The Beach Goddess
After several years, having endured loneliness, I decided that being alone, and not lonely, was a far better way for me to live out the rest of my life. It’s not the same, you see, being alone. Ask any lonely person. So I packed up what I had left of my life, having lost the only person that gave my life a reason to be sometimes breathless, and came here, to this remote shoreline. I had become tired of living out the desperate mornings, and settled on these cliff tops, to be alone. It's a simplistic lifestyle, purposely designed to get away from cross streets, traffic lights, neighbors, and the kinds of day where, at any moment, and for no reason, I might feel a sense of terror.
Alone is a choice, whereas loneliness never is. I’m going to live a reclusive life, mind my own business, do enough to keep happy, and live without this grief being a burden to my heart. For almost a year I’ve been living a kind of perfection; having left behind all those trash cans, phone lines, and other people’s woes; that is until this morning, one I’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.
Even living as a recluse, my dead wife finds a way to invade my serenity, all my memories; those nights spent in hotel rooms, those in exotic islands, somewhere under the sun, all those memories we were building together to warm us when we were older, sitting on a porch, talking about our yesterdays. I got out of bed cursing her memory, thinking about those many long nights I begged through prayer for her to come home, to cease playing the mermaid…but nothing…nothing…not so much as a whispered goodbye! So I live alone, being happy.
I’m not really thinking straight as I put the kettle under the tap. I’m gazing out the window, seeing the Pacific Ocean stretching wide, calm today, and covered, it looks, under a falling negligee of mist. But wait… what the hell…a young man standing on the bluff, naked, dangerously close to the edge it seems. There is a clearly visible sign at the gate: ‘Private Property’. Water overflows the kettle.
He’s standing without any kind of motion, so still in fact; he could have been sketched there, in that very place. Not real, just a sketch in my imagination. I put the lid on the kettle before resting it back on the gas stove. For some reason, it being the one standing on my land, I don’t bother to spark the gas. Instead I stand at the window and gaze, wondering why I paid out good money for a very visible, patently obvious signpost.
I will put on my dressing gown and walk out; respectfully request that he leave. He’s probably oblivious to the anxiety his presence creates inside me. For months now only the sunrise has called for my attention. I’m used to lingering alone, sometimes hearing the Beach Goddess, her bones dancing, jabbering and moaning, tempting all who hear her. Such comfort she offers.
I stand across from him, on one edge of a crevice, ninety-feet deep, and ten-feet wide; too wide. He stands naked, staring out toward the ocean; clothes piled at his feet. Ten-feet of empty space separate us; might be ten thousand-thousand differences. There's no light in his eyes, just emptiness; the same kind of emptiness you see in the eyes of animals held in cages… the way they look out at people.
“Look…” I say, “…even if you take a real hard run at it, you won't clear the rocks below.” I knew I was stating the obvious.
There's no intelligible response from him, no sign of life except for his fingernails scraping blood from his thigh. I make one further observation.
“Mind you, the best thing about not clearing the rocks is nothing will ever hurt you again. That's always a plus.”
We both stare out to the horizon. I know she has him, the Beach Goddess, murmuring her comforts, those same ones I once heard so well. I was just to coward to listen. She’s convincing, too, tells how life is nothing more than pleasure and pain…pain mostly, pain that grips, rips your heart out with delinquent ideas about love and happiness.
He makes the slightest of movement. That momentary flap of hesitation; the one a young gull might make before its first venture into the sky. It prompts me, nervously, to state another point of view.
“By design, just so you know, life is not intended to answer every sorrowful question. The sadness you are feeling right now, I’ve felt, the calling you hear, I have heard”
It's impossible for me to imagine what this stranger is thinking, or what his perspectives might be, standing precariously, as he is, between life and death. I could tell him that perceptions change on reaching differing heights, that when I was just three-feet tall everything seemed of the same magnitude: merry-go-rounds, rice pudding, Christmas, Bambi, the whole world in fact. By the time I was six- feet, well I learned that beaches, rocks, sea salt and crabs are a far cry from Baker Street during those terribly serious winter weekends. Different perspectives have impregnated my thinking like stab wounds, been changed because of books, death, war, love, in fact a mushroom-cloud of happenings and events, many of which could have cheerfully passed me by.
I don't want this young man to leap to his death, not because I care about him, I don't. The reason I interfere is simply a matter of selfishness. If he should leap from this rock, so close to my home, I'll be dealing with the intrusion of police, sightseers, and then, God forbid, the family mourners. I'd have a week of people coming to see the rock from which he leapt, crying, leaving flowers, screaming how they didn't know things were so bad for him. I might as well be back on Baker Street.
Does he wonder what's going through my head? Does he care? Of course not, he's too wrapped up in his own insecurities. I'm so happy here; it's hard to control my dissatisfaction at the thought of his presence. Couldn't he go through this hateful stuff somewhere else? I can't fathom why he'd want to contaminate the frothy excitement with the red of his anguish. Does he not know that his chosen demise won't get a mention back in the concrete world of barking dogs, traffic lights, two wheel bikes, and mad butchers with cleavers?
No-one is going to care whether he's had transsexual therapy, too many martini lunches, or if his car failed a roadworthy test, or that love is just an illusion.
He has come seeking out my beach. Does he know how many beaches there are, and how many are better suited to his present frame of mind? So I wait while he stands naked against the wind, staring out to sea, and we have no understanding of each other’s perspective on life. We're like ill-fitting dentures up against the gum of reality. He shifts nervously. A few granules of dust fly away.
“Just so you know, I'll not report the fact you leapt off, if that's your intention. Oh sure they'll find you, some days up ahead, it's a kind of unwritten law; the Beach Goddess eventually gives up what doesn't belong to her.”
I can tell him that from bitter experience, having lost my wife in a ferry disaster. But at that very moment the temptations of the Beach Goddess must have spoken more sense to him, promising to take away his fears and his doubts.
Clothes, like a memorial on the cliff top, are all that remain of a life once walked here.
A couple of days from now, flowers will bloom where such flowers never grow. They will not last, and when they have gone, the shoreline will become mine again.
I walk back into my kitchen, turn the gas on under the kettle, and wonder why it is a young man had found so much more courage than me?