George's life is seen through the lens of his visits to a deserted beach
“That’s enough, kiddo. When we have a little rest, we’ll go in again,” his father answered. He lay on his back, and his big belly was showing. It was even a little funny. A young man with such a big belly. It was good the beach was empty, and there was no one around, not that his father cared much.
“Oh,” George sighed. He was eight-years-old, a bit short for his age, blond and had cheerful green eyes.
He thought they had come to the seaside for the sea, but his mother and father just lay on the sand under the umbrella all the time! However, George did not find the sand that interesting. He wanted to be in the water. He could not get enough of it. The waves, the foam, the mussels and crabs. The sea that stretched before him blue, deep, reaching the horizon — it was probably endless. However, his parents did not let him go in the water alone, and he was a little afraid to do so himself.
George sat under the umbrella by his mother. She was reading a book. George picked up a stick and drew a figure in the sand. He did not like it and erased it with his foot then drew another figure, but he didn’t like that either. Finally, he drew a circle.
“Mum — can you guess where this circle begins?” George asked.
“Ask your father, he’s good at math,” his mother replied, absentmindedly.
“Dad, where is the beginning of a circle?”
“A circle has no beginning or end.”
“Well, here’s the beginning. I started drawing it from there,” George pointed out.
“You started drawing it there, but once it’s finished, all circles have no beginning and no end. It’s an infinite loop.”
George thought about it. Something so small, but infinite. Then he got angry that his entertainment drawing circles with a beginning and an end was ruined. He stepped in the circle drawn in the sand and rose.
“Where to?” his mother asked.
“Just for a walk. It’s boring here.”
His father intervened. He propped himself on his elbow and looked at George:
“All right, but don’t go too far — not farther than those rocks over there. And don’t go into the water, or we’re going home.” As he said it, his father lay back comfortably on the towel beneath him and covered his face with his hat.
“To the rocks only, okay,” the boy replied.
George started walking across the sand, but it was very hot, so he scampered down to the water line and walked along the shore. The waves poured over his feet, covering his ankles. He walked a little and looked back. His footprints were wiped off the sand the farther back he gazed; the waves had washed them away. George ran to the rocks — he wanted to get there and have his footprints still remain in the sand before the sea could erase them. The rocks rose gradually, and it seemed it was possible to climb to the top, which George did easily. He saw the rocks descended on the other side, and, in the space formed between the rocks, there was a secret place. An elderly man was sitting down there. He had a T-shirt on, short pants and had dark tan. He wore a wide-brimmed hat, and there was an umbrella behind him to protect him from the sun. The man held a fishing rod in his hand. The rocks concealed him from sight, which is why George had not seen him from the beach.
“Good afternoon,” the boy greeted politely.
The man looked up and smiled:
“Can I climb down to you?”
“Of course. Just make sure you don’t fall.”
“Oh, I won’t fall,” George said, and descended the rocks carefully, although they were very easy to get up and down, almost like stairs.
“I’m George,” he said when he joined the man.
“Who else can you be but George?” the old man asked, laughing, but did not introduce himself.
After a short silence, George asked, “Are the fish biting?” He did not see a bucket or anything where the old man could put in what he had caught.
“Not really. But I let them go, anyways. I don’t like fish much. But I love fishing.”
The boy thought that strange, but he did not think much about it.
To make himself sound important, George asked,
“Did you know that a circle has no beginning or end?”
“Only a mathematician can tell you that,” the old man said, smiling. Everyone else will tell you the one who drew the circle knows where the beginning and the end is.”
“Exactly what I was thinking all along.”
The bobber jumped.
“There, we’ve got something,” the old man said and began to reel in the line quickly and deftly. Then he went to the water, dipped his hand into the sea, grasped the fish, took out the hook and showed it to George. “See? A goby. Don’t touch it with a dry hand. Then he will get sick.” The boy listened to him, wet his hand, and stroked the goby. “And now we’ll let him go again,” the old man said, returning the fish to the sea. George watched as it submerged and vanished. Then the old man baited the hook again.
