Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Hum of rubber on metal decking. Tires rolled off onto the concrete ramp. One solidness of a temporary nature was traded for another: gritty paint for slick.
“I’m glad to be back on land.”
“Well, yeah. Glad to be done with that crossing anyway.”
“So you say.”
“Am I sniveling? Guess so. There weren’t many vehicles on the ferry. We were first on, first off!”
“And you are complaining?”
“What are you thinking then?”
“That the customs officer will be waiting for us, eager for conversation.”
“Just keep a vacant look.”
“I’m good at that.”
“I know you are,” she said joking while pushing at his shoulder.
“And there he is, as foretold.”
“Waving at us to pass.”
Watching the rear-view mirror, “I thought he was a construction mannequin. You know, like one of those with only an arm that moves, mechanically waving a caution flag back and forth.”
“His arm did look like it was attached by a hinge.”
“Gray face matching his uniform.”
“None from me either. We would have been there for an hour while the camping gear was gone through, the spare tire taken out. It would have been first off, but last on the road for us.”
“Yes. We would have had to get into the whole explanation thing if she would have been found out. The paperwork…”
Silence. A turn signal came on and the car turned.
Let us introduce Zuni and Darren. Their partner, Kara, was the reason for the trip. The three were off to Kara’s favorite place. End of the World, she had called it—always cheerfully. The name stuck. The most northern point of a continent. Where a sea meets an ocean in turbulent play, with a spit of land jutting into the mix.
Kara had passed away recently. Her cremated remains were in a nondescript metal cylinder. A container within a nondescript box. Zuni and Darren had promised her they would take the remains to the end of the sandspit, that she would be committed to the churning mix in joy, in celebration of life. This had been Kara’s request. Her partners’ reply had been solemn. Through tears the promise was spoken. They would celebrate the visits shared there, the memories of sun and fun enjoyed in the lonely isolation that was an end of land. In joyous play, it would be done.
Shortly after the promise was sealed, the trip was undertaken.
“So foggy. It has been like this since we rolled off the ferry. Wasn’t it sunny out at sea?”
“Well, we didn’t see when the fog started as you wanted us in the car before the ship entered the harbor.”
“I wanted to get off before the trucks.”
“I know, Darren. I am as anxious about this trip as you are.”
He looked behind to the empty seat. Gone was Kara, her energy. The contagious smile leaning forward over the seat, her cheery words. The teasing she and Zuni would tag up on.
His eyes met Zuni’s. “I know,” she said.
A sob started; his eyes began to water.
“Celebration. Remember, Darren. Joy.”
He wiped at his face. “We don’t need to stop in the town, do we? Nothing was forgotten?”
“No.” She looked again at the back seat.
“Good. It is so early anyway. The shops won’t be open for hours.”
“It really is quite deserted here.”
The road carried on through the village.
Approaching the far side, the houses were spaced further apart. A familiar intersection approached.
Both their faces lit up in a grin. Looking at each other, they said, “That’s the signpost up ahead. Your next stop, the End of the World!”
A turn signal came on. The car turned.
Along the highway, the white line segments emerged out of the fog. Trees were passed; their summer foliage heights disappeared into the mist. The sun glowed slightly, with an obscured halo.
Inside the car it had remained silent. The two occupants were lost to inner-space reflection.
Zuni asked, “Are you OK? Would you like to stop for a sandwich or something?”
“No. We would just get cold out there in the dampness. I would rather keep on. Is that OK for you?”
She leaned over. Her head found his shoulder. Hands found each other. She said, simply, “Yes.”
The remainder of the highway drive passed like this.
Approaching a graveled road, a turn signal came on.
Zuni had been asleep, her head still against Darren. She sat up, feeling at a stiff neck. Darren became roused from the drive lethargy.
There was a change in the light. It was Zuni who mentioned it first, “Fog seems to have burned off.” She opened the glove compartment. “Sunglasses?”
Darren held a hand up against the glare, dropping the visor. “Oh, yes. Please.”
The car rocked, splashing through water filled chuckholes. She was jostled against him. “Oh, sorry.” He turned into her kiss as the car kept on.
Before them was The Lighthouse. This was the road end. The car pulled into the small parking lot, stopping in a spot out of the way.
