A visit to the beach at any time should be restful, but at sunset, for me, it’s often a time of rest without rest. I’m inclined to lie down in the dunes and read or to watch the sun go down between sleepy eyelids. But my thoughts are soon invaded by memories, by tiny moving clouds, by a trifling and dry rain – a shower of sand that itches behind my eyes. It’s a restless, poorly delineated time. I can’t concentrate on what I’ve read, the mosquitoes buzz, the sun is half friend, half foe. And if it rains, the water has an odd murmur that makes me uneasy because I can’t understand it. And a fog at the ocean brings the ghost of melancholy.
As kids, a day at the beach meant simply, radiantly, freedom. The adults napped or chatted in their beach chairs high above the tideline. It was our time and kids aren’t afraid of the sun. Half-naked, free, oblivious we ran beneath the sun and in and out of the waves like sea creatures. We carried on, stepping on broken seashells, the evil shards waiting among innocent clam shells to pierce our bare feet. The distant dunes full of beach plum and the marsh behind, always the marsh and the bay. Something was always lost in our flight there: a sandal or some small toy. Something that we couldn’t go back to look for because we were afraid of repeating the adventure to get there. The marsh grasses were crushed underfoot because the dog was following us, panting with his tongue hanging out and his eyes full of tiny sparks of gold. The neighborhood boys with their jars filled with jellyfish, bottlecaps, found treasures.
Friendship is a great discovery at eight, at nine, at eleven. Larry, the one with the gaps in his teeth. Will and his copper hair sticking up over his ears. Maria with her big round eyes. Lisa, Toni, Greg, John. So many names, the bay behind the marsh, and the sea:
“What is the sea like?”
And we would spread open our arms:
“The sea is…”
The sudden laughter, the punches and jabs. Something pulled from the muck slipped in our unskilled hands, the shirt was lost.
“What is the world like?”
“The world is like an orange…”
The afternoon was coming to an end and the fear was beginning: the lost sandals, the drenched clothes, the scratched knees.
Now, at the beach, I almost don’t even think. Voices come to my ears, and even on a fall afternoon there is a distant warmth on my skin, a strong and fresh fragrance on the wind:
“The world is an orange…”