When I went back there, I found our local beach was worse than I remembered. It had become a dumping ground for people’s old junked appliances. Industrial washing machines and dryers and electric stoves lay cock-eyed in the sand, littering the landscape, and there was always a chance of stepping on some broken piece of glass or rusted metal if you were unwise enough to venture out in bare feet. The water had a thick red hue to it and the sky above was always dark, full of churning, turbulent clouds. Determining day and night had become impossible, as even the sand itself was lighter than the sky, lit terrestrially as it was by a row of streetlamps planted along the edge of where the beach and the parking-lot met. The sky’s only illumination was the occasional flash of lighting rumbling in the cracks between the clouds.
No one ever swam out into the water, for fear of what it was, and whatever had given it its color, and whatever might have been lurking out there. Instead, a large inflatable pool had been set up on the beach for whoever wanted to swim. But the standing water in this pool was murky and foul, and it gave off a rank odor. Swimming in this pool was almost certain to leave you bedridden with fever and chills the next day. An air of sickness lingered about it. It was rumored that there were drowned bodies that lay unretrieved at the bottom of this pool, and some claimed that you could feel the rotting flesh against the tips of your toes, while others insisted that these were merely spots where the pool’s canvas liner bulged against the sand. The water in the pool was so clouded that these debates remained unsettled.
And yet, despite all this, as I stood there, people still poured onto the beach as gamely as ever, with all the cheerfulness of the damned, carrying towels and coolers, all ready for a fun day at the shore, their smiles and laughter only occasionally punctuated by someone cursing as they stepped on a used syringe or a broken bottle. They wandered right down to the water’s edge and dumped their stuff and took their place, as though tempting fate itself to reach its great red hand from the waves and drag them out to oblivion. They lay out, as if basking in a sun that wasn’t there. They set up chairs under umbrellas, as if enjoying the infernal view. They left their children to make castles that would rot and stink and decompose rather than simply wash away. And all the while I just stood there and shook my head.