The BeachNatalya swung her arm to the side and forward, her hands clenched in a fist. She sidestepped, put both hands in a line together, and swung them forward from the other side. She continued this routine for an hour or so, sweat coming out of every pore, hair matted against her cheeks and forehead.
I didn’t understand how she never got tired.
“Why are you practicing right now?” I asked. “Shouldn’t you be mourning the deaths of everyone you know?” For some reason, I was in
Maybe it was from lack of sleep, because every time I tried to rest, my soul wouldn’t let me. “Don’t you have friends?” I snapped at her. “Don’t you have parents who loved you? Sometimes,” I told her, “I feel like I don’t know you.”
Natalya went for a final swing and stopped, breathing hard. She looked at the floor around her, searching, but she never bent to retrieve anything. I knew her habits enough to know what she wanted, but water was scarce in a world that had just been bombed.
“Rose, I… I’m sorry,” She said.
“You should be!” I shouted. “Just go back to the school! Go back to the exhibition center! You’ll see my body, and you’ll plug in the machine, and you’ll bring me back to David. If you really want to help me, just do that. Why can’t you do that?”
The sun glared brightly for a moment in the space separating Natalya and I. It was a shimmering spot, filling my entire vision for a moment. When it settled back, probably moved behind a cloud, I tried to clear my thoughts. Rage was streaming through me. I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t accept it. “It’s not fair!” I yelled into the wind, my voice lost.
“I wish it were,” Natalya said calmly. She wasn’t looking at me, or anyone in particular. David was still asleep behind her, so her words should have been nonsense. It probably would have been to any normal person. But I wasn’t normal. I didn’t have a body, and Natalya didn’t know I was here.
And if she could, why her? Why couldn’t David feel some unspeakable connection to me? Why couldn’t he have this gut instinct that I was still alive and just go to the school already? Why couldn’t he ignore his pains for a moment and save me from my misery?
David stirred in his sleep and turned over, lips slapping together gently as he mumbled wordlessly. “I thought I could trust you, David,” I told him. “I thought you had some brains. You didn’t even bother to look for me. You know, that’s what bothers me the most, that you couldn’t even look.”
Natalya started her tennis routine again, harder and fiercer this time. What was she thinking, that David would wake up, see her hot body, and immediately fall for her?
Stop, stop, stop!
I couldn’t even tell if I was speaking to myself any longer. It was getting to be too much, and I hated myself for such thoughts. How could I know what Natalya was thinking anyway? I was a lost soul, not a mind reader.
David woke up an hour later, said a small greeting, and joined Natalya in search for food and water. The forest nearby was full of nourishment, and I pondered on the thought that God had provided this for the survivors. When I was revived, I could share this food with my only friends in the world.
I felt ashamed at my behavior towards Natalya. She would never know how angry I was, but I still felt a need to apologize. She was trying her best. I tried to tell myself that she had lost a friend too. At least, she thought so.
“Did I ever tell you my brother was autistic?” David asked.
My throat caught at the words. I’d heard them before, in the dead of the night when David had been in the mood to talk. But he hated telling people that. He wasn’t ashamed—I knew that. But he hated the pity and the sorrow others always showed. That was shameful, in his eyes. I knew that.
Natalya didn’t wear that same pity I had so often felt. “I’m sure he was a good man.”
“He was.” David seemed a bit surprised. “He wasn’t really a man, not really. He was always the little brother. He was smart and special. People didn’t always see that, but everything he said was true, and everything he asked always had a meaning behind it.” He chuckled to himself. “He helped me find myself if I was lost. I miss him.”
“You know, your brother sounds even more awesome than you, no offense.”
David laughed. I scowled. Those weren’t the words I would have used, and I hated that it wasn’t. I hated that I knew exactly what I would have said in this situation, and I hated that Natalya was doing it the way I wouldn’t have, and it was working. David laughed.
He said, “He definitely was.”
“Natalya, stop being so perfect!” I complained. The complaints. It had only been a matter of time before they returned. “Don’t you dare steal my boyfriend. Don’t you dare flirt with him while I’m still here.”
“Why’d you bring your brother up?” Natalya ignored my commands.
David shrugged and leaned back. “I felt like feeling real again. I know he’s dead, but thinking about the autism is just so real. I lived with it all my life. It was a struggle for some people, but it was my life. I just wanted to get away from… all this.” He waved his hands around at the world.
“I wish I had something like that.” Natalya didn’t look at David as she talked, her voice smooth and a little bit sarcastic. “All I can think about is my arguments with my parents. They wanted one thing; I wanted something else. I couldn’t just give in to them, you know. It’s hard to find people who’ll agree with you all the time.”
“You don’t seem too sad about that.”
“It’s just the way it was,” Natalya said. “I couldn’t change it, so I learned to live with it. My parents know I love them.”
How could it be that easy? If people accepted change all the time, the world would be a very different place. I couldn’t grasp Natalya’s meaning and settled for bearing with this conversation.
David was at a loss for words too. His mouth bobbed open and closed like a fish for a few seconds. “Wow,” He said. “You just take it as it comes? Doesn’t it bother you?”
“I do what I can if I can,” Natalya told him. “But if I can’t, I can’t.”
“I couldn’t do that.”
“It takes time.” Natalya cleared her throat and smiled as a wind ruffled her hair. “We should go to the beach,” She said. “We should stay there for a few days and get away. You wanted something real, didn’t you? Let’s just try and forget.”
“Forget?” David was incredulous. “Just… forget?”
Natalya put her hands on her hips. I hated the face she was making, trying to persuade someone to forget all his troubles when there was no way it was even possible. What point was she trying to make? Was she just there to keep hurting him until he couldn’t take it anymore?
“Okay, if you don’t want to use those words,” Natalya said. “Let’s get away for a while. We don’t have to forget completely if you don’t want to.”
I couldn’t believe it when David agreed. I was trying so hard to go along with Natalya’s tactics, but I could barely pull myself together. My thoughts still churned sadly for everyone who had lost their lives, still cried for my brother and my mother, still sought for some explanation as to why this was happening now, why it was happening ever.
And they were happy. They were happy to skip off to the beach together, no thoughts for anyone but themselves. I had never known Natalya to be this selfish. I knew she loved to win, but I had never thought her fondness for winning extended beyond sports games. It was wrong in this situation. They needed to mourn.
I sullenly attached myself to the two moving figures while they walked south to the beach.
They stayed as far away from the school as possible, walking along empty roads, passing by burned down houses. I would have imagined the world more dead, but the roads, though cracked, still enabled travelers to walk, and the air, though polluted, still allowed travelers to breathe.
It surprised me so much that I often had to stop and take in what I was seeing, convincing myself that I had no reason to feel so free, that I had no reason to feel the slightest bit of joy.
“We should have gone down to the beach more often,” Natalya said. “I mean, during our college year. It’s so beautiful.”
“It really is,” David agreed.
Their voices were wafting towards me quietly. No noise around me, I could hear every little detail, even if I had fallen behind. If a raindrop fell a mile away, I thought, perhaps, I would hear that too.
I came up behind David and Natalya and stared as a wave of white and blue crashed onto the shore, got sucked back up, built, and began again. My eyes would have watered if I’d had them, so my soul wept instead. This was a moving creature, powerful and majestic.
And it was beautiful.