The pavement was hot, and he hurriedly put on his sandals. The air had to be ninety, he thought. At least ninety. Back when he had lived here--how many decades ago now?--it had never felt this hot. But surely it had been, he told himself. He was just more sensitive now.
"Thirty years," he whispered, and he was not lying to himself, give or take a few years. "Too damn long," he said, again to himself, because he had no one left to talk to.
He made labored steps across the parking lot. Having rented a car, he did not have his handicap parking pass, and by God he was not going to risk a ticket. He was stiff, especially stiff, from the plane ride from Minneapolis and the drive up from Los Angeles. And the cheap rubber flip-flops did not fit his feet right. And the sun was round and hot in the middle of the pale blue sky. But he was happy, despite it all.
The ocean was right there--he could hear it--and the sand was dark like he remembered, and the cliffs too were the same, and it was not like he had felt perfect and the world had been perfect three decades ago when he had gone for a run in the morning along this stretch of shoreline after that long night of Bombay Sapphire and vomiting and getting carried to the mattress on the floor in the room he shared with his best friend who was gone now.
He felt lousy now as he did then, though he did not drink liquor like that anymore. But it was a similar feeling. It was the hangover of old age, the accumulation of all the toxin induced hangovers of youth--the permanent hangover of a youth lived as if it would never end. It had, of course, and it seemed there had been no in-between--though surely there had--youth and then bam: old age. "Middle-age was old age," he whispered. "I was uncomfortable then as I am now, except it was worse, because I was a slave and could not do what I wanted."
He took big, slow, bent-leg steps up over the bluff, and then was blown onto his bottom by the sea-breeze. He saw the ocean, but he did not see it. He was saying to himself, "I feel like a convict whose been let-off a life sentence for no other reason than he is too old and impotent to do any harm to anyone or anything." A wave broke, a black-green seaweed-filled little wave, and the water foamed and churgled and broomed over the very dark sand.
He could go no further. The sand was dry and loose on the bluff, and he clawed up handfuls and let it grain by grain run out of his hands and into the wind. He slid his purple-veined feet back out of the sandals and lay back. The white-yellow sun was directly overhead. "Please, God," he said, staring at the sun: black dots invaded his eyes, "take me back." He closed his eyes. The hot sun was red in his eyelids. He lay there. Nothing happened. He had come here to die, but now even death denied him.
From near-out at sea, a brown pelican flew toward him, soaring cautiously, ten feet or so above the water. He was sitting up, bewildered by fate, and he watched the bird.
"A message," he whispered. "My angel."
The brown pelican flew over him, and he felt something wet on his head. He touched it, looked at what was on his finger, and shouted, "Then let the sharks have me!" And he went to stand and lost balance and rolled down the small hill of sand.
Now, in the surf, the cold ocean water made the white hair on his legs stick straight out. He recalled how, as a youth, he had bravely trounced into the sea. Now he was timid, shocked by the cold, scared of sharks. Scared of the sharks, though he wished to die. Then the irony pierced him like an arrow through the heart. The foamy, green-white result of a mad little wave soaked him to his belly button. Every muscle in his aged body tensed, and he whispered, "I guess that's why I want to die, because I'm afraid of the sharks!" And he dove headfirst into the surf, and gripped the rocky bottom and kicked and spat and breathed. He swam out past where he could touch, and the water was very cold. He became frigid, all joints worked poorly. He yelped, "Help!" and many of the people on the beach heard him and stopped walking their little dogs and pointed at him. No one jumped in the water. "Call nine-one-one," one woman shouted, as her dog squealed at the sound of the dying man.
"What can I do?" they said, as the dogs barked and the phones rang and he slid under water. Frantic, panicking, he thought only of survival. Primitive, mammalian ideas gripped his mind. But death is what the human in him wanted, so it was good no one sloshed out in his or her expensive clothes and saved him.
On the shore, the brown pelican, beak loaded with a minnow from the estuary, soared over the little bluff, where the rubber sandals sizzled and softened under the sun.