The phone dings, that familiar modern sound alerting us of something new, cutting through the hiss of onions sauteing in hot oil in the kitchen, breaking the still silence of a bedroom at night or, in this case, emanating from the lone back pocket of knit shorts with red and blue birdies printed all over. Party pants, I fancy calling them as a joke in mixed company; just this side of garish. They outfit a party of one today, poolside on an unseasonably warm mid-November afternoon in a panhandle hotel tucked into Florida’s emerald coast.
There should be a different sound for those kind of emails, the ones arriving to be deleted, although this functionality would require a brain more advanced than maybe is possible. Give it a few years, I tell myself. Everything impossible is probably only a few years off. Maybe by then my body will be different, smaller, and will hurt less.
I’m typing these words into that smart, but not quite that smart, phone, poolside, which I already mentioned. The finely crushed quartz sand and enticing warm green water, hence the name of this stretch, are only steps away, literally. The beach is directly behind me and the unfortunate lounge chair heaving beneath my body, a body contorted into an absurd posture that is somehow, mercifully, masking the intense pain in my back, a pain that developed in the hot shower at home four days prior. The cruel humor of a muscle injury gained in a hot shower is not lost on me, no.
Yesterday I sunk my feet deep into the powder back there. That is what the beach here resembles and feels like too, a sugary powder with a warm crust revealing a surprising chill beneath, like a blueberry pie baked only on the outside. I had ordered a complimentary ‘beach setup’ consisting of a folding wooden chair with a colorful fabric sling and coordinating umbrella, and quickly drifted off, right index finger holding my place in Paul Orner’s Am I Alone Here?
When I awoke, beach drunk, dry of mouth and disoriented like a newborn kitten whipping its head around in frantic tiny movements and blinking frenetically to get his bearings, I caught sight of a woman, older than a girl but younger than middle age. I was that kind of dizzy afforded by the sun and the steady sound of waves cresting out ahead and gulls conversing about dinner plans or plotting a winter escape route above, but still I was able to watch her right hand rise from mid-thigh to mouth in that way smokers move; a one-armed dance, danced in the vapor of their own nightclub. Last call and lights on came with the extinguishing of her cigarette in the gulf, a bending over at the waist and a dip, right as rain. The woman walked back to her own beach setup, down the even line of wooden chairs and yellow umbrellas, and out of my view for a moment before she reversed course. The muscles in her thighs flexed with each step she took back toward the water, portraying a certain level of athleticism, a runner I’d guess. Her stomach was tone but not devoid of a pouch hanging over her bikini bottom like a comforter pulled down off a neatly made bed. A mom, maybe? Possibly but there was no child around to validate such a guess. I’m a dad in that same way, with a far bigger pouch, hidden from the world as much as one can with something so plainly obvious, like throwing a tarp over the ocean to convince onlookers that there is nothing but dry land out there.
This woman, older than a girl, maybe a mom, this stranger with a cigarette on the beach didn’t try to disguise any part of her body, to trick onlookers, she was free of those concerns and stood, in every way, in stark contrast to this writer.