Tuesday 15 February 2022



by Katie Trescott

Cayenne Ginger Kombucha

Today, she would save a life.

Of course, Ashley didn’t know that yet. She’d dreamed about it constantly. Imagining scenes in which she pulled someone’s kid out of oncoming traffic, intervened in a husband’s abuse of his wife, even took a bullet for the President. All those scenarios ended with Ashley covered in glory, smiling meekly before accepting a hug from the mother, a declaration from the police, a medal of courage at the White House. She wouldn’t be some nobody discouraged by the face she saw in the mirror.

She knew she’d self-deprecating on camera because she’d practiced. Many a lonely Saturday night, Ashley stood before her bathroom mirror and perfected her speech. Tonight, she held a large glass of cheap red wine—the kind that came from a box—and had a detox mud mask on her face, but that didn’t distract her.

‘Oh, I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. You know, anyone else would do the same thing.’ She shrugged at the mirror and then, as she wet the washcloth with scalding water and wiped away the mask, continued. ‘Yeah, I guess I just reacted. I didn’t think about it.’

The imagined reporter asked a question and Ashley practiced her appalled look. ‘Well, no, I don’t want a reward.’

She noticed a patch of mud she’d missed under her left eye and paused to wipe it away. Then, her face fell back into place, eyebrows pinched together over her nose. Her mouth opened slightly, quirking her lip with a touch of disgust.

‘How could you put a price on someone’s life? I was just lucky to be there.’


Ashley suited up for a run the next morning: a loose pair of shorts and t-shirt to conceal the weight that hung around her middle. She put her headphones in and stepped out the front door. As she began to run, the aches and stiffness of middle-age made themselves known. On top of that, she felt the pinch of her sports bra that pressed her flesh out in bulges over her back.

            Ashley ran slowly at first, down the street from her scruffy little house toward a more affluent area. She ran in front of rich red brick houses with graceful columns, homes with perfectly edged lawns and sleek new cards in the drives. She tried not to catch a glimpse of her reflection in any of the windows because too often, what she saw was worse than what she imagined. She was someone a grocery clerk would call ‘ma’am,’ an out-of-shape woman with nothing brave about her.

Keeping her eyes firmly forward, her music transported her as her body warmed to the task. Her legs surged forward in time to the untz-untz-untz in her ears. The world opened before her as all the other noise and self-judgment fell behind.

            She’d grown up running, coming from a family of long-distance runners. In the early days, Ashley didn’t need any distraction to get her along the miles. Everything from her stride to her hair had been lighter then. As years passed on, she would entertain herself with daydreams of love. But as loves rose and fell, each more devastating than the last, so too did the fantasies. Her muse now eschewed those tropes as life had shown itself to be a very grim version of her expectations. So these days, as Ashley ran, she imagined herself the heroine in increasingly extreme circumstances: pulling an old lady out of a car wreck before it became engulfed in flames, preventing a suicide by dragging the man back from the edge of a bridge, taking down a shooter before he opened fire at a mall.

The thoughts brought a smile to her face. A breeze brushed along her face, catching on the droplets of sweat across her forehead and nose. She let her eyes sweep across the peaceful scene before her: the South waking up on a summer Sunday morning. The light breathed gently into the vibrant green leaves fluttering in the towering oaks, delicate dogwoods, and heavy pink blooms of the crepe myrtles. Expanding before her with tiny ripples that caught the white sunlight, a lake reflected nothing but a glorious chance to start over. The hope of her imaginings, the endorphins from the run suddenly made the day feel full of possibilities, like she could change her life.

            When she finished her run, she would deep clean her house, go to the grocery store, and buy only healthy stuff, prep it fastidiously in those serving size Tupperware containers that she’d never used and set herself off into the week with intention. With that happy motivation in her chest, Ashley continued along the edge of the placid lake. Her eyes drifted along the wooded shore to the sandy opening for the swimming area. A single towel, beach chair and umbrella broke the smooth expanse of imported sand. Beneath the umbrella, sat a woman. She held up a book before her eyes and every so often cast her glance out to the water. As Ashley watched, the woman touched her finger to her tongue and then turned a page.

