I told myself that simply being at the beach counted, even if it was cloudy. I picked it up from my mother who told me It’s the thought that counts when my father sent me mindless belated birthday gifts. I was walking like a bird with one foot exactly in front of the other, right on the line where the wet sand met the dry.
The lady on the beach was on vacation. It’s sweet that she approached me. I am six-foot and seldom clean-shaven. My clothes are clean but unassuming, which, I think, gives the impression either that I am upstanding, or that I want to look like I am.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, the way the waitress had the night when I was twelve and my mother told me my father was moving away and we stayed past closing. She pulled the hair out of her mouth that the wind had put there.
“It’s fine,” I said just like I told my mother.
“Could you take a picture for me?”
The lady on vacation was holding a camera. She had hair like a medieval helmet and she wore a pink tank top that showed the cold dimpled flesh of her upper arms.
“Of course,” I said, the same way I said it to my girlfriend when I was sixteen and she asked if I was okay. I took the camera. Politely, I asked her where she was from. She said she was from Kansas. Or Arkansas. One of those big states that are flat and full of corn.
I asked her if she liked the East Coast and she said she loved it, and rubbed the sand out of her eyes, just like my mother when she said she loved my father. Rubbing her eyes.
“I’m glad to hear it,” I said, the same way my girlfriend said it when we were eighteen and I told her I’d found a job out East.
Through the lens, the sky and the ocean were just a slab of concrete and its reflection in a puddle, and the woman was just a tin can.
“You look great,” I said, the last thing I ever told my mother. I was seventeen then.
The lens clicked
“Thank you,” the woman crooned, stretching out her hand. She said it must just be the camera—it was a nice camera. I looked at the camera and looked at her. She was looking at the camera and looking at me.
“I know,” I said, when, at my mother’s funeral, my father told me he loved me. It was heavy and the lens was long and it was covered in little red numbers that looked like missile coordinates. It did seem nice. “I know.”
And then I ran.
It’s sweet, really, how hard people try to trust people. And sad.