The Lighthouse was an oddity. Upon their first discovery of it they were amazed. The building was quite old, historic. It was reputed to be one of the first in the area. But the ancientness of the structure wasn’t what had them curious. It was the huge sand dune mountain between the lighthouse and the ocean. It was as though the light passed into the night for the wayfarers crossing the dunes rather than for seafarers approaching the cape. Kara had been deeply taken by the place. She had explored each brick in the building, climbing up and down the stairs repeatedly. Though Zuni and Darren had also been impressed, Kara’s enthusiasm exceeded them both. But that was Kara. She was a force of nature, contributing energy into a system and beyond.
Thoughts were pregnant within Zuni and Darren while the car was unloaded. Silently, the cart had been assembled, the camping gear piled on. Kara’s urn cylinder was snuggled within the middle.
They began the path towards the pass between the sand mountain peaks. The beach was just beyond. Darren was in front, pulling. Zuni was in back, pushing. Initially, she had pushed from the side; adjusting to the middle, it was a reminder that their partner was not present to assist. The way up was work for the two of them. The wheels were bogging down into the sand. A few stops to catch their breath were necessary. No complaints; neither one would be the first to utter any. But they kept on, reminded of the silent cheers of Kara’s missing laughter.
The pass was met; they had made it to the top. The view below was of beach stretching off into the distance. Ocean filled the remainder of the infinity.
Zuni, “It has gotten really hot, hasn’t it? I am like totally soaked through. I totally overdressed.”
“Who knew? It had been so wet cold during the drive.”
“But not here. It’s like desert hot. I’m gonna strip down.”
Darren looked to the beach, “Don’t see any people down there for you to thrill.”
“Dang. That is disappointing. It was Kara’s and mine best sport.”
“I know it was. You girls, such the combo tease.”
“Tease?” she said, as the shirt pulled over her head. “I think not. We were totally serious. The right personality would have the key for our lock.”
The last of the clothing had been put in a bag.
“And what about you, mister? Will you be my companion tease in this adventure?”
“And yet you seem to be awkwardly overdressed. Do you want me to be embarrassed? Naked? Exposed to the wild elements?”
“Wild?” he chuckled. His clothes also found the bag.
The downhill trek was begun. They took to the front of the cart, restraining its energy potential.
Darren, “Kara would have run down the hill letting gravity overtake her, laughing the whole way—”
“Her lovely blond hair streaking behind.”
“Your blond hair is lovely as well.”
“You like my curls?”
“Would you be OK with the cart if I streaked with them down the hill?”
“I would love that sight of you. Show me. The cart and I will be OK.”
“Well, sir, my Mr. Active Imagination, I believe you,”—pointing—“Ahem.”
“Yah! On your way, Ms. Vixen.” A palm was applied to an ass cheek.
While rubbing at that cheek, a grin came to her, “See ya at the bottom, lover.”
And she was off, legs flailing with abandon, down the sand mountain face. Over her shoulder, she shouted, “Promises, promises.”
She made it most all the way down until the planned trip occurred and the roll began. It was carried on, exaggerated comically, onto the flats, where she ended up, spread-eagle. She began to make a sand angel.
Darren continued down along the less steep route, laughing at her antics. He joined her to make a second sand angel.
They continued to lay side by side. The sand heated them through to the core. There they remained, sweating the poisons out in this dry sauna until neither could take it anymore. Without a cue, both sat up and leaned arms atop each other’s shoulders. Foreheads touched, eyes closed. Each breathed deep, holding their breath before releasing a sigh.
Zuni sprang up and pulled Darren to stand. Reaching back, she gave his ass a big slap. “Ouch! You hurt my hand, Mr. Buns of Steel.”
“Aww, you just didn’t do it right. Give it another go, but this time, with feeling.”
“No way. You are too into it and I’m too sandy.”
“Off with us then!”
They began sprinting towards the water. “First one to surf a wave cooks, last one cleans.”
“I’ll accept that challenge!” Darren said, getting ahead.
“Hey! No fair! I don’t have a jogging bra on.”
He stopped and looked back. She ran by laughing and leaped into the water, porpoise diving ahead.
Darren put on a good show of it, but Zuni body surfed the first wave. She surfed it back to the shore. It was a lovely sight, her emerging from the water and awaiting him on the beach. Both were grinning like maniacs when he surfed in.
Later, at their camp.
“Tomorrow, right?” Zuni asked.