            The path began to trace down the incline toward the shore. Ashley could see a boy’s head bobbing in the water. She focused on him as she let her legs extend easily, coasting down the hill. His head rose out of the water and then he shrieked. At the turn in the path, where it climbed away from the weedy edge of the lake, Ashley paused her music and her stride. Her chest heaved and her breath sounded loud in her ears. Suddenly, the boy’s head dipped underwater. Ashley looked back at the woman on the beach. She’d stood up and was shielding her eyes from the sun, looking hard toward the disturbance where the boy’s head had disappeared.

            Turning back to where the swimmer had been, her stomach clenched as she saw his head hadn’t reemerged. This was her moment. She dropped her phone, ripped out her earbuds, tossed them aside and threw herself into the algae-capped water at the edge of the lake. The water around her felt sun-warmed, tepid even. She fought through it, all thoughts on the boy. His life depended on her. Her clumsy strokes chopped up the lake and her t-shirt and shorts blossomed and ballooned in the water.

            She was taking too long, she knew it. Desperately, though her shoulders ached and began to cramp, she struck out again and again. Finally, as she felt the water chilling around her, Ashley dove under. She peered through the filmy green depths, looking all around from the sparkling surface to the smoothly gyrating weeds on the lake bottom. At first, she didn’t see anything. Then, she spotted a small body writhing in the water.

            Kicking with all her might, she reached the boy. Before she could get her arms around him, his heel lashed out and glanced off her cheekbone. She saw stars for a moment and began to sink as her limbs all fell motionless. But then Ashley surged up and clamped her arms around him. They broke the surface with a crash, and both gasped for air. As soon as Ashley found her voice, she looked down at the boy.

            I’ve got you!’ She said between desperate breaths.

            He fell back, cradled in her arms, his black hair slicked across his forehead and his eyes wide. Rapid shallow breaths wracked his narrow chest. He couldn’t have been more than seven years old.

            After a few failed attempts at holding him with both arms and swimming only with her legs, Ashley freed one arm to stroke and began to make slow progress toward the beach.

            ‘Are you alright,’ she asked, breathily.

            ‘I don’t know,’ he rasped. 

            Even as her muscles cramped and spasmed, Ashley kept swimming. She tried to swim faster as she spotted his mom standing anxiously knee-deep in water. But the distance took a long time to close.

The boy’s breathing slowed, and he turned his head to shore toward his mom.

            ‘I can make it,’ he said, over her struggling strokes.

            Ashley pushed on. ‘No, I got you. I got you.’

            Finally, when her arms felt like rubber, completely powerless and ineffective, her feet brushed the squelchy, sandy bottom. She stood up and lifted the boy. Water gushed from her shoulders as she emerged. The mother ran to her, churning up water, losing her sunglasses in the process.

            ‘Is he alright? Carlos? Carlos? Are you breathing?’

            ‘Yes, ma’am. He seems alright,’ Ashley answered.

            The mother ran straight up to them and gently caressed Carlos’ head.

            ‘M’ijo, are you okay?’

            ‘Yes, Mama,’ he said.

            Ashley, feeling she couldn’t hold Carlos much longer, trudged up out of the water and knelt in the sand to put him down. Carlos’ mother knelt on his other side.

            ‘What happened, amor? You’re such a good swimmer.’

            He looked up at his mother, rubbing water out of his large brown eyes and then looked over at Ashley.

            ‘I got seaweed on my leg.’    

            Both women looked down and saw a thick cord of vegetation twisted around his calf.

            ‘Seaweed is in the ocean, mi vida.’ His mother corrected gently as she brushed back hair from his face.

            Ashley carefully pulled the slimy mass from his leg.

