Fernando Sdrigotti


It’s the second time this morning that the lifeguard and a group of tanned men and women walk past, clapping, parading a lost kid. This kid is also crying: his eyes are red and swollen – he must have been lost for a while, before someone spotted him and took him to the lifeguard hut. Suddenly, a pudgy woman in a black one-piece swimsuit rushes towards the group. The kid’s face broadcasts happiness first, and then, after the man carrying him on his shoulders unloads him on the sand, panic. The woman – very likely his mother – grabs the kid by the right ear and pulls him away to the safety of their parasol, her shouts audible, her words carried away by the wind. And a few minutes later they pack up and leave the beach, the mother walking two or three metres ahead, the kid dragging the closed parasol on the sand, sucking tears and snot.

Martín and his grandmother watch the whole affair unfold from their spot a couple of sandcastles away. It’s like watching two very similar episodes of the same soap opera. And a very similar drama will eventually play out once more. And over and over.

Martín’s grandmother left the sunscreen in the hotel and she insists they stay in the shade for a couple of hours after lunch. Martín sulks and plays with the sand: digging holes and letting the sand fall through his fingers. But when his grandmother falls asleep with a magazine covering her face, Martín scampers to the shore.

There are other kids there, on their own, not paying attention to one another. So Martín sits on the sand with his feet in the water and watches the waves come and go. They come and go, they come and go, pushing sand towards his crotch, and with this primeval rhythm Martín loses all sense of time. When his grandmother comes to pull him from his ear back in the shade it could be ten minutes or ten hours later.

On the way back from the beach Martín can feel the skin on his shoulders tighten under the weight of his t-shirt. After walking for a while in the heat they stop at the bus terminal for food and cigarettes. The mural of the famous dead poet is there: she’s heading into the sea, her back towards Martín and his grandmother, about to drown, always about to drown, forever getting in the sea that final time. Apparently, she drowned because she was unhappy about something, but Martín’s grandmother can’t remember what she was unhappy about. Poets get unhappy about a lot things, she says.

Then they eat watching the news on the small black and white television in their room. Soldiers in camo and with painted faces shout at the camera from behind a fence, once again, this year earlier than the last. They have long guns and as usual seem very angry. Suddenly one of them points the gun at the camera and everyone runs away. He doesn’t shoot but at this point Martín’s head starts to hurt. His grandmother turns the telly off. Sons of bitches, she says, this will never end. Martín asks what does she mean with this will never end. She says don’t worry, one day you’ll understand.

After dinner they go out for an ice cream downtown and they sit on the cathedral steps. There’s a group of mimes here, doing their mime thing, surrounded by families – everybody is laughing hysterically. When they start passing a hat around everyone skedaddles. Martín and his grandmother walk away too, and into a store opposite the cathedral that’s open until late – there’s a small free seashell museum on its second floor. They go through the exhibition quickly, stopping only to admire a gigantic conch full of spikes. You could fit a whole person in it, Martín says. His grandmother says that conches don’t eat people.

Then she takes him to the amusement arcade. It’s three floors of flashing lights and shooting noises and Martín loves it, all kids do. She pays for ten tokens and Martín plays a game called Kung Fu Master and loses all sense of time. And all the tokens. They leave ten minutes or ten hours later and stroll down the central pedestrian street and then along the seaside promenade. In one of the souvenir shops there are three wax statues – one of them is a caveman with long black hair. His eyes are black and dead and his forehead sweaty; Martín didn’t know wax statues could sweat. The statue winks at him; Martín didn’t know wax statues could wink. He gets sick on the pavement – orange and strawberry and little pieces of ice cream cone. His grandmother gets mad, says that she won’t buy him another ice cream tonight. They go back to the hotel, straight to bed. Martín dreams of winking wax statues and a giant camouflaged conch eating the famous poet, his grandpa, his mum and dad. It’s always the camo, always the camo, as the conch turns into the angry soldier with a long gun, who comes running towards him. He wakes up screaming and his grandmother runs to his side and asks what happened. He can’t say what happened; my head hurts, he says instead. She touches his forehead and pulls a serious face. And my shoulders hurt too, he adds. So she tells him to get up and remove the t-shirt: he has big swollen blisters on the shoulders. I told you to stay in the shade, I told you, she says, and then goes to the bathroom and runs a bath. Ten minutes later Martín is shaking in the cold water. When he goes back to bed he has to lie face down because his back is covered in cream. He barely sleeps but he isn’t fully awake either.

The next morning his grandmother takes him to see Don Kelly, the hotel manager, who’s also a healer. He’ll cure your sunstroke, she says, while Don Kelly, mumbling a prayer, places an enamel bowl on his head and then throws a piece of burning cotton inside. The cotton sizzles when it sinks in the water.

And just like that Don Kelly cures Martín’s sunstroke.

Martín’s grandmother tries to shove two red banknotes in Don Kelly’s hand but he rejects them, says he can’t accept money, just light a candle to the Virgin when you go past the church. Of course, she says, and you say thank you; Martín says thank you. Then they go back to their room and get ready for the beach.

The sun is weak but Martín’s grandmother says don’t leave the parasol, you are already red like a shrimp; if he doesn’t do what she says she won’t take him to the amusements tonight. Martín stays put, playing with a plastic straw, doodling on the sand.

And another group of tanned men and women walk by, clapping, parading another lost kid. But this kid isn’t crying – he looks fine, as if he was having the greatest of times, climbed on the lifeguard’s shoulders. And as the men and women in swimming suits disappear behind the parasols, Martín wishes it was him they’re clapping for. He wishes it was him who’s got lost. He wishes it was him they’re carrying away. Away from the giant seashells, the winking wax statues, and the angry soldiers in camo. Away from the poet and his grandmother too.


Fernando Sdrigotti was born in Rosario (Argentina) in 1977. His fiction and critical writing has appeared widely online and in print, and has been translated into French, Italian, Turkish, Norwegian, Arabic, Bosnian and Spanish. He is the author of several books, including Shitstorm (Open Pen, 2018), Grey Tropic (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2019) and Jolts (Influx Press, 2020). His story ‘Pier’ won The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2021. He lives in London. 

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