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            In front of the Beachside Hotel a skirt of Bermuda grass flows gracefully toward the Pacific ocean before hemming the edge of a sheer cliff. The plunge to sea is covered in the yellow grass children nibble for the sour insides. Tight against the talus, a railroad moves up and down the coast, embracing the shore in places, traveling inland to city centers in others. The track here is as close to the ocean as the train ever comes. A chain link fence guards the thruway from sunbathers chasing errant beach balls, while a foot path--hard-packed--enables visitors to stroll, run, or skip along the way. Some chat while holding dogs in check; a few move alone, elbows working as hard as feet. Palm trees planted decades before give the tableau an exotic air, whispering "leave your troubles behind, behind, behind."

 

            Close to the water families spread their blankets, tacking the corners with flip-flops and plastic coolers. As mothers unwrap jelly sandwiches brought from home, seagulls sneak forward in a child’s game of red light/green light, hoping to snatch a stray crumb, while children run to play in the shore break, greeting each wave with a quick turn away and arch of the back until the water feels warm as a hug.

 

            Older hotel visitors enjoy the scene from Adirondack chairs placed at the edge of the lawn. To their right a wood pier tiptoes into deep water, its long gray legs looking too fragile to handle the constant pounding of the ocean. The jetty stands sturdy enough, however, inviting fishermen to the rails. Along its length adults and children drop their lines. Some fish for dinner, some for fun, some for the wanton pleasure of sun on bare shoulders.

 

            The vast ocean is the drawing card here, producing air as tangy as the lime margaritas served on the guest patio. From its lace edge and white petticoat surf to deep water blues the immortal sea dominates the senses. Wave upon wave speak the language of birth, life, death, the drum beat to shore drowning out everything but its own magnificence. Even the click-clack of passing trains is muted by the force of nature.

 

            At the foot of the wharf the lone fence opening for miles allows walkers to cross the tracks. There is no train station at this quiet spot. Engineers aware of the foot trail sound a whistle seconds before rushing by. It’s no surprise that one time out of thousands where excited children are allowed to run ahead to the beach or sent back to the hotel by harried mothers and fathers a whistle should be missed or heard late. It’s no surprise that the timing would be so imperfect as to have child and train meet at the same spot at the same moment, sending a small unblemished body into open air as it would a discarded trash bag or desiccated palm frond. It’s no surprise.      



Darcy Alvey reads with gusto and writes short stories and essays with equal relish from San Diego, Cal. She has been published most recently in "Wilderness House Literary Review" and "Write This."




The inspiration for this piece is a lovely Spanish-style hotel on a bluff over the Southern California ocean. The setting is serene, idyllic, transformative, little altered as decades of visitors have come and gone. Juxtaposed to this is my certain knowledge that life can change forever in an instant by act of nature or act of man. I like the image of the hotel sitting unmoving decade after decade, watching people come and go, absorbing their pain and joy into its very brick and mortar.





 





  


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