From where I sit, everyone on the beach fits between my thumb and pointer finger. A kite flies separately from the gulls, and follow the string down, it leads you to the crazy bag lady, cackling. She is all bundled up in a parka, hood up.
I can’t see them from here, but I know that her teeth are mostly rotted out, that her tongue is fat and black. Her eyes are squinting against the hazy sun. Her wrinkled cheeks are high as she shrieks into the ocean air. She’s not laughing because anything’s funny. That is pure joy in the face of the crazy bag lady. I’ll bet you she knows something we don’t, something we can’t figure out because we refuse to be so insane. She could be my cousin, you know.
My hair is blown across my eyes. If the crazy bag lady is so eternally, vividly happy, then why would we choose not to go insane?
It’s cold, but not so cold I need a parka. I wrap a shawl around my shoulders, tight across my folded arms, wonder when I ever got so frail. If you listen closely enough, you can hear the wind whistle straight through my bones. I sound like those bamboo wind chimes on front porches, I sound like those blue and blue-green glass bottle structures you find only on Carolina front yards.
The sun begins to set over everything. The water tempts the shore the way it never gets tired of doing. “Touch me,” it seems to say, and then it recedes. It leaves a froth on the smooth, glassy grey sand. The dead plants in the dunes rustle in the wind; the whistling of the breeze through my rib cage is ever present. The crescent moon looks like God’s fingernail cutting the rosy Southern sky, the Palmettos sway the way they can’t stop- they’ve done it so long.
An invasive thought creeps up along the exposed nape of my neck- that this is not my home. That this is where people go to expire, where they go once varicose veins rise over translucent skin and film forms in webs over irises giving way to old age. I do not remember when my hair began to turn silver.
I don’t stop turning that over in my head until the sun sets. I don’t stop tracing the creases of my spotted palms, the creases that indicate selfish love and dangerous spontaneity. Different creases now, than the ones studied by a sorcerer with the face of a man and the eyes of a boy so long ago. Different creases now, that tell more past than future, that tell more history than possibility.
Summer lovers run under the pier with their salty skin and their adrenaline. Either they believe they are untouchable, or they know they won’t ever be like this again; I can practically hear them whispering into each other’s clavicles. An old man with a spotted scalp takes his fold-up chair under his arm, treks down the boardwalk to his car. He could be my husband, you know, a man who knows where it’s at. But he goes. Maybe I’ll strike up conversation tomorrow, ask him what he watches: the birds or the sea? (Pretty ladies like me?) I’m being serious. If he’s back tomorrow, we’ll call it destiny. What’s the saying? Third time’s the charm? . . . No?
Someone tanned and lanky takes up their towel and novel and sandals, disappears forever in my periphery. A young mother tugs at a little boy’s hand as he splashes in water knee deep. “Let’s go, honey. It’s time to go.” He is stubborn and struggles only as violently as his chubby legs will let him, as she scoops him up in her skinny arms. “I don’t wanna go!”
Somewhere, a fourteen year old girl feels similarly.
She digs her heels into the sand, squishes her toes in the ground up rock, balls her hands into fists at her sides. She is so defiant, so deluded, look, she refuses to be moved though she knows that the nature of the tide is to carry, and sometimes, if you’re lucky, to return. She does not trust, either. Nobody ever touched her as a child, never even felt the lick of a belt on her bum. Nevertheless, she’s so all-by-myself-I-can-do-it. She bites hard on her lower lip, imagines that she tastes iron in her mouth, but she doesn’t draw blood at all.
She is so beautiful against that cerulean sky, such a girlish silhouette by that emerald sea. What I would give to be her again. What I would give, to be just as meek as I was petite. To have some sort of justification to clench my teeth before such a magnificent sea. To run after anything without fear of the muscles in my calves snapping . . .
You know, she believed in magic, she would believe a future self who stood by her on that beach. Look at me, darling, how the wrinkles form over a brow, how the skin never promises resilience, how it thins over so many years. I would be the closest thing to decay she would have ever seen. She would believe me, then, I’m sure of it.
If I would have just listened . . .
A dance floor is where it is easiest to separate friends from acquaintances. Drunkenness does not equate to bliss, moving closely with strangers is hyped up, romanticized, not a form of getting back at the universe for anything. Honey, it is one thing to recognize your worth, evil to wield your power over others. Don’t put your faith in anyone who claims palmistry but exhibits clean fingernails. Remember this if you don’t anything else I tell you, don’t, don’t bat your lashes at that dirty shaman lover, when he tells you that you embody universal beauty, that you are living poetry. Do not mistake his word for gospel.Do not love him- or anything!
Oh, she was fourteen, she would have thought herself a smart girl, thanked me for the advice, told me “Thank you kindly, but really, I am capable of fairing it from here.” The youth, like men, are notorious for their stubbornness.
I wrap the shawl tight, tight around my arms. There is a sense of finality about all of this. Adolescent, long-limbed girls with chins perpetually pointed slightly forward don’t listen to dimple-skinned phantoms closer to death than anything. They face the sea, and let the salt air kiss their rosy cheeks, let it run through their hair, and they don’t know- they don’t know. They refuse to know about mortality.
It is so cold. Tell me again why gravitating towards the shore is such a popular trend among the dying? Is this really an ideal place for anything at all?