“Yes, after the tide. When the water recedes, the tip of the sandspit will be exposed.” The last stake was pushed into the sand. “Tonight is a night for nice BBQ and bubbly, followed by a long lay-out under the stars.”
“There will be the moonrise later. It will be a full one. The first since…” She paused for a breath, “We will share the celebration with our Kara.”
“Yes. We will remember a lot of the firsts with her.”
She perked up. “My roommate, sharing her cool guy with me, for instance.”
“She set me up!” he pleaded.
“Come on. You knew. You were just playing along.”
“No, I actually was clueless. We didn’t have the talk until after she brought me home. You weren’t there at the time, by the way. Strategically so.”
“You two could have had the talk earlier.”
“It was too noisy at the club. Great band that night.”
“Afterwards? During the stroll scrambling the jetty rocks?”
“Yeah. Those lights reflecting off the water can be distracting. Pretty erotic, as I remember the telling.” Retrieving a tray out of the ice chest, she asked, “Would that be one wurst or two? They are the big ones.”
“Two, please, as you require.”
“At least. I’ve an appetite.”
“Yes, my dear.”
The meat sizzled on the grill, which flamed up.
The meal was finished in silence. Surf break provided the backing tune. As Darren cleaned up, Zuni said, “I was just thinking. When I came in on you two—”
“Are you still on about that story?”
She looked at him with a pout.
“Alright, I’ll play along. You came right in and turned on the light—in a dark room.”
“Hey, it wasn’t dark. The lava lamp was on. Anyway, the bed was a wreck. You two looked rather ragged and totally sweaty. Remember what I said?”
“Kara and I were blinking from the glare. You were standing in the doorway, hands on your hips, nude. Yeah. I remember what you said. ‘Hope you left some of him for me, roomie. I’m hungry!’ You pranced across the room to the bed in a few leaps and dived between us. Then, you introduced yourself, ‘Hi! I’m Zuni. You are going to like me.’”
“And? There was more.”
“There was, wasn’t there?”
“I said, ‘Kara and I share, so that’s gotta be hip for you too if we’re gonna keep you around as our pet service unit.’”
“So it was, eh? Second wind, as I remember.”
“Yes, Darren. So wonderful, you proved to be a worthy unit.”
He gave her a playful swat, leaving a red handprint behind.
“Oh! Now you’ve done it, mister!” she said, pushing at his shoulder while rolling atop him.
“But Zuni,” he meekly protested in fun, “the moon has yet to rise.”
“Man-rise is what I need for the moment. Service!”
The daylight found the couple entwined within a blanket. They woke together.
Darren asked, “You didn’t get cold during the night, did you?”
“No. I stayed warm beside you, my heater.”
“Yes, Kara kept the heat up. You, the sandwich—”
“Meat! I want more protein. Gimme!” she said, leaning across him for the remaining wurst. Taking a big bite, the roll had gone stale. Bits flaked off.
“Want some?” she said, through a mouthful.
“Could never resist your offer,” he said. “I did like you from the start.”
“Naturally. She wouldn’t have brought you home otherwise. Kara’s got good taste,” she said, licking mustard from the corner of his mouth.
She sat up, her face had gone flat, “Had, I mean.”
“I keep imagining her as having just stepped away, gone off down the beach out of sight to pee. She’ll come back, sneaking up. With a surprise yell, she’d jump at us sitting here—knocking us over with a tangle of tickles. Finally, the wrestling would stop after we could no longer breathe from laughing so hard. She would say with a Looney Tunes cartoon voice, ‘What’s with all the seriousness, eh?’”
“Mel Blanc. Bugs was her favorite.”
Zuni became silent. Darren as well. There was nothing verbal left to be said for the moment. The next was about to begin.
Together, they both got up. Darren retrieved the metal canister from the cart. The point was down the beach, distant but visible. The wet sand was hard. Water rushing up to meet their feet was briefly icy. After a distance, the temperature was a comfortable balance with the sun heat.
Zuni said, pushing at him, “I can’t take it. This is much too solemn. Come on. Remember the tickles!”
He looked at her, but didn’t say anything.
She ran ahead backwards. “Come on! Fun, yes?”
“Alright, sourpuss. How’s this then: if you catch me, you can have me!” She sprinted ahead, laughing.
