Below is Part 7 of 23 monthly installments for Visitant.
Time for a fresh start. Sparing her bangs, Agnes Person has clear-cut her colored hair in select rows like a black and red Parcheesi board. The August heat has been a thief of sleep, and Agnes, Jena and Bea have posted alibis and bolted for a long weekend in Ocean City. The battered boardwalk and huge cracked pilings yawning creosote are disappointments, but they love the wide beach and broad view of the sea.
Well-oiled Jena moans, and rolls over on her Turkish towel.
Agnes thinks she must be dreaming of the ER, the city hospital emergency room.
Bea is sipping a canister of gin and tonic through a straw. She is rereading Maple Sugar Cookery and groans with desire. Her lips smack and spit sand.
Agnes enjoys The New Yorker cartoons, but she struggles with the Summer Fiction Issue. The characters don’t suit her gallery of scented wax. Agnes stands up to stretch her legs. She rubs zinc oxide on her right side, sunscreen on the left. She likes the streaky über-white effect of the oxide, but she’s unsure about the cloying odor. She doesn’t feel like reading the ingredients of the sunscreen. How can dabbled goo shield the reach of a star 865, 374 miles in diameter?
Shaking the Parcheesi game and tiny shells from her hair, Agnes surveys the crowded beach. Towels clump and flatten with bodies under tilted umbrellas.
Bored with beachcomb and bask, Agnes pulls big yellow flippers over her Krazy Kat knee-socks and pads her way into the sea. Holding her breath under water, she tries to adjust the heel straps. Despite the oily zinc oxide, the left one chafes.
Agnes rises for air as a dark shape sinks. She hears the lifeguard yell, Man overboard!
At the M-word, Bea and Jena pull up their spandex suit straps. Jena, shapely arm looped through an inflatable life ring, lopes into the gentle surf. Bea, scanning the scene, fluffs her perm and flops in.
Bea’s powerful Australian crawl amazes Agnes. The upshot of the birthstone belt, she figures, as Bea strokes with one arm and pulls the dead weight with the other. The long handsome body is nude except for gorgeous cordovan wingtip oxfords and exciting socks, electric blue.
Mine, Jena snarls like a cur over road kill, and drags the drowned god above the tide line. His loses his shoes, but not the electric socks, to the dunes.
Angry Bea turns chrysoberyl green with envy and marches off to find saltwater taffy and an Irish bar full of real men.
Flippers planted on hard wet sand, Agnes watches Jena administer mouth-to-mouth all over the man’s body. Soon Jena and the stocking-footed god move together in passionate embrace. Agnes looks away.
In the distance, bob sea ducks, dark scaups mindless of shore and the deep. Agnes longs to drift with them in the ebb.
Approaching dusk streaks the waters hot pink. Gulls scream. Terns dip for fish. Thousands of see-through fiddler crabs skitter sideways, left right, right left. Eyes on stalks, one claw bigger than the other. Agnes bows to the little maestros.
Tasting face salt and zinc, she feels opaque, too white for the moment. She waddles toward the diminishing eddies of the outgoing tide. Buoyed by her spread hair, Agnes floats like an aimless raft of kelp trailing human organs. Waiting for a derelict god, she feels the nibble of little fish. She admires their boldness, but flashes shark bait and swims back to the safety of shore. In the shallows, she rights herself on the big flippers and, head high, scans the dunes for Jena and marches toward her towel.
Watch it, Bigfoot! sneers a cocky boy dripping sandcastles with his little brother. Their sunburned faces are clotted with freckles.
Agnes remembers her horrid school girl freckles, dark and clumped as pickle relish. At church camp, she rubbed on suntan lotion, but bullies mocked her as Thou Sandy, short for Thousand Island salad dressing.
Agnes pushes down her left flipper and flattens the boys’ moat.
In runs the sea.
Red-speckled tot bawls snot.
Wise guy slugs him and throws sand at Agnes’s left side and splatters her zinc.
Got mayo? Agnes sneers with sudden relish for child warfare—spitballs, flicked boogers, shove. She surveys the beach. Shadows of late afternoon amble the tideline, but friend Jena has vanished with the man overboard.
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