This Erosion

5: Fiery Bluff

A coastal cliff afire. Heat waves curl up off the field. The earth is scorched. The seas boil below. The air is red and purple and smells of burning plastic and flesh. Steam rises off the beach and the tides recede, leaving pebbles and charred kelp for miles. We are catatonia. We are death. The buildings behind us are aflame and licks of fire catch the cars' anxious tails as they scramble to get away, squealing like pigs. They all careen off the road. Screams are everywhere.

The ocean evaporates. Layers of steam rise in dense dusky air to meet layers of dark ash overhead. We are caught in the middle between them. Who are we? I am no one. I am a skeleton. The burning pain has faded. One eye works and the other is melting. The road crumbles away and turns to dust. All trees droop over what is left of the coast, bowing in submission and terror. Our jagged coastal graveyard is a mouth agape, lower teeth like cliff edges, eyes like the homes that once gave us solace, now yawning in wonder and awe and terror.

A solitary shoot, stubborn, plunges from the earth. The cliff drops away. A faint sensation of the earth collapses beneath my body. In my final act, I grab the shoot and it rips away, dead in my hand. I tumble aghast and humbled into the maw.

4: Banker's Box

"This road is different now." I comment. She says nothing. Our car glides to a stop at the side of an unkempt and barren coastal road. We're flanked by a grey factory and a ghost town. My wife of thirty years is silent. Her lips are pursed. She hates me more than she's ever hated me, more than she has ever hated anyone.

We spent most of the drive here in silence. We were on our way to the divorce attorney and I decided it would be appropriate take a detour. I programmed the vehicle to take us to the coast in a last ditch effort to talk to her. I saw it as one last salvage mission. For the majority of the trip over the hill, I kept a large banker box in my lap - meant for the lawyer - and gripped it like a small child. That entire time, I could not bother to look out the window, or at her. I only saw the box in my lap.

She's been dead quiet the whole time, but she finally speaks up.

"Ok, so... can you tell me why the fuck you took me here instead of the attorney, or is that another guessing game I get to play with you?" she sneers. She doesn't even bother looking at me anymore. Her face, like mine, is worn with age and stress and fatigue.

I open the box in my lap and stare at its contents. Our divorce papers are on top, already signed. I can barely see out my glasses, and my weathered hands look like old roots.

"You going to submit those sometime before 2040?" she asks.

"I thought it might be nice... to go somewhere nice first." I suggest, meekly.

Her face darkens.

"You're an idiot."she spits.

"No, no!" I plead. "I want this day to be for us! Don't you remember? We came here all the time!"

"Yeah, whatever." she grumbles. She pauses, and looks up at me. "Twice. We came here twice." She pauses again. "You know what? Take me home."

I refuse. I slide the side door open, place the box at my feet, step out, and grab the box. I stand. She's already fiddling with the touchscreen, trying to program the route home. She depends on me for that stuff, and now that I'm not there to help her, she's lost. There are a small number of old, near-barren coastal cypress trees still standing here, but they have lost the fight with the elements. There is sand everywhere. I can smell the surf. All the air around us is grey and the overcast sky is parchment.

I wander down a small path, ignoring her curses from the car. She's screaming at me to come back and help her program the auto car. I still clutch the box. My arthritis is killing me. At one point, I enter tiny ravine and lose my footing. The box tumbles away from me and through a crevice. There is mist everywhere. It's nearer to twilight. I step through the crevice and see the beach. There is a swarm of white birds tumbling through the air. They make beauteous patterns.

They are not birds, though. They are papers, my papers, our papers. They are on the wind. Perhaps it's better this way. I walk through the beach. The mist is like steam rising up off the ocean. I see glimmers of red and purple in the air, but they fade. It's just a vision of something long off.

3: The Man At the Bar

The restaurant just opened for dinner. I jump out of my SUV and hold the door open for her. Golden light filters through a lush grouping of cypress trees across the road. The sound of the surf pounds somewhere beyond them. The air is faint with exhaust fumes but still fresher than the city.

We take a table in the corner of the restaurant. It's dark and romantic in here. Everything is sheathed in dark lacquered wood. Far down the road, I spy sand dune mounds dotted with ice plant clusters.

Deep down, I know I shouldn't be here, but I am extrapolating every ounce of confidence I can from this date. Were it not for this, I would be at the bar yet again, or at the office working late for the millionth time.

"There used to be totem poles here." I muse. They are long gone from this place.

I talk about myself too much, filling the silence with my musings, but I don't care. She doesn't have much to say to me anyway. She looks at me with lazy, half curious eyes. Her mouth curls up slightly when I make a joke, but it's all I can get out of her. I think she took a Valium in the car on the way over, and it's all over her face.

Once the food comes, everything's easier. I settle down. She even puts her hand on my arm and squeezes. By the time we get our drinks, I notice the man at the bar. He's old.. at least fifty. He is turned in his barstool, facing us. His left hand is on his knee and his right hand holds a drink. He puts the bourbon to his mouth and I see the wet spot on his slacks where the drink rested. He grins.

Keep looking, buddy, I think. We finish our drinks. The whole time, the man stares at us. By dessert, the golden light gives way to orange embers and she has bedroom eyes. Unfortunately, I'm not focused on her. I can't shake his stare. I am unnerved. I am terrified.

The light outside at last fades. The lines in her face deepen. She is on her third drink. She is only now beginning to speak to me, but her consonants are smeared. I feel a twinge of pity and regret.

