Sep 2, 2008

The boys on the beach and the coming of the girl king

The boy on the beach dropped his pants, turned slightly inland, and pissed into the stringy sea reeds.

He did it quickly, ignoring the over-outfitted naturalists and hyper-conscious, extra-careful planet-savers in their windbreakers and hiking sandals. He abandoned his pants to the sand, bared his butt to the ocean, and relieved himself into the nature preserve.

Another boy, a short boy in big board shorts, dragged driftwood squiggling down the sand. The log left a track down the tide line, an animal scrawl between the dead sea weeds, ripped up, dry and dying, and the sand soaking in the incoming splashes of salt and sea.

He shouted they're coming, calling, hurry. Calling, they're coming. The first boy pulled his pants up around his middle, squeezing the snap until it snapped, and took off running for the driftwood pile.

Someone said Did you see that? That boy just peed, but there was no one to do anything, nothing to do, and no one did anything. The boys -- there were 10 of them. 15. 25. A swirling, swarming mob that should be called an anarchy of boys. Like birds come in flocks, flights and braces, butterflies come in rabbles, bison in herds, the boys on the beach came in anarchies.

They came with abandon, shirtless and shoeless, screaming and preparing for war.

They dragged driftwood into piles, arranging the sand-smoothed, sea-sloshed pieces into forts. Long sticks were stuck into the ground, erected to extend as a wall. Smaller pieces were criss-crossed, stacked and staged around an unmovable log. They seemed, at the start, to know the plan for the defenses, moving like mad ants to follow the plan and put the wood where it was supposed to go, but then the shouting gyred into ordinary chaos and the boys, each dressed in half-naked election, swarmed in shouts.

They're coming.

Come on. Hurry. We got to be ready.

We got to wait for the leader.

The waves didn't seem to crash on the boys on the beach, but seemed to swell from somewhere below the water, rising up into themselves and spilling over into a roar, into a spray, into salt-silt spitting. The spray lifted up into the air, curling there around the stink of rotten weeds and stranded fish bones, bird shit and seagull regurgitation. The spray misted down in drifts.

In the raised grain of sand-worn wood, gouged deep down, it said IN MEMORY BILL B 72-97. The memorial, marked by midnight vandalism in remembrace of a recreated past, was half hidden by the newer deposits of driftwood, gnarled and snarled wood, battered and blasted and abandoned wood, left there bleaching like bones in the stark space on the edge.

Seashells were broken and scattered, over the beach. The shells are smashed and shattered. Gnats swirled through the broken remains. The gnats swarmed in frenzied chaos, in naked panic worry flight.

The tide turns at 4 the ranger said, and all the duty-driven hikers and salt-air sniffers turned back at 3:30, tracking trails of sand, leaving divots like ellipses-spaced words. But the boys on the beach didn't look at the sinking sun, the surging sea or the shrinking shore. They battered each other with sticks, stacked stones in meaningless stacks, and slung seaweed in sling-shot circles. They screeched like barbaric birds.

Down the edge of the water, where the wet sand was divided from the dry, the girl came walking. She walked like she owned the beach -- bold, with a bug-off stare and a stick she'd found, a smooth staff for the girl king. Her hair was wound up with a red rag crown, her gown a garish blanket, a rough-edged, red-and-yellow dog-patterened quilt. It came up around her shoulders and fluttered frayed behind her as she walked.

She came with confidence, watching and not watching while the bedraggled boys of the beach stopped and stood up, waiting for her word.