were asked to write a short story inspired by one of four photos. Short-listed stories will be published every day in the Newcastle Herald until Friday, January 23.