Law Street Beach: A Portrait

If it’s late June and the sun has already made its way through the marine layer and onto your skin by the 11 o’clock hour, it’s the right day to be by the water because the sun will be hot enough to bronze your skin and dry it after swimming, even if the Pacific Ocean is still a bit too cold for long dives. At least those were our criteria this morning, a tacit checklist quickly completed within a warm cozy built from fuzzy bed sheets.

On the beach, after we had already dove under a few waves and were back on our towels, a young couple spread their plot at the foot of ours and got lost in each others’ presence. Lovers, I supposed. They applied sunscreen on each other in that way that intimate friends do, without inhibitions and without affront to the people around. When they finished and returned the lotion to their tote and lied down, it was quiet for a while.

My pearl slept as she sunned and I read a book of Hemingway’s published posthumously with the help of his widow, Mary. Bimini was the setting for part one, which was as far as I had made it. I was constantly distracted by the sights on the beach. Children with rash guards and boogie boards under arm were running by in endless supply, left and right, with the frequency of the salt water crashing not twenty yards away. Parents looked out to the surf from under the brims of floppy hats, or from behind sunglasses, making sure the kids were safe and still afloat. Their offspring, splashing there in the water under a cloudless sky, paid no mind to the concerns awaiting them ashore.

As if tethered together by some invisible strand of impulse, the two lovers stood up and jogged off toward the water. He led the way into the tide, was the first to dive, and soon coaxed her to follow. In a moment they had dove under a second wave and moved out past the small break to deeper waters. I watched until I couldn’t make them out any longer, then marked my page and lied back to rest.

I must have drifted a while, as the scene around our towels was strange to me when I sat up again in the early afternoon sun. The two lovers were still away and my pearl had turned over to lie on her front side. My skin was hot. The people around were calm. Things were still.

A man and woman ran up from the sea and, to my surprise, took to the lovers’ towels, panting, then collapsed onto them, their chests still heaving from the chill of the water and the rigor of their swim. I didn’t recognize these people.

In a moment they caught their wind and were up toweling off, packing the tote that the young lovers had left behind, ready to depart the beach. Thieves! I immediately thought. Con artists! I had always wondered how it came about when friends of mine told tales of returning from swims to missing bags and sinking disappointment. My pulse rose. I looked around, looked down at my pearl. Was it on me now? Was I to intervene?

“Excuse me,” I said with reticence. The imposter looked up but was just then distracted by another couple that had run up next to him and his female accomplice. It was the lovers. I exhaled.

“Still cold!” exclaimed she.

“Evidently,” said he, looking at her breasts with a smile. I was looking there too.

“Yes?” said the imposter with an ahem. I turned my gaze back to him.

“What? Oh . . .” The lovers heard the tone of the man’s voice and stopped toweling off to hear my response. “It’s nothing,” I finally said. “I thought you were someone else.”

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