Pillar of Salt
A story about the last day of the vacation.
It was the last day of the vacation, the last full day, so I decided to take a walk along the beach by myself. I had to get away from the others for a while. Tomorrow I would be spending sixteen hours on a plane with them, and I had come to realize I didn’t know them much at all. Their faces had become strange to me, smeared with milky creams and lotions, cheeks rouged with accreted salt and sun, eyes hidden behind designer shades, worn with great indifference. When they talked, I didn’t recognize their voices. I couldn’t grasp the meaning of their words. It was like they were very far away. Or I was. In either case, they were strangers to me. I recognized that now. They always had been, I just hadn’t been able to see it before. Or perhaps I just hadn’t wanted to. The flight home was going to be difficult, now, and afterwards it would only get worse. There would be no returning to normalcy. Not really. What’s seen can’t be unseen. But there was nothing else for it, unless I wanted to stay here, on this little smudge of rock and grass and platinum sand, surrounded by azure lagoons and sunken islets and beyond, nothing, nothing at all but yawning blue and container ships and summer storms wandering across the horizon for a thousand miles in any direction, stay here with the locals hawking snacks, keychains, “authentic handcrafted” junk at ridiculous markups, darker pleasures, too, more serious things, eyes flickering mock-conspiratorially, sunken chests and distended bellies, wide, iridescent grins, beckoning you with whispered promises down some sidestreet alley to a dismal room, where you’ll pull aside the filthy, tattered curtain and maybe find what you were looking for, the substance or the service you’ll pretend tomorrow you never really asked for, never really wanted, or maybe you’ll find another man, quite like the first, with a knife there in his hand, or a baseball bat, or a length of rebar, looking at you like a fish caught in his net, grinning in a way that reveals there is no warmth behind his eyes, not for you, anyway, or anything you represent – I could stay here, with all of this, and wait for the water to rise, and wipe us all away. A tempting thought. But it would never work. I have a place already. I have a roll to play. Its boundaries still define me. Without them, I’m not sure I would still exist at all. So I decided to just take a walk, instead.