a n n i e    r a a b

The Third Beach

 

The beach has three sections, a section for the general public, a nude beach, and a beach for families with children who have special needs. The public beach is empty. Nobody bothers. Occasionally there is a crossover from the special needs beach to the nude beach. Mothers, exhausted by a hundred nights, are snapped wide open by the stylized sunlight. They drop the hands of squinting children in floppy sunhats and begin undressing top to bottom, walking entranced into the ocean. The children look up with their soft faces and stretch their soft bones toward the water. They see what they at first assume are mothers but soon discover are mermaids. This makes the children stand up and cheer. There are mermaids in the water and on the sand and in the coddling sunlight. They are filling the waters in a trance, moving over sharp rocks and touching their bodies to the floating weeds. The children are ecstatic. Tomorrow they will go to day camp and tell their friends what they saw.

A boy finds a hermit crab and children come walking on crutches or crawling through the sand to see it. The boy holds it gingerly, his excitement shaking out. The children of the beach are moving away from their mothers, asleep in the rarity of such sun. In a tight circle of excited pressure the boy finds it hard to hold the hermit crab, which has trickled out of its shell to pinch and poke at his fingers. The circle of children gets too tight when the last child on the beach rolls his wheelchair in. His pressure causes the boy to squeeze the shell until it breaks. The hermit crab falls to the sand, its long wet body curled behind the open claws. The children all watch it stumble over the uneven terrain out of the circle and head to the edge of the water. It is knocked over twice by the incoming waves before it is swept back out to the ocean.

Sometimes a child gets to close to the division of the nude beach and their special beach. Decades ago a wooden wall was built to censor the nude beach. Now the wall is crumbling and smooth from the weather. A girl approaches the division on purpose. She looks through a crack in the wood and sees a couple playing Frisbee. They are older, but the womanís breasts are still high up and red from the sun. The man is throwing the Frisbee with his legs bent apart and she can see the triangular shape of his groin. The girl loves it when they laugh, when they fail a throw or a catch, when they stop to rest in the warm sand. The girl goes back to her beach and takes off her swimsuit, but her mother, who was not a mermaid like the others, yells and grabs at her to put it on again.

In the middle of the day the children get restless. It makes them nervous to be on the beach for so long. The combination of sun and break from routine make some of the children anxious to go home. They fret and whine until their mothers sit up and open coolers with sandwiches and juice. Eating calms them down, so does the smell of the inside of the cooler. It smells wet and cold and a little like their kitchens. With every bite of food they are closer to home, and the beach—like every meal—is only temporary.


The wall between the beaches shakes in the wind. It moves the sand around the base like a long divided trench. It creaks and squirms at the sea above the heads of adults and children. It shudders off swarms of sand flies that gather and are thrust upward in the wind. It roars with its many holes and extends in all directions, pulling the wood apart to splinters. The wind cuts through the jagged pieces making the sound of a hundred flutes. Music is driven up with the flies and shatters in the sky above. The children anxiously watch the wooden lines moving across the sky. On the other side, unclothed adults are not frightened by the changing world. Something that has stood for years is giving. Something that has blown for eternity is not.

Mothers and older brothers drag their saturated bodies up to the cars when the sun finally resides. It isnít a quick or effective way to move, but they accept it. The children are pulling up their towels and shaking out the sand. They are putting their feet in the ocean one more time. They are looking for signs of turtles before they turn around and walk into the headlights.

 

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ANNIE RAAB is a writer and sculptor living in Kansas City, MO. Originally from Milwaukee, she commutes up and down the Midwest several times a year and dreams of some day raising goats in tropical lands. Her work can be found online and in the real world.


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