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A Day in Paradise
The sun hung bright in the afternoon sky, casting sparkling reflections on the turquoise ocean below. The glittering sand lay baking in the heat, white as winter snow until the crystal blue sea rose up and briefly swallowed it. Surrounding the beach were towering cliffs of dark weathered stone, chipped, broken and stained with salt and grime. Their menacing faces stared out at the calm sea, daring it to do it's worst. On their flat, table top summits the sharp granite rock was gradually replaced with green rolling hills and trees. Beautiful homes built of white-washed stucco and terra-cotta tiles dotted the slopes, they were spacious houses, built for the wealthy middle class. They were organized in such a way that they were close enough to be a community and do community like things, such as barbeques and potlucks, but far enough away that if someone's company—that's what everyone there did, they were all heads of companies, owned stocks or were in the government, stuff like that—went down the tubes and they were forced to sell, pack up and move, all the rest could tut-tut, declare that Frank had never really had the best business sense, and distance themselves from the unfortunate incident.
Strolling down a path leading from the houses was a young girl. She was 15 years old, but with her birthday coming up in a week she already considered that stage of her life done and over with, if you were to have asked her, she would have told you in a tone of voice that said I'm a proud, mature, confident adult, but at the same time said I'm also a really excited, scared, happy and nervous kid. As she walked down the path that led to the beach she thought about her party, who would be there, how much she couldn't wait, how perfect everything would be, and how happy she would be when it finally came. In fact, the party was the reason she was going to the beach today, she wanted to be nice and tanned when all her friends arrived. She imagined how she would look, walking down the stairs to the patio in her new swishy green dress. How the green would compliment her eyes and emphasize her brown hair. This suddenly reminded her of her appointment in two days. She wanted her hair styled in looping ringlets and curls, instead of just the drab ponytail she had pulled it into today. Mentally, she wandered through the myriad of things to do before the party could begin, and was surprised when she realized that she had already reached the end of the sandy path and was now at the staircase.
The staircase, or “The Staircase,” as it was sometimes called, was a tall thin metal and wood construction attached to the side of the cliff face. The local parents and retirees frequently complained that it was too unstable, too old, and too much of a pain to climb up and down. Some committees had been formed, and much talk had gone into it, but so far nothing had been done. Because of this, Staircase Beach remained mostly unused by the adult population. Instead they went to the larger, more accessible La Ola de Sol Beach, farther up the shore. Of course, this made Staircase Beach a popular choice for the teenage crowd. She surveyed the empty sand. Popular it may be, but the lack of people was a testament to the private nature of the surrounding area. Stepping onto the worn planks, she carefully navigated her way down, juggling her beach blanket and large tote bag.
Stepping down onto the soft beach, she casually padded around, her flip-flops making light oval imprints in the sand as she looked for the best spot to settle down. She dug her feet downward as she went, letting the grains run through her toes, luxuriating in the heat coming from them. Finally she found a suitable spot, not to close to the lapping waves, and guaranteed to still be in the sunshine for another 5 hours. Letting her bag drop with a thud, she carefully spread her blanket out flat, anchoring it at each corner with sandals and books. Grabbing her shirt hem, she yanked it over her head, her ponytail putting up a little resistance before popping free. Holding the lotion she popped the cap and squeezed out a small dollop onto her hand, evenly spreading it in a thin layer over her skin—she wanted to tan, not burn. After all, how embarrassing (and painful) would it be to show up sunburned at her own party? Reaching for her bag she pulled out her iPod. Popping the ear buds into her ears she squinted against the glare of the sun, selected her favorite artist, and lay down on the towel.
For a while, nothing disturbed her rest. The sun beat steadily down on her skin, warm and inviting, and the steady sound of the rolling waves and the beat of the music gradually lulled her to thoughts. For hours she relaxed, her relaxation only interrupted by the occasional chiming of her watch, reminding her to roll over so she wouldn't burn. Once or twice she read but eventually she would close her eyes and drift off.
The raucous calls of the distant sea birds eventually woke her. She sat up and stretched laboriously, blinking in the bright light. Glancing upwards, she noticed that the sun was a little less warm than it should have been at that time of day. Small gray clouds covered the horizon and the air was just that much chillier. Knowing that she wouldn't get much more sun that day, she briefly contemplated going back up the Staircase to eat lunch at home. Discarding the idea as too much effort on such a warm day, she decided she would just have to survive on what she had brought with her. It was now two or three hours past lunchtime and she was feeling a little famished. Flipping over, she reached for her bag and dug around in it for a while. Eventually she pulled out a water bottle and some chips.
