First published by alicebluereview in issue sixteen.
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. Occasionally there is a crossover from the special needs beach to the nude beach. Mothers, holding the hand of an 8 year old squinting in a floppy sunhat, are snapped wide open by the stylized sunlight, and begin undressing top to bottom with a glimmering innocence. Their 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 walking into the water in a trance, stepping 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 that they saw mermaids. 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 the 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 balloon wheelchair in. His excitement cracks and the boy squeezes the shell until it breaks. The hermit crab falls to the sand, its long body curled behind its clipping pinchers. 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 big wooden wall was built to censor the nude beach. Now the wall is crumbling and smooth from the weather. A girl with a savant for interpreting the language and behavior of adults approaches the division on purpose. She looks through a crack in the wood and sees a couple playing Frisbee. They are older, but the woman’s 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 muscles that triangulate his genitals. 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 afternoon a boy and his family arrive at the beach. His disability is unnamed. The doctor could diagnose nothing from his tests. Once the boy was shown pictures of the doctor, a “change in method” it was called. That was the last test, and there were no conclusions. The boy watches his brother, who just started high school. His brother looks around at the sleeping mothers in their half obscured bodies. Every child on the beach is staring at him. He doesn’t notice, and neither does his little brother. He has discovered how good it feels to have a stick in his mouth. Mothers and brothers drag their saturated bodies up to the cars when the sun finally resides. It isn’t 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 beaming headlights.