By Anne Schroeder
Illustration by Christiane Krömer
WITH FULL HANDS I
STRUGGLE across the burning sand, racing for the wet,
hard-packed stretch where tiny crabs burrow air pockets in the sand. I
arrive winded but the trek is worth it for a front row seat to the Pacific
My chair sinks into the sand as I settle
back to watch the vacation energy of a hot July day. Roller-coaster
screams come from children who bob in the foamy green waves while mothers
watch from dry-sand perches. Sea-otter boys in black Neoprene ride the
surf, shackled to boogie boards that skim through the spray. Seagulls
bully their way through a maze of beach chairs and frayed bedspreads. Not
satisfied with a crumb or a grape, they stalk with necks drawn and eyes
hooded: soldiers on a raid of the enemy’s camp. I watch as the head
honcho gull grabs an open bag of Dorritos. He struggles to get airborne
and then settles for spilling the contents over the beach while his
soldiers pillage the spoils. Emptied, the bag tumbles to the sand.
The Dorritos owner returns and looks about
for her chips. She glances over and I sense her suspicion. “The gulls
ate them,” I offer.
“The gulls?” There are no seagulls in
sight. It doesn’t take a psychic to interpret her look. Wordlessly, I
turn back to the water.
teenage girls, round-breasted and golden in their sleek swimsuits, play
Frisbee. A couple strolls past with a terrier on a leash. The woman is
very Grace Kelly in her straw hat and huge sunglasses, a long scarf
wrapped about her neck. The man, in white clam-diggers and a damp
sweatshirt, follows. He grips the terrier’s leash and pauses while the
dog sniffs a clump of seaweed. I imagine myself escorted by such a man,
strolling the beach, maybe to dine on wine and cheese from a hotel’s
Then the shadow of a woman skims across me.
I catch only a fleeting glimpse of her face: strong, with wide, arched
eyebrows and bright eyes. Late middle-aged, her body is dimpled and
sagging. She pauses, her full breasts swaying as she races to the water’s
edge. She wears a tailored swimsuit, well used it would seem, by the sheen
of the fabric. Black, with boy-cut legs and a fitted oversheath, it is a
swimsuit with a personality, like the ones that starlets wore for G.I.
pin-up posters when I was a girl.
I watch, certain that she will halt when
she reaches the water. When she doesn’t, I’m sure that she’ll stop
when the water swells about her ankles. Instead, she dives through the
first wave and comes up on the other side to continue on, with a
breaststroke that gracefully swoops through the water. She hesitates on
the cusp of each downstroke as if to maximize its power as she swims past
the breakers to the midpoint of the pier.
Finally, just as I begin to fear for her
safety, she turns back. Her return seems easier, for she is aided by the
surf. Bobbing and treading, she paces herself so that she catches the
biggest wave and rides it halfway to shore.
She stands, water dripping from her body
like waves draining off the pier supports. Her hair is gray, long past
shoulder length, and she squeezes and twists it, sleeks it behind her
ears. Advancing, she stoops to retrieve her towel. Our eyes meet and I
feel compelled to ask, “How’s the water?”
“Wonderful. You should try it.” She
walks away, drying her hair with a brisk, sanding motion.
the sun begins its descent, spreading hues of orange and red across the
water. All around me, people load ice chests and fold towels, call to
children who are reluctant to obey. Finally, I stand and stretch, my legs
grown numb. I see her, the swimmer, donning an ankle-length dress and then
slipping into flat sandals, not bothering with the heel straps. Bending to
collect her things, she straightens and strides off in the direction of
the parking lot.
Before me, the Pacific beckons. The swimmer’s
words—“You should try it”—lure me with each crashing wave.
Trepidation swells inside my chest; I feel the need to act quickly before
my nerve fails. The day’s heat has waned, making the water seem warmer.
I walk to the water’s edge, gathering my long skirt above my
knees, like a pearl diver of Ceylon, tucking the fabric into my waistband.
I meet the next wave, feeling buoyant and salty as the surf pushes me back
to shore. Again and again, I return. The waves seem stronger now, one
rolling over the next, and I choose my rides as the distant surfers do.
Here, near the pier, I am alone with only a few fishers silhouetted
against the paling sky.
Finally, darkness comes. One by one, the
surfers depart, and I must also. The cooling air is shocking; I trudge
toward shore, waterlogged and shivering. With no towel, I can only twist
my skirt into tight coils, but I refuse to be concerned about the wet
consequences, for my cloth car seats, for myself as I pick up the
groceries, or to worry about how I will make it into my apartment unseen.
Instead, I concentrate on the way my legs tingle, the rush of blood inside
my body. Living is good, I think. I must try it again tomorrow. ©
A fifth-generation Californian, ANNE
SCHROEDER lives in Atascadero, where she writes women’s fiction of the
West. She is making the decade of her fifties the best of her life,
teaches writing through her community college, and believes that we must
“bloom where we are planted.”
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