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Afterchild
Sunday, 8/1/21, a Writing Exercise
Shooed and booted for life on the pavement of the world that ate him, his progress up the asphalt street in bare feet feels strange and wan.
At the grassy dunes, behind the slat fence of the sandy walk, a sign proclaimed in solemn holiness:
“Maintain Physical Distancing”
So spake the yawning god.
Having mastered physical distancing as a hunted beast of prey for 38 years, he snorted and grinned thinly.
Behind him walked and whispered two healthy young fawns: a buck and a hind, afraid to pass him for fear of breathing his deadly air.
The low distant roar of the waves, the faint reek of the salty death-pooled deep, and the soft sand at his feet returned him to solitude.
The sky above was light blue and shot with clouds of white and grey, streaked with the yellow rays of the falling sun.
He walked north.
God's work to the right swelled mighty and deep.
Man's work to the left wallowed grimy and weak.
To the right families sat in circles on the moist sand crest thirty paces above the surf-saturated slope.
To the left the sand was soft and deep, rolling up to the rising dunes crested with grass.
Further back the mean towers of man, looked like a calypso singer had been drafted as a housing architect in the 1950s Soviet Union and the product of a rum sodden night at a drafting table in Minsk had been raised here instead of there.
Nearer, games of volleyball, corn hole and wiffle ball were played by families and friends.
It occurred then, how odd and out-of-place he seemed, as not a soul but him was alone. This was where families and friends came together. It was where he grew further apart.
He did not really know why he had always disliked Ocean City so. In this, his fourth visit as a man, still unable to articulate his loathing for the place, he decided that he would not answer the family summons again to gather here. He was too weary to continue coming to this gutter on the map—this walrus colony of sloth.
As much as he hated this sandy sink of consumption for his entire life, it seemed a fitting place to make his departure west. In exactly two weeks, if Wicked Fate agreed, he would look upon this continent's opposite ocean...alone.
So he muses as he watches through his one uncovered eye—the weak one, the good one being afraid of the sun.
He tries to just watch his feet. This is therapy afterall, for his long ago torn ankles. A life in a more savage feed stall has him looking constantly for a syringe to pierce his foot with woe.
This is not a crime zone. He can cast down vigilance from its tyrannous throne and concentrate on killing what is left of the American within.
But he does notice, that some of the colored folks gathered in their families, regard him with fear and pull their children near.
He is alone, he reminds himself, that-in-and-of-itself being alone, makes him suspect in the post-lockdown construct.
A boy is excited to see him, and noticing his eye patch runs across his path and declares boldly, like a leaping sprite with plastic shovel re-imagined as a cutlass in hand, “I'm a pirate too!”
An Asian couple playing badmitten with no net, hurried aside from his path—the loneliest path he can chart on a mostly empty midway in this trash-strewn carnival of a strand—the ancients having named it aptly, so he decides.
A clutch of Latina dolls, between 18 and 24, prance and shake off the salt sea in their bikinis at the sand crest. The tallest, a good 250 pounds and finely made, looking like a mesolithic queen in her net bikini, draws his eye. She stops and smiles, looking longingly over her shoulder, wishing he would continue with his approval, showing a well-posed expanse of brown thigh.
He toddles on, the buried part of him wanting to explore her lack of shame, his undead portion focused only on a remaining ankle pain.
Two teams of boys are coached by two men. It seems forced and untrue—but somehow earnest too.
A Latin man with his woman and child advances in wet suit, surf board under arm. Mother and child stop at the crest of moist sand and the boy cries for his poppa as he walks into the ocean.
A group of Latin boys, youth and men play volley ball. One young man nods to him, “Poppy.” He nods and waves and totters along.
A trio of men with their ghostly darlings, trailing their little dog-children on leashes, wonder at the dolphin frolicking beyond the breakers.
A Middle Eastern man walks buy with his wife and signs a good day with his open hand and the old runt returns it.
A black woman leads her five children, her teen sister and her man slave towards a drear hotel. He swerves to avoid breaking their gaggling line.
Three young white bulls prowl by, with the flexing attitude of youths looking for girls or challenges, eyeing him harshly and then—as the big bearded one grins—dismissing him as unqualified for their spry attention.
A thin, lone youth, a tall boy of perhaps 14, makes an intricate sand structure at the foot of an empty life guard chair. It seems to be a futuristic apartment complex with individual parking garages. He tosses a clam shell onto its ramparts as if testing for an observation of effect.
A couple in their thirties lounge on a towel with their little brown hotdog on a leash between them. The dog eyes the walker with suspicious attention.
A large family sits in a semi-circle, the people of old and in middle years watching the boys, youth and young men in a 20-man volleyball game.
He glances up just enough to make sure he stays outside of their field of play, still stepping gingerly around plastic bottles, lids and caps.
One of the young men says, “Look at this?”
Another mocks, “Arghhh Matey!”
The first one rejoins, “Afraid?”
The mock-man, with a drunk tone, declares, “Bitch.”
He keeps his eyes on the sand, toddling along, glad to remain alone.
Another ten blocks he walks until the ankle pleas for a return.
The sun was streaking its last between the drear hotels as he followed the trash truck back, using the tire tracks as a tiny sand road.
The beach was emptying.
The volley ball punks ignored him this go by.
He walked closer to where the now absent smart boy had been building his garage at the base of the life guard chair. There a matronly woman and a muscular man in middle years took photos of their two children, a boy and a girl about ten, who posed on the ten foot high chair. They seemed like a perfect little family.
He missed his since being fired from his husband post two decades ago.
As he veered around, deciding not to inspect the sand structure, and give the family their space, he heard a deep voice that he recalled, “Look who it is!”
He heard a child peep and the deep voice said, “It's Grandpa.”
He looked up and saw his oldest son grinning at him. The skinny fellow with the white-blonde hair who could never gain weight had a close beard and some 15 pounds of muscle on his frame from a year ago.
They stepped together and shook hands, “How you doing?”
“Okay. How about you.”
“Okay. Hey, say hi to Grandpa.”
His grandson turned away and mumbled something.
His granddaughter hid her face ducked behind her mother, who shrugged toward him an apology of sorts, a softness in her eyes.
The kids are shy and he has grown a stranger—a wanderer. It is not they're fault.
His son asked, “So what are you doing?”
He appreciated the overture of inclusion and decided not to afflict the children with the duty to address him directly, “Headed down the way before I can't see the street sign and get lost.”
“Well, its good to see you. See you for pictures tomorrow.”
He walked away both said and proud, knowing that he might never have a word with the little ones who carried his name; smiling inside, proud that the smart little boy he had adopted when they were both so young, who he had savagely protected from a pack of the negro foe, who he had rescued near death from the clutches of a negro drug-dealer, had succeeded in all the ways he had failed.
He could sense a hidden appreciation, that not all of his before-life had been undone, that he had raised a fatherless man who was now among the last of this demon-haunted world to shake hands. He toddled on like a rusty afterchild, content that he had a strong son.
Too empty to feel properly sad, he decided then, that he would never come to this place again.
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