The water was only an idea. For weeks in the heat of the city, never having access to a car of their own, Kevin would follow his wife Melissa to parks and restaurants, on and off subway platforms, bleeding salt lines into the armpits and collars of his shirt. He could feel the aggravating call to get to the lip of the pier below, and jump, every time his train passed over a bridge. In his fantasy he’d jump into the dirty river without removing his shoes or his phone, and swim against the current.
They took the train to a bus, and walked out onto the sand that jumped over the ankle ridge of his shoes, and grated against his socks, until he went barefoot and felt the sunbaked beach burn against the soles of his feet, while the mid August sun had already started to broil his shoulders.
She brought her magazines, and he brought a book, but knew he’d never read a word. There was too much to take in. The water was infinite, but so was the beach, where hundreds of gatherings all took place at the same time, huddled together underneath umbrellas. Kevin could see people laughing, but with so much space between everybody, nobody generated much noise.
He stepped off his towel and jogged over the wet sand. The cool waves that tickled his ankles gave him a moment to reconsider his infatuation with being submerged. The city heat was only a memory. But he dove into the next wave big enough to cradle him from reaching the floor. The salt water slid through the cracks in his closed lips and nostrils, so that it was all he could smell or taste. A sensation that he had always forgotten about, like the way he could always smell a punch in the face. He bobbed, waiting for the large waves, and body surfed his way closer to the shore, with the 12-year-old kids. Every time he stood back up and walked back, waiting out the false alarms until the next ride came along.
When he got bored of the simple exercise, he ran out of the water, feeling the resistance of the undertow compelling him back toward the waves. The muscles in this legs burned as he exploded against the soggy bottom, and he imagined a summer spent outrunning waves, and transforming himself into an athlete.
A brisk wind kicked against the water droplets that clung to his shoulders and back. He shivered. A trickle of smuggled water slid out of his left ear, and he quickly turned his right ear to the ground and slapped against the side of his head to see if he could spring anything else loose.
Melissa was where he left her, placidly enjoying her magazines through gigantic sunglasses that made her small head look like an insect. He asked her if she wanted to toss the Frisbee, but this was enough for her. So it was enough for him.
He let himself relax. The cawing of seagulls reminded him to enjoy the moment. He closed his eyes. A nap would have been nice, but instead of unconsciousness, he drifted through his thoughts, taking stock of his life. And the day. Perfect weather. Perfect everything, as far as two renters living out of a subleased apartment in the city could expect. He would crack his eyes and catch a glimpse of his newlywed wife when he thought she would have thought he was asleep. He saw her for what she was. When she didn’t have a kid to worry about. Before she had to worry about feeling older. And then he shut his eyes and felt his bare legs absorb the sunshine.
His stomach started to grind from the last of the yogurt breakfast being burned up in the water. His view was covered in the blue hued frost he’d experienced whenever he closed his eyes in the summer sun. He asked his wife if she was hungry and walked a hundred yards through the sand to the burger stand by the side of the parking lot. The bored teenagers working the stand reminded him of another life on the beach. Kids who woke up late for summer jobs that never mattered, and would most likely meet up later that night for a bonfire somewhere off the park grounds, or at a suburban back yard on the island. The quiet life that he had tried to run away from in high school. And the boring life that would have allowed him to purchase a car and come to the beach any time he and his wife wanted.
He walked back along the sand with hamburgers, cheese sticks and a soda to share. They ate under the shade and watched the waves roll in closer to their feet. They’d have to catch the last bus in an hour to start the ride back into the noise of the city. Kevin finished his burger and walked back to the water, not feeling hot, but needing to jump in the water. He’d be hot again, soon enough.