Every pale summer night spent at the beach feels like dying. You walk there alone, beneath the concrete spine of highway, where you shout to hear the echo of a voice that doesn’t sound like your own.
Sometimes the homeless man joins the choir. Today, he rides past you on his bike twice before whipping his head around.
“You’re cute,” he says, breathless from the circling. He wobbles a little, then continues to his tent, which would roll away if it weren’t for the sleeping pit bull anchoring it to the parking lot.
“Thanks,” you say.
But you feel shitty. And now you’re noticing your body, and the way your right shoulder dips slightly below your left, how your neck slopes forward like a knobby knee. Your breasts aren’t large, but you begin to feel them pound against your ribs with each step.
Ahead, there are three stoplights, and at each, a truck with a hanging arm almost runs you over. You hear a baby laughing in the backseat, behind the window tinted to a degree that must be illegal. There is no baby, and you know that, but thinking it stops you from flipping the driver off.
Before you get to the beach, you slip off your flip-flops and walk on the concrete. Soon it segues into the soft sand. Bits of burnt wood and cigarette butts poke your soles. You hear a baby laughing, and this time, the sound is warbled, as if the baby were laughing underwater, or drowning. Once you’ve made it to the rocks, you drop your flip-flops under an alcove and begin to climb.
The rocks border the shore, stacked like toy blocks. They grind your heels, and the stinging is cathartic.
Tonight the sun retracts its bloom. You become nothing with it. Nothing but the raw chafing of your heels, the grainy night, the wind, the salt flecking the air. To be touched by a pain that you have conjured yourself. This sensation you would worship, and you think you understand Jesus a little better.
Then a guy asks you to take a photo of him, flexing. You climb down from the rocks and take his phone. While tapping the screen to focus on his square face, you wonder if you’re supposed to feel attracted. To the excessively tan, muscled chest, the hairline slicked into unmowed grass. “I’m from L.A.,” he says, as if that explains everything.
When the flash goes off, it startles you.
Contact Erin Stoodley at erinst20 ‘at’ stanford.edu.