George sat on the rocks and stared out to sea. Endless, full of monsters. Scary with all the unknown it was hiding below its waves.
“The sea is not endless, you know,” the old man somehow guessed George’s thoughts.
“Is it not?”
“No. Everything has an end.”
George felt better for some reason.
“And at the end?” he asked.
“There is another beginning beyond the end.”
The boy thought for a while. It must be so. He decided to tell his father that everything has an end, even the circle, if only you know where it starts. He decided that his father would get in the sea with him now. Especially when he told him about the end of the circle.
“Have you been here for a while?” George asked.
“Yes and no. Since this morning. My whole life.”
George thought about that, but decided to ask about the part of the answer that was less confusing:
“Wow — since morning. Isn’t it boring?”
“What’s boring about it? I enjoy the sea, the sun.”
“I don’t know…just sit. Did you get in the water at least?” George asked.
“Of course. I do what I feel like. But nowadays, I feel more like staying on the beach and looking at the sea. That’s it, I look at the sea and I think.”
“What do you think about?”
“Well, about a lot of things.” The old man leaned toward the child and said, “Honestly, I’ve looked at the sea for a long time. Since I was your age. And I have accumulated many memories. Now I sit in this quiet, cozy place and recollect them. You’re probably not like that. You’re in a rush to get into the water, build a sand castle…or draw circles. But I love to reminisce more.”
“I hope I’m not interfering with your thoughts,” George said quietly.
“Well, no. And it’s good to make new memories from time to time — even for an old man like me.”
They sat on the sand between the rocks and talked a little longer, but they were silent most of the time and just watched the sea. Suddenly, George remembered that his parents would be looking for him.
“All right, I’ve got to leave,” he said and stood up.
“Of course. Nice to meet you. I imagine you’re looking forward to new meetings — well, if not with me, at least with this place. It’s magical. At least it can be if you want it to be,” the old man said.
George looked at him curiously — what did he mean, “magical?” Still, even though he was a bit strange, the old man was sympathetic. George waved goodbye and climbed back up the rocks.
George chased Lia in the sand. He could catch her easily, but he pretended to be slower than he was and she kept slipping away. They were college students, and George had a crush on her…or something like one. They came to the beach where he had come as a young boy with other friends. He had promised them the place was really nice, secluded. The sea was clean, the scenery was beautiful, and there was a big city just half an hour’s drive away for those who preferred to be in big crowds.
Finally, George caught up with Lia, cuddled her, and lay her down on the sand gently. Their faces were almost touching. He looked deep in her brilliantly blue eyes. They looked at each other for a long time. Finally, she laughed and then said quietly,
“Come on, silly. Kiss me,” and that’s what he did.
“Are you getting it on at the beach? Shameless rabbits,”
one of their friends called to them.
They stood up and shook the sand off their clothes.
“Cut the bullshit. Come on, let’s start collecting firewood. It will be dark soon.”George said.
Later, the six of them cooked their food over the fire and ate chops, sausages, onions, and whatnot. They talked, let the fire die out, then lay on the sand. Being so full, they drifted off, and the conversation faded away gradually.
At one point, George got up and shook the sand off himself.
“Where are you going?” Lia asked.
“For a walk.”
She didn’t say anything, just watched him leave the circle of light that the fire was throwing until the darkness absorbed him.
George walked slowly. It was very dark at first, but gradually his eyes became accustomed to the dim light the moon was casting on the shore. He walked aimlessly and thought of Lia. Did he love her? It seemed so. And it was serious. And now what? He had thought of it before, and he had felt afraid when he realized he was in love with her. It was a little funny to him. What was there to be afraid of?