            ‘No, Mama. Ms. Freeman told us it grows in any water, freshwater, too.’

            His mom murmured something low that Ashley couldn’t understand and kissed him on the cheek. Then the women’s eyes met over Carlos’ head.

            ‘Well, thank you. I do not know what to say.’ The boy’s mother hesitated, clearly struggling for words. ‘What is your name?’

            ‘Ashley Carter, ma’am.’

            ‘Nice to meet you, Ashley. I am Rosa Rodriguez. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping my Carlos...

            ‘I was just in the right place, I suppose.’ Ashley replied, still out of breath.

            Her hair was plastered to her face, stringy and dripping. Her clothing clung to her, drenched in lake water. But she’d done it. Carlos was safe. Safe because of her. Though, as her heart rate and breathing slowed, something didn’t feel right.

            ‘I have some towels,’ Rosa gestured back to her umbrella. ‘Would you like to sit for a while? Catch your breath? It looks like you’re bleeding.’

            Ashley touched her cheekbone and then looked down at her fingertips tinged in red. A red badge of courage. She smiled.

            ‘No, thank you, Ms. Rodriguez.’

            ‘What happened?’

            Ashley smiled wryly. ‘I think I hit Carlos’ foot with my face.’

            Rosa’s concerned face turned scolding as she looked down at her son.

            Carlos shrugged. ‘I thought she was a shark.’

            Raising her eyebrows, Rosa said, ‘You know all about seaweed, but you think a shark lives in this lake?’

            ‘I mean,’ he hesitated and then his eyes lit up. ‘An alligator!’

            ‘It’s okay. I was just trying to get to you as fast as I could. I bet I was splashing a lot.’ A creeping worry grew within Ashley as they continued talking, but still, she couldn’t quite define it.

            Rosa looked down at her son and then back at Ashley. ‘Are you sure you’re alright?’

            ‘Yes, ma’am.’

            ‘God bless you, Ashley. You did such a brave thing, making sure my Carlos was safe.’ She stood up, dusting off her knees.

Carlos scrambled back to his feet beside his mother.

            ‘Carlos, haven’t you got something you want to say,’ Rosa prompted.

            He looked up at his mother, mouth hanging open slightly, uncertain. In rapid fire Spanish, Rosa whispered something to him, and Carlos straightened like he’d been touched by an electric rod.

            ‘Um, thank you, Ms. Ashley.’ He hazarded a look at his mother and then added, ‘Thank you for saving me.’

            Ashley smiled up at him, ‘My pleasure, Carlos. You take care.’

            Rosa took his hand and then looked back at Ashley.

            ‘Go home and get in some warm clothes. You’ll need an ice pack for your eye. It’ll probably turn black.’

            For a moment, Rosa gave her a searching look. She smiled, tilting her head, and said, ‘You did a good thing. Now, go home and take care of yourself.’

            Then mother and son turned back to their umbrella. Ashley watched them go from her knees in the sand, hearing their conversation continue in Spanish. Her breath had finally eased up and her eyes cleared of the lake water.

            She’d always dreamed of it and finally, she’d done it.

Hadn’t she?

Looking around, Carlos and Rosa remained the only people in sight. No other swimmers, sun bathers, runners or random park attendants had witnessed it. The entire scene was tranquil, the sun gentle, the breeze easy. Nothing had changed.

            She clambered to her feet, her running shoes squelching with lake water and scrambled back to the edge of the beach. Slipping and sliding, Ashley crested the ridge to the path and recovered her phone and earbuds. Then she turned back to take one last look at the pair. Rosa had gone back to her book and Carlos had begun construction of a sandcastle.

            A charley horse began to rage in her calf. Ashley dropped to her hands in nearly a push-up position, to stretch it out. She pushed back into the resistance of her heel and slowly, the muscle loosened. The blood began to pulse heavily behind her eye. A few drops of blood mingled with the water dripping from her to the concrete.

