Fiction by Laura Hampton
The path down to the beach is rough and steep. She never knows exactly where the right place is to take off her shoes. As the land dissolves into sand, her shoes fill and rub. But if she takes them off too soon, rocks and prickly vegetation stick her feet. At some point you just have to commit, take off the shoes and gingerly pick your way down until you meet the smooth beach.
He doesn’t mind her heading out mid-afternoon by herself. They’d been on vacation together already for four days. That was way more time than they were used to spending together. They both needed a breather. She read an article once about “empaths:” people who were empathetic by nature. The article said that empaths need a lot of personal space, as they are presented with many “energetic challenges.” They don’t want others in their energy space sucking their life force, even, or especially, in bed at night. The inn provides great ocean views and free wine, but a small bedroom and a small bed. He assuredly is an empath: bed is not a re-charge zone on this trip. She heads to the beach.
It sits on a little bay, surrounded by rugged hills tumbling with brush. Out about fifty yards from shore there are several rocky pillars that break the surf, hemming in the cove. Mid-week, mid-afternoon, she has the beach to herself. Even alone, she feels companionship and presence. The water winks and squints at the sun, the beached seaweed lolls off a murky vegetable smell, the bitter salt crusts her lips, and the sand gently, kindly, rubs off small bits of her feet.
She watches the clear cold Pacific wash over her toes, frills of foam rerouted around her. When she stands in one place, her heels sink as the surf sucks back to the deep. She imagines, as her feet settle lower, that every grain on the beach has to make a slight shift to accommodate them. From one end of the cove to the other, every grain tossing, turning, rubbing a little smoother against another. She feels the sun on her skin, heat absorbing. Just by standing there, she changes the course of the waves, moves all the sand on the beach and diffuses the force of the sun’s radiation as it falls to the ground.
Her father, whose funeral they’d held a week ago, used to say “leave only footprints, take only memoires.” As if you could visit nature incognito, sealed in a bubble. Someone had told her “there was no way around grief; you just had to go through it.” Not unlike a visit to the beach. You settle into it, and it settles into you. You start a concatenation of movement and shifting, waves and fissures, and it does the same to you. Not that she is asking the waves to prosaically wash away the sadness. Maybe what she wants is for the beach, the ocean and the land, to sit with her, just listen, envelop her, hold her.
The wind tracks tears across her cheek and they evaporate back up into the clouds. The white-noise surf muffles her keening. Lying back on the warm sand, starfish arms and legs, she feels the earth’s gravity and falls asleep, suddenly and hard. As if a blanket dropped from the sky and blotted out everything.
Later she wakes up, skin pink, head like cotton. Pressing up on her elbows, she sees the waves rolling in, same as before. Comforted, she shakes off the sand, stands and walks back up the hill.
Laura Hampton lives in Houston, Texas and writes nonfiction, fiction and poetry. By day she is a Master Pilates instructor.