The dusk weaves in through the cypress outside. Headlights swoosh by in either direction. A cluster of taillights go by and seem to spiral and twist like fiery red and purple embers in the air. The place has filled up. Every good feeling, every sense of anticipation I might otherwise feel is being siphoned off across the room by this dirty old man at the bar. Against my better judgement, I glance over at him again, my anger rising. He lifts his hand up slowly and curls and uncurls his fingers in a little mock wave. He looks familiar, damned familiar.

My dread uncurls and rolls down into my stomach.

"Do you see that guy?" I ask. "Who the fuck does he think he is?"

"I don't see no one over there!" she laughs. "You want to move over to the bar? There's no one sitting there, it could be just us, and a few more drinks..." I can't stay. I can't face this. I ask if I can take her back to my place, and she readily agrees.

I reach for the door to push it open for her, and through the glass, see my own reflection and the reflection of the bar behind me. I peer through the glass one last time before heading out into the night, and I finally see what she meant: nobody's there.

2: Sea Swallow Me

That first transcendent Moon and the Melodies song swims through our brains. We take turns trying to sing the indecipherable verses and break down laughing. After that, we try singing NIN, Depeche Mode, a few random post punk songs and even Cypress Hill.

We follow a small trail through a field of artichokes out to the edge of the cliff, thanking each other in turn for dinner. That restaurant was awesome, all dark wood and totem poles. It was so rustic, so isolated, and they had the most amazing hot chocolate.

I don't have another shift for two days! This is my weekend! I've forgotten what day it is. It feels like a Thursday or Friday. I've spent every day this week with her. She is my friend because it sounds safe, but we are more.

The sun hangs just above the horizon. Sundown spreads along the cliff's face and light pierces yellow and white like morning. The earth beneath our shoes is fresh. Fields of artichokes surround us on either side of the trail. Shoots poke out from the dirt, green and lush. A quick wind picks up her skirt and she scrambles to smooth it down.

She reaches back and pulls my arms around her to keep warm. We stare out over the sunset for many minutes. As it loses itself in the horizon, something raw hits me like an esoteric vision in the chill air.

There is a cabin in the woods there, hushed and dense, in still cold air, filled with antiques and old figurines. The sound of a fountain rises outside the window, the endless stream of water. A cold path over the hill, stone walls rising up on either side, people laying across the walls, arms dangling over the side. Laughter and the tinkling of a piano. The purple night out the windows of the car, strung up with telephone wire and stars.

There is a sea of floating candles before us, bobbing playfully over a starlit sky. There is a sign's reflection deep under the water. It begins faintly, like a neon light flickering to life. It brightens, piece by piece and becomes brighter than day, then recedes and blinks out. The process repeats. We watch it for hours until it builds on itself and the starlit sky becomes a city. My mind drifts across rooftops, where we are all somewhere there, all still young and fresh and alive.

My focus oscillates wildly. I struggle to hold on. I wait to see if she'll see life the way I do. The fixed shape of intransigence is upon us; it settles into our minds and devastates youth into something unrecognizable. Our fuller, more complete selves await. Before I toss off my aimless folly and idiocy, I do something totally out of character. I lean in and whisper something in her ear, and she melts.

1: Jump

"Get out of the way! I'm running!"

My legs pinwheel through the air and I land, face first, into a sand pile. My parents pretend not to notice, but I know they can see me. I run back up the small cliff and jump again. Each time I jump I try to land differently, and each time I land, nobody seems to notice.

A bunch of our relatives are here. We take up most of the beach. Some of them are real creepy but we put up with them. My parents often joke that they want a 'divorce' from them but I can't tell if they're joking.

Our family car is past the beach, on the roadside. The driver's side door is open and a couple of my uncles are ducked behind it, rolling bits of paper and patting each other on the back. John Fogerty is singing on the radio real loud about looking out his back door.

Now there's a ton of sand in my trunks from jumping off the cliff over and over again. I run to the water and trudge on in, twisting onto my back. If I kick my feet down hard enough, the splashes are more than ten feet high. I can still hear the music from the car. They must have turned it way up. Now it's Christopher Cross singing about sailing and how it takes him where he wants to be.

"Time for food!"

Everyone yells to me from the beach. My parents brought Tang, Wonder Bread with peanut butter, Oreos, and bags of carrots. My uncles brought hot dogs, so we're going to try to sneak over there later.

After we eat, my weird aunt with the camera is trying to get me to stand still for a picture, but I'm going to hide every time I see her. I don't care if she thinks I'm rude. She's old and creepy and I don't care if we're related; we're not the same person, and I would never make my relatives stand still if they didn't want to, period.

I grab a towel and climb up onto the little cliff where I jumped before. I lay flat on my back and stare up into the sky. There are no clouds. It's really hot. I see a flock of birds turning in big circles high above me. They make pretty shapes. They look like small pieces of paper in the wind, but I look closer, and see that they are seagulls.

I suddenly want to be home, in a cool place, all the sand, grit and sun washed off. I know that's not up to me, so I climb up off the towel and look around. My aunt sees me and cups her hand in a sickly wave. My uncles are blowing smoke out the sides of their mouths and laughing really hard. It's still so early in the day, before noon. There's still so much time left to fill, and suddenly I know exactly what has to be done.

"Everyone move out of the way!" I yell, backing up steadily from the cliff edge. "Here I come!"


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