As he thought about it, he reached the rocks. He climbed up and then descended to the bottom to the secret place and sat down on the sand. The waves washed the shore just till his feet, and hit the rocks on both sides and sprayed George from time to time. He looked straight ahead. He felt as if he was in the womb — protected now, but the world outside was waiting. The sea was dark and threatening, endless, or so he had thought of it when he looked at it from the same place when he was a kid. And now it seemed endless again. The opposite shore was infinitely far off, and the sea was bottomless. George looked up. He recognized the Milky Way. A cold chill crawled up his back. How small he was. An ant before a huge sea in an even bigger universe. Alone in an endless world, without beginning or end, full of various strange, terrible things.
He felt something touching him on the back.
“Oh my god!” he shrieked.
“It’s me. Sorry,” Lia said. “Did I scare you?”
“Why are you following me? I want to be alone,” he said, angrily.
“I want to be alone,” she mocked him. Then she laughed.
“But you scare easily for a loner.”
George decided not to be angry with her, but laughed with her instead.
“Look up; how well you can see the stars from here,” he marveled.
Looking at the sky with him, Lia replied, “Indeed.”
The two stood next to each other looking up.
“Doesn’t it make you feel tiny and alone, all that enormity?” George asked, and was surprised that he said it aloud.
She hugged him from behind and said, “You are not alone, George. I am with you.”
He peered at her face in the dark. He couldn’t make out her features, but he felt her. It was her — Lia. The feeling of fear and loneliness left him. In fact, he felt quite fearless and even wished he could show off for her somehow. He kissed her, then pulled his T-shirt off over his head and launched himself into the water.
“Hey, hey. Where are you going?” she asked, slightly startled.
“In the sea. For a swim. The water is so warm,” he said and stepped farther into the water.
“Oh, you’re crazy,” she said, but she was already taking off her shirt. Both were good swimmers. They swam farther out in the ocean, where they could not touch the bottom. In the distance, the fire on the beach was visible, and above them were the stars. Below the dome of the Milky Way above, and among the waves that moved them up and down gently, they felt truly small, so small, but not alone. And they were not afraid
George descended the path to the beach. When he finally got to it he was surprised. As always, the beach was deserted. So many years and no one learned about this place, he thought. He did not delay but went directly to the rocks. He climbed to the “secret” place and settled comfortably with the beach umbrella behind him to throw a shadow, and the fishing rod propped up in front of him. He pulled off his shirt and stood naked to his waist with his shorts below. His skin had acquired a dark tan — he had been at the seaside a long time. Since Lia died, he didn’t feel like staying at their house. His children and grandchildren did well enough without his help, and he delighted in the pleasure of going to the seaside alone for the first time in his life.
He hung the bait on the hook and waited, dropped it in the water, and sat on the sand. His thoughts moved slowly toward the past. He was reliving moments of his life, as he had been doing lately. Then, in the silence, he heard someone climbing up the rocks. A child’s head appeared over the edge, and two brown eyes looked at George in amazement.
“I didn’t know there was anyone here. Excuse me,” the child said.
“Why are you apologizing?” George asked with a smile.
“Well,” the child answered uncertainly. “I thought the beach was empty. Mom and Daddy found it and said that there’s no one here.”
“Well, I wouldn’t say exactly no one…”
The boy straightened.
“And I’m called Mike.”
“Of course, you are called Mike. Come on down here, Mike. That is, you can stay up there if you want, of course, but the sun is scorching.”
Mike climbed down and sat on the sand under the umbrella next to the old man. They were silent for a while. Mike was a little bit shy, and George was deep in thought. Mike drew a circle in the sand. George looked at it, smiled, and turned to the child.
“Mind if I ask you a question…a kind of a riddle?”
“What riddle?” Mike asked, interested. It felt good to be sitting on the sand between the rocks with the waves splashing right next to his feet, looking at the vast sea stretched out in front of him. It was a beautiful place to think, a beautiful place for guessing riddles.
“What do you think?” George asked, “Does a circle have a beginning and an end?”