I watched him stand on the beach against the rock named after the town or was it the town that was named after Morro Rock? I didn’t know but he was alone in the new light and receding dark as his arms ascended into the sky and his knees pressed into a bend to absorb early-morning earth. The boy was majestic and blond in the crisp dawn and strong easy body and the sunlight broadened his shoulders that passed gracefully and powerfully under soft gray fleece. I thought he might be doing martial arts but couldn’t be sure from the bench on the path that skirted the sand and undulating dunes and Pacific beyond. Samuel held his coffee close to his lips because he was cold on this new tingling morning. He had already told me he didn’t see why we had to get out of our comfortable beds at the Pleasant to come sit on an empty beach but changed his tune when the boy arrived. “Tai-chi” he said and I said that’s what I thought he was doing but wasn’t sure because didn’t tai-chi have to be done in groups and not individually? Samuel gave a long sigh before he sipped more coffee and told me he was going back to the room because he was still tired and getting colder in the growing breeze and a little bored because the boy was too far away. “But you stay” he said with a glimmer in his voice because he knew I would.
I slipped into reverie and forgot time until the seagulls called out and Morro Rock was covered in sunlight from the tip to its base. It seemed now early mid-morning and Samuel would be waiting to go to breakfast even though he’d just complained about being tired and would no doubt remind me throughout the day that he just didn’t feel like he got enough sleep. It was who he was. I could hear him without listening. Sitting still on the concrete bench I resolved to toast the glory of sunrise with my paper cup of coffee and thank whatever god brought me to the unfolding morning when I realized the boy was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he had shifted position or maybe I had shifted mine but the reality was that I couldn’t have shifted because I was sitting on a concrete bench overlooking the beach and the Rock and had been staring straight ahead for quite some time. How could I have missed him walking off the beach? I stood and scanned the sweep of sand but he was nowhere and I was about to write it off as a frustrating loss when I saw him come around a small dune forty or fifty feet from where he’d beguiled the quickening air. He stared at me standing far in the distance in front of the concrete bench and waved. I raised my trembling hand before he fell to the ground and didn’t get up.
He was dead by the time I got to him. I had stumbled through the sand trying to unlock my cell-phone as I lurched toward him but my hands were cold and shaking because in my whole life I’d only seen one dead body and that was forty years ago in the gutter of a street and it looked like it had been decapitated so the entire effect of death was off. I was panting and out of breath when I finally reached him and knelt down and brought out my phone again. Up close he was nothing special. He wore a gray flannel shirt that seemed too large for him and sweatpants that blanketed his legs into no definition at all. His brown uneven eyes stared into the piercing sky as flecks of sand stuck to his eyelids and also the corner of his open mouth that didn’t seem to be surprised. Youthful strength and sure-footed possibility fled and left in their absence underdeveloped cheekbones and a too-thin neck, hands that could not grip sand, a nice best-friend who was no doubt trusted by many because he inspired no lust and threatened none of the discomfort and danger of bodily desire. He was weak in the cold reality of nature without much to recommend further exploration. His death would inspire the drama of heroic loss but the sorry pangs of pity that often accompany those who are burdened with less on their predictably meddlesome journeys. He would not be mourned as much as recommended to a better place where his giftlessness could be appreciated by a loving deity more satisfied with intention than execution. There is a place for everyone.
I dialed 911. I waited for the arrival of the handsome and confident paramedics and police and bided my time engaged in a comparison of each. The body was loaded into the paramedic wagon as I answered all the questions I could from two policemen who were open and sure and stood affectionately close to me as they asked the essentials. I was disappointed when the men thanked me and asked if I needed a trauma referral. I said no and that I just needed a good hearty breakfast. After wishing the Rock good day, I left.
Samuel was blow-drying his hair when I walked into the room. He asked over the machine’s miserable whine where I had been and why we had to stay in a motel where not even the appliances worked well. I reminded him that he’d said numerous times that the beds at the Pleasant were second only to the builds of German tourists who tended to stay there. Samuel nodded and went back to blowing out his freshly-colored reddish hair while I contented myself with recording the morning’s thoughts in my commonplace book. Soon I was staring out the window and distracted by a well-formed David strutting towards the ocean with a surfboard under his arm. Samuel’s voice against my hearing-aid startled me so that I jumped and was immediately irritated by how close he was standing to me. I asked “What?” and was annoyed and he repeated “No wet-suit for that bit of heaven.” I thought he looked hot-blooded enough not to need one. “Oh to be a wet-suit today” Samuel said and I told him I really hated it when he talked like that but he could hear the sardonic tone in my voice and moved back to the mirror with a wan smile. I searched the window again for the young surfer as Samuel divided his attention between me and his reflection and asked “What are you doing?” I said what does it look like to the window that now held no view and glanced over at him as he made a writing motion in the air that reminded me of the beach. I said “Nothing, really” but then thought I should probably tell him about the occurrence on the beach that morning and note it in my commonplace book. Samuel nodded like he expected me to go on so I said “He died on the beach this morning. The one exercising.” Samuel said that was terrible and brushed his hair and I said I guessed it was but that I really didn’t have any details. Samuel began practicing expressions in the mirror and I decided I didn’t need to record the details in my commonplace book and instead remembered fondly the strutting boy with the surfboard walking to the beach.