Peter and Carla Part 1: The Beach

This is the beginning of a short story I've been working on for several months. The full piece will be published here on my blog in early 2018. Enjoy.

Peter woke up on the sand and felt its grit pressing into his skin, gravity really letting its presence be known. Above him was the sky, as always. He thought he ought to get up. Then he thought he didn’t have a reason to. Then he stopped with all the thinking and dozed off again as the thick sea air whirred past his ear holes followed by a crunch. A crack. A crinkle. Straining his neck in the direction of the sound, he saw Carla was several feet away, safe from the rising tide, eating pistachios on a minnie mouse towel.

“You’re gonna burn dude” she uttered in the direction of the vast ocean.

She said it to nobody in particular but Peter knew she was talking to him. Or at least about him. His thoughts remained apathetic.

“If the sun insists” he thought.

But still he got up and brushed himself off. Grains of sand fell to the earth as he took strides towards Carla.

“Give me the 30” he blurted like a surgeon requesting their scalpel.

Carla reached into her beach bag, rummaged around and tossed a bottle at him. Eyes squinting, he caught it with both hands. He was caught off guard by the sensation of hard glass in his palms rather than the malleable plastic he was expecting. He brought the bottle up to his face and read it’s label. Rumple Minze Peppermint Schnapps.

“I don’t think this is FDA approved as a sunscreen, Carla”

“Don’t be a pussy” she fired back.

Peter unscrewed the cap and took a swig straight from the bottle. As a swallow of the minty booze swirled into his throat the taste carried his mind elsewhere. He revisited the memory of a cold winter night on his buddy’s back porch. That was the last time Pete had tasted this stuff. Every one of his senses went with him. He could feel the gloves on his hands. By the time it settled into his stomach he’d returned to the present moment.

Carla was right. On his skin he could feel the sun plotting against him, in cahoots with the dermatology industry. He asked Carla again.

“Seriously, let me get that Coppertone now.”

He lobbed the glass bottle back at her, in a gentle arc toward the open beach a few feet to the right of her towel. For a moment he considered throwing it directly at her but thought better of it. Peter trusted Carla with a lot but he couldn’t trust her to catch this bottle. Not right now. It was nearly empty and she deserved most of the credit.

“See” he thought to himself with undue pride, “My judgement isn’t clouded”. He was making a case to the imaginary jury of the self that drinking away a Tuesday on the beach isn’t detrimental to one’s mental faculties.

Peter’s mind was a perpetual battleground in this way. His conflict didn’t see him torn between a persuasive angel and devil perched upon shoulders. It was different. More like a visionary workaholic rabidly berating an apathetic burnout that lounges in a bean bag chair suggesting their opponent chill out, man.

Carla threw another bottle at Pete. It was the sunscreen this time. He squeezed a glob into his palm and began smearing it onto his body. It felt like such a pitiful defensive maneuver. Here he was, at odds with a celestial body that’s been in the business of raining down ultraviolet radiation for billions of years, but if he rubs this greasy lotion into his hide he’ll be all set for about 2 hours.

But just because something’s pitiful doesn’t mean it can’t be effective and Pete took comfort in that. He was a seeker of shelter and by now he’d gotten pretty good at finding it. More than a habit, it was a well-developed skill. His latest achievement in this department was a four-month gig as a house-sitter at his uncle’s beachfront property. This put a beautiful 5-bedroom cushion between him and the real world. It should have put him at ease. It should have given him comfort.

But he was anxious, haunted by the notion that he could be spending these moments on something else. What exactly? He didn’t know. He could be, like, fulfilling his destiny or whatever. Pete didn’t really believe in destiny. He was of the mind that success was out there waiting for anyone willing to mine it from the ether. Unfortunately if you believe that, you also believe anyone lacking the fortitude to grab a pickaxe only has themselves to blame. Peter’s empty hands filled him with guilt.

Finally the sun was setting. His skin cooled as another day was lost. He was hemorrhaging moments. Carla snored drunkenly on the minnie mouse towel and only the seagulls judged her.

Thanks for reading. Want to spend more time with Peter and Carla? Join my mailing list below to get notified when the full story goes live in a few months.