            Still stretching, she looked up at Carlos. He seemed perfectly at ease. In all her imaginings, whoever she rescued needed to go to the hospital or their family immediately took them home to recover. They didn’t just continue with their day as if nothing had happened. A sinking, desperate feeling inflated itself in her gut. What if he hadn’t even needed her help? What if he’d just been kicking to get the seaweed off and then, when that didn’t work, gone underwater to pull it off?

            Awkwardly, she got to her feet, pointing her toe upward to prevent the muscle from contracting. She dusted her hands off on her wet shorts.        

            Had she plunged headlong, literally, into the situation? Without even needing to intercede? Had there been no danger? Rosa had thanked her, had blessed her, but Ashley had to admit that something had felt a bit hollow in her words. As she looked at the pair, Rosa lifted her gaze from her book. She looked over at Ashley and appeared to hesitate. Then, she lifted her hand and waved, smiling widely. After a moment, Ashley saw Carlos’ head jerk up and he sent her an energetic boyish wave before returning to his castle. Ashley lifted her hand to chest level, in half-hearted acknowledgment.

            The hot, heady rush of adrenaline, of being a heroine turned cold within her as if it were a capsized boat, leaving only an empty shell and hard truth. She turned away from the beach and trod up the hill. The walk home was slow. Ashley couldn’t bring herself to jump back into her running stride. She merely trudged home, dripping incessantly, music-less, earphones and phone clasped in her hand. Each step exasperated the chaffing of her wet clothes against her skin. The cling of the fabric felt unbearable as she had to keep pulling it away from her body only to have it stick again, just like her thoughts. She tried to push away her worry that she’d pulled Carlos out for no reason, but it reemerged with every other stride.

When she got back to her house, she peeled off her wet clothes and stood in the shower for a long while. The bathroom mirror had fogged up by the time she got out. Ashley didn’t bother to wipe it away. The thought of facing herself as a failure made her want to cry.

Hours later, after ordering a pizza for dinner, she went back in there to pee. The dark shadow on her face caught her eye in the mirror and she paused, turning. Under her left eye, a deep black-purple circle rose on her cheekbone. She could feel the heat of it without touching it. Tomorrow morning, there would be no hiding her false badge of honor. It would have blossomed across her face, proclaiming to everyone that saw it that she had failed.

            Her face began to crumple in agony as she thought how silly it had all been. A woman like her, save a life? What a delusion. She had to stop imagining herself capable of anything extraordinary. Ashley Carter, she told herself, was common, destined for nothing except to live a plain life, work at a boring job, drive home in a forgettable car and hide away in her pitiful house. She’d never lose weight, never change, never find love or glory.

Her phone rang, interrupting her spiraling diatribe. Ashley assumed it was the pizza place calling to say they were out of tomato sauce or something ridiculous like that.


            ‘Ashley Carter?’


            ‘Ashley Carter of Augusta, Georgia that went running along Lake Jackson this morning?’

            ‘Who is this?’

            ‘This is Karen Travers of Channel 5 News. We got a call this morning from Ms. Rosa Rodriguez about you. Am I speaking to the correct Ashley Carter?’

            Ashley nearly dropped the phone.

            ‘Yes, ma’am.’

            ‘Thank goodness! It’s taken forever to find you! I went through like six Ashley Carters before I got you!’

            ‘It’s a pretty common name, I guess,’ Ashley mumbled, suddenly ashen-faced and worried. What had Ms. Rodriguez told this reporter? Had she changed her mind and decided she was a lunatic?

            ‘Well, you certainly did something uncommon today. I got goosebumps just listening to Ms. Rodriguez tell the story.’

            Ashley didn’t speak.

            ‘Tell me what happened. Tell me what it was like to save a life.’

About the author

Katie works at a marketing firm and is a Corpsman in the Navy Reserve as her real life jobs. She studied Creative Writing at Florida State University. She and her dog, Diggity, live in Augusta, Georgia.







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