Darren remained quiet, but began to jog along behind her. When the surf ran up, his feet splashed the water, kicking and throwing it before him. Sometimes he succeeded in getting Zuni wet. As her role, she would shriek in appreciation. When the water receded, feet pounded onto wet sand. Footprints were left behind for the water to erase, one set of prints, one break at a time. In the distance behind, there were none remaining.
The curve of the point was ahead. Zuni was already out a distance on the sandspit. The low tide revealed a finger of land at this meeting point of ocean and sea. She had continued until the end. When Darren came up to stand beside her, they were knee-deep in the water. The current pulled. The spit carried on a distance, inviting to wade further out; however, the water here was dangerous. Depending on the direction of the tide, the current carried into the deep ocean or sea. Either direction was quickly away from land.
Her eyes were expecting, awaiting his next action. The canister was cradled in his arms.
“No, Zuni. It is not yet our time.”
She replied firmly, “Isn’t it?”
He said, his voice soft and resigned, “No.”
“You are wrong, Darren, but I indulge you, my love.”
In answer, the canister lid was unscrewed. It took many turns before coming free. The lid fell into the water, sinking, ignored. The gray contents were inside, staring up at the couple above.
Together, they tilted the canister, spilling the first into the water.
Darren said, “My love. Pass well.”
Zuni said, “My love. Until we are rejoined.”
The remainder was spilt. It clouded the water, carried away in a plume—a letting go.
Now empty, the spent canister was dropped. It floated, trailing behind the plume, which had dissipated. When the metal canister sank, the last physical trace of Kara was gone, released back into the unbound universe.
They turned to the beach. Darren’s foot brushed against the lid. He retrieved it, showing it to Zuni, and had a brief crying laugh.
“Chuck it,” she said.
He obeyed. It skipped across the water until its energy was dissipated; then it too disappeared beneath the surface.
Darren didn’t see. He was running back to the beach and continued on. Zuni was slow to follow.
Time had lost cohesiveness of one moment gliding into the next. Without knowing, he had stopped running. How long had he been standing there? He was covered in sweat. The heat had become stifling. The cool water was just there, however, it was not inviting. There was a curiosity before him. It wasn’t there when they had passed this way to the point, or was it? It was up on the dry sand. Surely, he would have noticed. Touching at its solidness, in the sun, it should have been hot. But in fact, it was cold, as though it had just emerged from the icy ocean depths. He touched it again as Zuni came to stand beside him. She too was dripping with sweat. Her hair was matted to her shoulders, stuck to her back.
“Binoculars,” he felt the urge to explain to her, “mounted on a tripod.”
She looked at him concerned, reaching to brush wet hair from his eyes.
“This is antique. Made of metal with brass eye cups. And the tripod is some ancient hardwood. Rather stout.”
He leaned forward to them.
She said, “Don’t. Darren, you shouldn’t.”
“But why not? I want to see where they are pointed. Look at the rigid mount. The angle is fixed.”
“I don’t want it to end.”
“Nonsense,” he said, putting his face to the eye cups. She touched at his hand.
The lenses were clear. It was his eyes that were blurry. After a moment, they adjusted to the change in light.
“There’s a ship. I can see a ship.” He pulled back and looked across the ocean distance. “I don’t see it, do you?”
She said, reluctantly, “No.”
“These glasses are really strong. Take a look.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Suit yourself.” Peering back into the glasses, he said, “The ship is there again, but closer. The profile is sharpening.”
She had moved to the other side. Her hand found his, but released it to grip his thigh. Fingers were pressing into the muscle tissue. Pressure.
“Ow! That hurts!”
“Sorry,” she said, stepping back. “I love you, Darren.”
Not hearing her, he dictated the vision, “The ship’s color is white overall with blue at the water line. It has red trim. The stacks are also red. The image is growing quickly; it must be making really fast time.”
Realizing he had neglected to say, “I love you too,” he turned away from the binoculars. She was no longer beside him. Looking long down the beach, she wasn’t there either.
He shouted, “Zuni?!”
Only the surf drummed in reply.
“Did you go back to camp?”
In that direction, the dunes and haze across the distance obscured the way.
Speaking into the wind, he said, “I love you. I love you both.”
The binoculars were before him. The white and blue image of the ship was in the lens, upside down. Putting his face forward, the image reverted.
“It’s a ferry.” The moment he said the words, the world changed. It was pulled within itself into a point with a roar. As the point was achieved, the world rushed back out with the roar reversed.
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