Somehow desolate, he woke to the sound of the distant surf. Low tide. The harsh sporadic gossip of seabirds.
Open windows had left the room cool in the early morning. Light streamed in ghost layers of airy sediment through the gauzy drapes, which undulated in the salt breeze.
Shivering slightly and scanning the room, Eric had to work at recalling where he was. Recumbent, he smoothed the thin sheet that covered him. Took in the light cyan walls with their tolerable paintings of driftwood and dunes. The beach house. Of course. In which case, he had no memory of how he'd gotten here.
A herring gull outside the window shrieked a volley of spiteful laughter, startling him into a gasp. As if his unsettled dreams had pursued him into the vigilant day; dreams that murmured, The ocean is like the movement of blood through a living heart; we tune it out until the moments of consequence.
He struggled to remember a French adage he'd once read about hangovers, something like "My eyes aren't opposite their holes." Accurate or not, it felt right. Every time he moved his head, it took his brain a few bilious seconds to catch up. Like he was seasick on shifting sand.
Removing the sheet, Eric stood on shaky legs, trying to contain the swimming pain in his skull. The usual drifting tang of the sea stirred his guts, his mutinous senses queasily alert to the underlying decay of a billion rotting fish corpses. He barely made it to the small en suite, heaving a warm sluice of watery scotch into the pink maw of the clamshell sink.
Only then, when he looked up at the mirror, did he see the bloodstreaks like warpaint on his face.
With age comes not so much wisdom as perspective. We realize it's all built on something. Colonnades, piazzas, rialtos, domos. The Ponte Vecchio. Dikes and levees. Fifties-model Chevys and Buicks scurrying like vivid beetles along the Spanish colonial streets of Havana. Built. Pasted over. Like posters on walls. Layers. Sediment. Dreamed of again and again in infinite ways. On sand or on bedrock or on water. Bourbon Street. The Bridge of Sighs. The ephemeral is no less momentous than the permanent, because really, there is no permanence. The ephemeral is the now, where we stand. Live there. Live here.
Somewhere, perhaps the last song ever heard on earth, Louis Armstrong sings "St. James Infirmary." So cold, so sweet, and so fair.
One part of Darla, half of her upper torso, lay on the wicker loveseat. Another bisected the open doorway to the sandy deck, a small crab moving unevenly in the ruins of her skull. Layers of sand had caked the coagulate rivers of blood. In all, she was in three pieces. At first he thought four until he realized the dripping horror on the glass top coffee table, amid the paraphernalia of an ill-judged, foolhardy night, was the remains of his unborn child who would remain forever unborn.
Shot glasses, crack pipes, and ornamental swords. Beach detritus, abalone, kelp. All driftwood looks like the bones of the world.
A fraudulent life of counterfeit strength had brought him here, to a place where all his daddy's purported billions meant less than nothing. The ferryman had demanded payment over four long decades and Eric had ignored his entreaties, even laughed in his stoic face. But not now. He wasn't laughing now. Now that payment was long overdue, and the shifting sands of power had begun to slip through, like someone gut shot and trying to hold in their viscera.
What is this? Who are you? What kind of people can walk on by? Do you see the bodies floating in the filthy water? The people with their signs on the roofs? You remember the poor, the tired, the huddled, right? Did you once make a covenant with these people? Are you not obligated? Is this not your mandate? Or is our humanity lesser when placed beside your own? Go, then. Pass on by. You'd best pray your gods ain't the judging kind.
He used her phone—the one with the precipitating text—to make a call, and then left the house. Headed for the beach and the incoming caress of a gentle tide. Everything gone. Love. Family. A future. Everything. He felt he should cry, but his body sustained its arrant rebellion and even tears wouldn't come.
The yielding sands were soft beneath his feet. He stepped barefoot into the clear waters of this once-bright world, and the merciful waves closed in.