by Phyll Good
I like the beach in the evening. The tourists have all gone home or are back in their motels. The beach becomes a special place just for those of us who live nearby.
My dad used to say the only reason he moved here with the rents so expensive is so we could spend at least one hour each day walking on the sand. My dad would come out of his den after dinner, usually while one or the other of us kids was still washing the dishes and say, "all right mother, let's all go to the beach." My father talked that way, using old-fashioned expressions.
My mom always was quick to answer for us, "The dishes aren't done yet, are they Diana?" but before I could start in dad would reply "Oh, leave them," and then we'd all walk or bike down to the beach together.
Sometimes there would be seals, hundreds of them in the water, and sometimes a line of dolphins just beyond where the waves were breaking. The dolphins hadn't been there during the day. It was as if the dolphins and the seal men had just been waiting for the tourists to go home, too.
And, maybe, as it got darker, it would just be me and my dad walking together along the shore above the wave line, while my sisters stayed with mom and built a fire or something.
My dad talked to me then in a way he never talked with me when we were at home. He told me about his life and all he'd thought of being. He told me about the time before he met mom, when he'd been a sailor in the war. He told me about some of the strange things he'd seen or had heard the other sailors talk about.
"There are people out there," he'd say, and he'd point beyond the line of breakers. "They look just like we do or almost, only they live under the sea. They are part man and part seal, and they herd the big fish for food, the way we herd cattle."
"Dad, you're being silly," I'd reply, scornfully. "I'm too big for stories like that." The strangest smile would come over his face. He'd look beyond me over my shoulder out to the water and say, "Look, Di, there's one of them, a silkie, now." And though I was too big to believe foolish stories and old enough to know there is no such thing as a silkie, I'd always look.
When it was very dark, and you couldn't see anything but the glow of the city and the lights of our campfire, we'd walk back and join the others. We'd have s'mores heated over the fire. We'd talk about what we'd done during the day. And, then, we'd go back home together.
Not that I always was doing things with my family. I had a life of my own. At school and with my own friends. There was even a time after Dad left when I had nothing to do with my family, when I hated them. My crazy period I call it. When I hung out with Jose and Pete and the others. When all I did was hang out and I didn't go to school.
I began by ditching class. When the school called my mother in and told her, I said, "Well, if I have to go to Spanish—(I think this was the class I'd been cutting)—I won't go to school at all."
And I didn't. I spent all day at the pier hanging out and sometimes I'd be there in the evening too, though it was different by the pier after it was dark.
The sky would go from bright blue to gray, the street lights would come on, and all of a sudden there would be a vast dark hole where the sea had been. The crazies would show up then, fresh from tapping the source. They'd look you up and down as if you were a piece of meat or, if you were skinny like me, they'd try to borrow money or get you to do errands.
Once, this Hispanic dude, elegant in a white linen suit, parked his big white Cadillac next to where I was standing. He got out, not speaking, leaned against his car and looked out the length of the pier toward the invisible ocean. I wondered what he was thinking. There are street lamps on the pier, maybe every two or three hundred feet, but there are long dark stretches in between and no one goes out there after dark.
Then he was standing next to me. "Kid," he said, "you take this ten bucks; you watch my car." I nodded my head, and he walked out on the pier.
He never came back. After awhile, when two of my friends drove by wanting to know what was happening, I let them drive me home.
I started going to the alternative school after that and soon I was back in the regular high school. The kids looked at me funny after I came back and I told mom I'd like to go to a different school, but she said, "No, we can't afford to move." So I did the best I could and tried to avoid the looks.
I tried to avoid the beach too, especially after dark. Guys go there at night to drink wine and I'm not as skinny as I used to be. Still, when mom or one of my sisters gets on my nerves, the beach is the only place I can go to be alone.
Usually, I go with another girl, or I tell my mom I am going with one; she doesn't think it is safe for me to go out on my own after dark. "Stay with your family," she says.
I take my bike, lock it under a street lamp, and then head into the darkness between the houses toward the beach.
I'm almost blind when I leave the street lights. I walk slowly and carefully, and stop every few feet to listen. I don't want somebody jumping at me out of the darkness, not even a friend.