Sitting there eating her meal she surveyed the paradise around her, and marveled at the beauty of it all. The white sand and waves contrasted sharply with the dark cragginess of the towering cliffs above. Puffy clouds drifted slowly about in the late afternoon sky and the slow booming of the waves as they crashed into the unmovable cliffs was comforting to her. Stuffing the remains her meal into her bag, she leapt up deciding at last to go swimming.
The sand grew colder and wetter the closer she got to the surf. The cold waves lapping at her feet, then ankles, eventually they got to her knees as she waded in. The water slapped against her chest as she stood there, slowly getting accustomed to the temperature. Ducking underwater she looked around, gazing through the crystal clear sea at the seaweed and shells. Scooping up handfuls of sand she let it trickle away through her fingers as she came up for air.
Languidly she floated, bobbing up and down with the breakers, diving down and resurfacing, looking for shells and seeing many different sorts of sea creatures. Slowly she lost track of time and her position to the shore. Resurfacing after a particularly long stay under the waves, she shook the water from her eyes and glanced around, startled by just how far away she was. She had drifted out and to the left and was now a good half mile out to sea. Flipping onto her back, she started to do a leisurely stroke back to the beach. Gazing up into the sky she was surprised by how gray and cloudy it had become. A cold breeze swept over her, made her shiver slightly. Suddenly she realized how choppy the waves had become and how difficult it was to force her way past the next one. When the first rain drop hit her eye she realized what it meant. She swam faster, hoping to beat the approaching storm back to dry land, but no such luck. The storm had hit, and rain started to come down, causing her to have to blink frequently in order to see. The sun was quickly covered up by the tall dark storm clouds and the rain started to pour. Starting to panic, she was truly swimming for her life now. Breath coming in short gasps, she hauled herself through the water, searching desperately for any sign of the beach. At the top of her lungs she screamed, over and over again until her voice grew ragged and hoarse, and tears coursed down her cheeks. “Help! Help me! Anyone, please help me!” But it was no use, the rain had transformed into a true pacific storm and nothing could be heard for miles but the wail of the wind and the pounding of the surf. Finally she spotted the beach, her salvation only a dozen small feet away.
She battled the last of the ferocious waves as the wind and rain lashed her face and blinded her with its driving force. As she fought her way up the cold beach she dug her fingers into the once warm, inviting sand and weakly drug herself forward as she tried to reach her goal. A goal she knew she must reach or she would surely die.
So with the last of her strength she hauled herself up the beach and was both incredibly exhausted and relieved when she finally reached the safety of solid ground. Shivering with cold, she gathered up her towel and bag and stumbled toward the staircase. Gripping the slick rail in an attempt to keep from falling she laboriously climbed the rain soaked steps, focused entirely on her own survival. The sea was furious now, pounding up the beach, creating a roaring din unlike anything she had ever heard before. The thunderous boom and crash of the waves as they hurled themselves at the cliffs was even more terrifying. The raw might and power behind them was breathtaking. Each time earth and sea impacted, great gouts of salt spray and water would erupt, turned into great towers of fury.
A crash of lightning distracted her, causing her to trip and fall, banging her knee on the edge of one of the concrete steps. Caught off guard, she did not see when the immense wave ponderously rose up, and for one single heartbeat hung there, before swallowing her and the staircase whole. She fell, her small ragged body doll-like next to the he massive ocean waves. The staircase was ripped bodily away from the cliff-side, tearing out great chunks of rock and dirt as it was pulled in and destroyed. Her motions, so frantic and desperate moments before, suddenly ceased as the sea continued to rage.
The next day dawned serene and beautiful. The sea was once again calm and kind, without a hint of the tragedy that had so recently occurred within it. When she did not come back before or after the storm, her parents were worried, but she was an independent girl, and it wasn't inconceivable that she had stayed at a friend's house for the night while forgetting to call. However when queries to nearby neighbors that might have sheltered her drew a blank, and calls her cell phone went unanswered, her parents grew frantic. Police were called in, and thorough investigations were made. The police never found her body though, and none of her possessions were ever recovered. The discovery that the Staircase was now lying broken at the bottom of the cliffs, eventually led them to conclude that she had been caught in the storm and must have drowned. Heartbroken and devastated, her parents held her funeral the week after her birthday, everyone was there. The whole community grieved for the loss of that precious life—for this was one tragedy that they could not ignore.
In the end though they did move on, as their jobs and families took back their attention and they began to live their lives once again. Gradually their memories of me faded along with the raw anger and pain they had first felt. I was not entirely forgotten, for you could never do that, but I was acknowledged and remembered, and it was enough.