All she knew was ‘Airway, Breathing, Circulation’

An excerpt from a work-in-progress tentatively titled “The opposite of drowning.” It is set in Toronto in the early 1990s where twenty-year-old Bea Porter is a lifeguard on the edge of Lake Ontario…

Bea slows as the road goes from paved to unpaved, the fine dust billowing out behind the car in a huge plume. This road is windy, and she slows down even over the bridge. There aren’t very many today, but at around 4 every afternoon, there were hundreds of larks on either side of the road, swooping from one side of the bridge to the other. They make their nests underneath the bridge, mud and reeds and grass stuck together so they looked like purses, and hung, somehow, from the criss-crossing steel beams. Bea could never figure out how they didn’t fall. She also never figured out why at 4 they’d start this crazy swooping flying thing – maybe that’s when the bugs were out, or maybe that’s when they all came home from wherever they had spent their day.

Last summer, there were scientists in hip waders taking pictures and taking notes. Tracking the birds’ movement, they told her when she stopped one day to ask. They were ornithologists, they studied birds, all they studied was birds. It was crazy, to think that that’s all they knew, all they did all day was birds, birds, birds. Bea didn’t know anything about birds, just that they had hollow bones. She didn’t even know how they managed to build nests that stayed together, that hung from beams like purses, with beaks and little claws, and yet there were people who knew all of that and a million more things. It made her feel like she knew nothing about anything. Because if there were people who knew birds this well, people who specialized in just this kind of lark, she didn’t even know what kind of lark this was, there were people who knew that much about mosquitoes and seaweed and rock bass, people knew things about everything, and all she knew was Airway, Breathing, Circulation. All she knew was first aid, and anyone could learn that.