Sometimes, all I can hear is the wind. Other times, I might hear a voice, perhaps two voices, though I can't tell where the voices are coming from. It could be a couple sitting nearby in the darkness or a pair of joggers striding side by side further away along the shore.
A jogger runs by me on the bike path and I move out of his way, startled. The wind changes direction. I can smell the sea and hear the waves. I stand for a long while, just breathing the air, becoming one with the sea and the sand.
A loud splash comes from directly in front of me. I can hear the sound of something large moving in the water, but I can't see what it is. For an instant, a cigarette glows in the darkness, or maybe it is a campfire rekindled by the wind. I strain my eyes and look out toward the water.
For a moment all is still, and then—splash—a big fish—it's a dolphin, leaps almost straight up, a saddle fitted just behind his dorsal fin.
If the man had said anything to me then, even, "will you look at that!" which is what I said when I saw the big fish—mammal—jump, I'd have moved away from him or left the beach entirely. But he only smiled, a big warm smile, somewhere between a grin and a chuckle, like the smile my dad used to have when we were friends. I couldn't help but smile back.
"Hi. I'm Daryl."
"I'm Di, Diana."
Daryl had been standing quietly only a few feet away. After we saw the dolphin, it seemed natural that Daryl and I would stand together and talk, first about the big fish—mammal, we'd seen, and then about the smell of the sea, and the sounds, and how in the evening the beach is a world of its own where you needn't feel rushed or afraid.
Daryl is very handsome. My dad only has a single hair on his chest and it takes him forever to grow a beard. Daryl always has the shadow of a beard along his jaw line. A dark sprout of hair shows at his collar from the pelt beneath.
When we kissed, just once that evening, his mouth had the taste of the sea, slightly salty. He is very strong, but his touch is gentle and reassuring, and he walked me back until I was underneath the street lights where I'd parked my bicycle.
I started going down to the beach regularly in the evening, not really to see if Daryl would be there waiting, but he always was.
Each time we met, we talked about everything in the world. About what we were going to do when we grew up and some of the exciting things—not many in my case—we'd already done. Daryl was going to be a kind of fish farmer, raise fish instead of animals and keep them in open pens at sea.
"And ride seahorses on the Oregon current," I joked. "Dolphins," he replied seriously.
I was going to be a school teacher. I made this decision when I started back to school. A special kind of teacher that would try to understand what kids were going through at home and help them make their schoolwork meaningful.
Daryl and I weren't really alone on the beach; but when we talked, it was as if we sat alone inside a charmed circle. Once a big dog who'd gotten loose and was biting and snapping at everything in his way came dashing toward us. He stopped when he was only a few feet away and then ran howling. And once a homeless man, his hair wild and unkempt, circled around us for almost ten minutes, muttering.
I love you Daryl, I said once, but I don't think he heard me.
I don't want you to think I spent all my free time at the beach with Daryl. I had school and homework and after-school activities. I had a regular boyfriend, too.
Jack was my boyfriend's name. He'd take me to the movies and to football games. He'd already asked me to the prom. Once he asked if I wanted to go for a walk on the beach. It surprised even me when I said, "No, I don't like the beach." My mother, who'd been sitting across the room pretending to read, gave me a look over the top of her glasses. Maybe I didn't like Jack as much as I thought I did. Maybe I didn't want to go steady with him.
The final evening on the beach, Daryl said to me, "let's go to where I live." In my crazy period, I might have replied, "sure let's go." But now I knew what I wanted to do or thought I did. I was going to go to college. I was going to study to be a school teacher.
"What would I do there?" I asked.
"I don't know enough," I said.
"Sure you do, Diana; you know an awful lot my people don't."
I was proud Daryl thought so much of me. But my mother is right: When you know what you can do, you can admit what you don't know and try to change. "I can't go with you yet, Daryl," I said.
"Will you walk me down to the water?" he asked.
So I walked him down to the ocean and watched as his feet turned into flippers, and he slipped, flipped into a larger wave and disappeared in the light's reflection.
I haven't seen Daryl since, not that I often have the time to come to the beach now that I've started college. If he does comes back, will I go with him?