The potholed gravel driveway snaked through the trees and overgrown blackberry vines, hiding several cutaway camping sites - we passed a hastily built cabin with a purple door and diamond-shaped window, a silver Airstream camper, a communal sauna and shower setup heated by a pockmarked wood stove left to rust in the salt air and rainy winters of the Oregon coast - until we finally arrived at our destination: a charcoaled circle set round with driftwood benches and flimsy deck chairs, and nearby, a more modern trailer/RV camper tucked into the last ridge of trees before the six foot dune that opened onto the sandy beach beyond. This was where Jamie and Susan were staying after being evicted from their last apartment because the landlord wanted to update and renovate the ancient beach cabin so he could charge higher rent. It was happening all along the coast, improvements to the landscape, ridding towns of so-called eyesores, which meant fewer habitats for humanity - meaning cheap rent for the poorer working class. This mishmash of campsites was the odd project of the landowner, someone Jamie had done some carpentry for, who was community-minded enough to want someplace for his friends to party and the down-and-out to stay.
We had been told not to bother the woman staying in the makeshift cabin, because she had taken a vow of silence and was neither seeing nor speaking to visitors. She had originally booked the cabin for one week, but had enjoyed her solitude so much that she had extended her stay for another three. She had made this known to the world at large by tacking a note to the purple front door, asking that this information be passed on to her husband and ten-year old daughter at home. As we passed the site of her hermitage we neither saw sign of nor heard anyone.
Jamie and Susan had a two year old boy named Free James Moon Vanderhorn (the James and Vanderhorn from Jamie, the Free and Moon, of course, from Susan). Free wasn't the only child of our friends saddled with a name leftover from the hippie era. Even dressed in polo shirt and khakis, my uniform for work, people often whispered "hippie" disparagingly as we passed, because of Sky’s long hair. I didn't care; I still consider it a waste of good head space to spend time and effort on prejudice.
Besides Jamie and Susan and Free, who ran back and forth in just a diaper and t-shirt in the warm August breeze, were Lissa and B.D., perched uncomfortably on the makeshift furniture. Jamie and B.D. passed a joint between them. Sky joined them as soon as we unfolded ourselves from the car, an old white Honda more and more taped together as the years rolled on. How can you beat a car that cost you $500 bucks to begin with, now has over 200,000 miles on it, and just keeps going? I slid into a sagging frayed deck chair close to Lissa and Susan and we said our hellos.
I often baby-sat for Free, so when he ran by I scooped him up and gave him a playful tousle, messing further his uncombed blond curls. He kicked out indignantly and said, "Hey!" I let him down and off he ran. He picked up an unwieldy stick and tossed it in front of him for B.D.'s dog, a beagle mix named Kali, to chase. She looked at him at first with despair, then lunged forward and grabbed the stick from where it had landed at Free's feet. She leapt up and completed a neat circle in the air before landing on the ground again and running off with the stick. Free shrieked his laughter and shouted at Kali, "Again, again". A little later, he wandered over to see what the adults were up to and, recognizing me, climbed up to sit in my lap. His over warm head lay heavily against my chest and I stroked a finger against the skin of a soft plump thigh. Children were something I dreamed of quietly for the time being. Before long, Kali caught his attention again and he scrambled down and ran away to play.
Sky had gotten a kite in exchange for some yard work he'd done, so we all trooped down to the beach to try it out. When you say "kite" you think of a little kid's kite, a flimsy paper diamond on the end of string. But this was a Japanese fighter kite, made from sturdy new materials, intricate in design and workmanship. Two strings were attached to the sides of the kite and trailed down to wind round two colorfully painted handles, one for each hand. B.D. held the kite down against the sand as Sky walked backwards and carefully let out the line from each spindle. Finally at a good distance, he planted his feet, tightened his grip on the lines and nodded his head vigorously at B.D. B.D. raised the kite up above his head and waved it in the air a bit. In an instant the wind caught the material and the kite was sucked out of his hands. It shot like a bullet into the sky above. We all watched as the kite spun and dived, once very close to the sand next to some of us, causing Susan to sweep Free into her arms and jog away to watch from a safer distance. It could definitely knock someone over if it hit them. You could see the power of the thing in the way Sky's feet skidded forward in the sand mimicking the forward motion of the kite. B.D. ran up to Sky like a little kid calling, "Let me try it".
Sky tried to bring the kite down slowly, but it tipped crazily and crashed near the surf. Jamie jogged out to retrieve it and set it up for B.D. to fly. B.D. is good at most things, if a bit manic about them, but he was surprisingly good at flying the kite. He made it dip and dive with control and flare, and we all clapped and shouted our encouragement. Even Free was kept interested in the kite's acrobatic movements and Kali the dog ran circles beneath it as if she was chasing a teasing seagull, yipping with delight.
After B.D. we all got a turn, though Lissa crashed it right away and then, abashed, handed it off to Susan. She wouldn't try again. Rather, she took Free by the hand and played with him in the tiny summer surf as the tide rolled in. When I got the chance to fly it, I was surprised by the force of the pull, and though I had watched others do it, I was amazed at the strength it took just to hold on to it and to keep from being dragged along the sand. Sky laughed when he saw the strain in my face, and came up behind me and helped me hold on. He showed me how to tug one of the strings downward and make the kite dip downward up above, then how to right it by making my hands and the strings even again. It was fun, if exhausting, and my neck was cricked from looking up into the sky for so long, and besides it was growing dark, so we brought it down, folded it neatly and put it away inside its matching case. Sky stashed it beside a driftwood pile and we walked out to join the others at the edge of the water.
The pulsing tide of incoming and receding water makes a line on the sand that stays for a while and shows the overlapping nature of the tidal cycle. Foam bubbles are left in a zigzag trail that is eventually covered over by an
increasingly higher pulse of wave. The ocean is like a constant heartbeat, pumping the blood over and over throughout a person's life, keeping them alive and healthy. So the salty water is the lifeblood of all the many sea creatures that live in its tide pools and depths, and the motion of the water is the constant surging and cleansing of the heart. This constancy has been my inspiration for the past ten years that we have lived here. It gives me hope that things can turn out right in the long run, in the natural course of things.
The sky had turned dark, but there was a lovely bright full moon rising behind us. It sparkled in a long stream along the water. The water was unusually warm, warm enough for wading, and we were all out along the edge of it kicking up sprays and watching it land in little droplets against the surface again. I don't know who noticed it first, but suddenly we saw that the droplets were a shining red, the deep glossy color of beets or lobsters. As we kicked and splashed, the droplets fell in a shower of sparkling rubies that were then absorbed greedily into the dark water below.
"Is it the moon?" Susan asked.
"The moon shining on the water?" Jamie said to clarify.
"No, no," B.D. said, "It can't be, the drops are red, but not the water itself."
"Maybe it's the mixture of the warmth and the moonlight," Sky suggested.
Something at the edge of my mind remembered I had heard about this before. "It's a scientific phenomenon," I told them.
"It happens in August," Lissa prompted.
"That's it." It clicked inside my head. "It's the Red Tide."
Everyone gave a collective "Oh".
"But isn't the Red Tide poisonous?" Susan asked, picking up Free and carrying him out of the water. He protested fiercely; the water was too much fun.
"Only if you eat the shellfish," Jamie assured her. She still wouldn't release Free, so she and Jamie started the walk back to the campsite.
"We brought marshmallows," B.D. teased, "and a surprise."
"Do we need some driftwood for the fire?" Sky asked, and he and B.D. went to collect some.
Lissa had drifted a ways off, but we both faced each other still at the water's edge. We started to walk toward each other, but kept our feet in the surf so we could continue to watch the sparkling red phenomenon as it cascaded against the black glassy background of water and sky and sprinkled down in a shimmer of sparks, like a fire that spits out a pocket of water from green wood or a candle that flares up from an air pocket in the wax. Of all of the group gathered here tonight, Lissa and I were the most alike. I was married, though she and B.D. were not, but both of us had a tentative hold, at best, on our relationships. B.D. was too wild - fun to be around in social situations, but teetering too close to addiction and all the burdens that entails when they were closed away in their private lives. Sky was a drifter - he drifted from one career to another, from one cause to the next, and drifted in his affection too. Not that he was unfaithful, or that I had ever caught him being so. I think he was just restless, and what I wanted - stability, a family, something to look forward to - did not register in his mind at all. As we reached the center point of our short journeys, Lissa and I both kicked up a splatter of droplets at the same time and they crisscrossed and meshed and plummeted back toward the water together. We watched the last of the rubies disappear, knowing it would be a long time, if ever, that we were lucky enough to witness such a thing again. Lissa smiled and I laughed. We turned together to make the trek across the damp sand, the rising moon lighting our pathway.
By the time we joined the others, there was a driftwood fire snapping to attention in the rock-lined circle and Jamie and Sky were whittling the ends of long sapling sticks into points for skewering marshmallows to roast. Susan had taken Free into the RV to put to bed, and I was sorry that I had missed being able to wish him goodnight. Lissa disappeared briefly into the RV, and I overheard soft murmuring voices, the meaning jumbled through the distance and the screen door, but soon emerged holding a pint of Cherry Garcia ice cream and two spoons.
"Happy anniversary," she said, smiling conspiratorially at B.D. and handing the carton to me. "I thought we should have a little something to celebrate."
"Thank you," I said. It was our tenth anniversary, Sky's and mine. A milestone of sorts.
Sky came over and took a couple of spoonfuls, but ice cream is not his thing. Lissa and I finished off as much as we could, before our teeth started chattering with the cold of the ice cream inside and the cooling night breeze outside. Finally she passed the near empty pint over to B.D. who finished it off. We roasted several marshmallows and had a contest to see who could roast theirs the most golden brown. Susan must have fallen asleep alongside Free, because she never returned. Sky did a thoughtful thing and brought my long-sleeved denim shirt from the car and wrapped it over my shoulders. Then he and the boys started drinking some beers and Lissa and I huddled companionably on the opposite side of the fire watching the yellow and orange sparks. Within six months Lissa and B.D. would have split up and she would be pregnant with another man's baby, and I would start taking classes at the community college to prepare my mind for better things in the future, but that night we sat mostly in silence, looking at each other now and then and smiling at the comforting events, or blessed nonevents, of the night.
It was several days later when we noticed that we had accidentally left the kite on the beach. Jamie and Susan had found better quarters in town and left the eclectic campsite within that time. We heard that other people were staying in the RV now and that they had found the kite and were keeping it for us. But by the time we returned to claim it, they and the kite were gone.
Kimberly Kublank © 2005 Ironworks Publishing/Focus Fine Arts