The beach was littered with glass eyes. Not the kind that fit into the orbits of human skulls, but rather the type that look like buttons adorning the faces of ragdolls. Seagulls homed in on the sandy strip, lunging for tender tidbits of raw flesh, hoping to satisfy their cavernous appetites.
The air was calm with warmed salt, and if you stuck out your tongue, you would feel the saline embrace of a mostly dry morning. Earlene Dexter, wearing olive green galoshes with pull-up handles, a worn to thinness sundress adorned with overblown pink and purple peonies, and a shabby woven straw hat blending her face into shadow, peered out across the sandy expanse of the beach.
She had grown up not far from Omaha Beach in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, her name the heritage of her British father. Surrounded by remnants of the dead throughout her youth, she became an avid seashell collector. Fascinated by rebirth, repurposing, recycling, Earlene was not to be deterred by the apparent finality of death. Reincarnation was a suitable response to the limitations of physicality, Earlene mused as she stooped to retrieve a sparkling crimson object from the field of stone galettes. Curious, she turned the object over in her palm.
The glint of sharp sunlight on the glass bounced off the lens of her eyeglasses, temporarily blinding her. The winking eye pleased her, and she tucked it into the scalloped pocket of her sundress as the skirt whipped around her rubber clad calves. Choosing a spot to set down her pail and gloves, Earlene scanned the crisp foam crowning the retreating waves.
Padding towards the surf, she felt something tug at her skirt. “Qu’y-a-t-il?”, she asked aloud. Spiraling towards the pressure, fearing the rupture of the soft cotton fabric, Earlene spied the offender, a scruffy yellow canine. Raising his head and barking happily, running circles around her boots, the dog seemed a familiar companion. Yet Earlene was certain she had not seen him before on this beach which she had frequented nearly every day of her fifty two years. Leaning on his forepaws, the dog prepared to pounce, indicating his desire to play. “Allez, toutou, Rentre chez toi.” Earlene had never had pets, and she enjoyed her solitude.
Yet the dog had no intention of leaving her alone. Sniffing eagerly at her pail, Earlene assumed that he was hungry. His rough coat and visible ribs seemed to confirm her hunch. “Allons chercher de quoi manger,” she spoke reassuringly to the dog, hoping that once fed he would continue his journey elsewhere. The pair hiked up the bluffs to the centre ville, and Earlene told the dog to wait outside the G-20 while she went inside to purchase her “provisions“. The dog complied companionably to her request, immediately sitting by the motion activated doors of the small grocery store.
Responding to the singing “bonjour” of the caissière, Earlene wandered the aisles in search of dog “paté” and kibble, picking up a baguette, a round of camembert, and a glass bottle of Orangina for herself. Her purchases rung up and deposited into her net grocery bag, Earlene exited the store. Glancing left then right, there was no trace of the dog. Shrugging, she opened one of the foil-covered tins of paté and left it by one of the chocolate brown poles delimiting the sidewalk from the road. Whistling softly to herself, and simultaneously relieved and worried about the dog’s sudden disappearance, she made her way back to the beach.
The wind had picked up, and a narrow layer of silver grey clouds scudded across the lemon sunlight. Inspired, Earlene spread a fine layer of dog kibble on the wet sand where the waves tickled crushed wet gravel. The water came alive with skittering, and tiny gray crabs emerged from unseen tunnels to nibble on the unexpected manna. Prodding the gleaming crushed stone with a wind gnarled stick found on the bluffs, Earline searched for buried shells and other treasures.
She moved slowly, crab-wise herself, focusing her attention to the array of microscopic life sprawling below her boots. A spray of sand stung her left cheek through the filaments of stringy hair tucked behind her ear under the wide brim of her coarsely woven straw hat. Earlene slowly lifted her body arranged along her spine curved into a bend, feeling her 52 years rearranging themselves as she stood. Turning to her left, she spied the yellow dog, his normally alert ears laid back along his skull in an expression of his extreme concentration.
The dog was digging determinedly, the unwanted sand flying behind his energetic paws, heaping behind his unfleshed body. Suddenly, the animal disappeared into the hole he had dug. Intrigued, Earlene moved closer, albeit cautiously, in order to peer into the recess that the dog had created through intense effort. Astonished, Earlene discovered that she could not see the animal at all. A darkness so profound that the bright sun could not illuminate it filled the depression dug out by the dog. Very gingerly, Earlene kneeled by the cone-shaped funnel in the sand. She called out as loudly as her hoarse voice would allow, “Où est-tu, mon chien? Est-ce que ça va?” Her voice seemed to siphon down to a larger space and possibly echo, but the voice of the dog did not return to her ears.
Earlene leaned forward just so slightly, the rubber handles of her galoshes biting into the backs of her thin thighs. Imperceptibly, the sand began to shift under her knees, then suddenly gave way. A whooping sound escaped from Earlene’s startled throat as her body tumbled into the abyss. Whooshing air whistled in her ears, her hair filling her nose and twisting around her teeth and tongue. Gasping, her hands reached out, trying to find a hold as the wind drew her legs downward, still downward.
Lulled into the dance of falling, Earlene’s heartbeat calmed into a flutter of rose petals at a wedding. Gaily, she relinquished her hold on gravity and even on reality itself. A vision of flamingos at the zoo arose in her mind’s eye, rosy pink, fleshy. A splashing sound seemed to gain in volume as she continued her fall. Warm, pinching bodies enveloped her skin, the air’s viscosity thickening. Brushing herself sleepily, she kicked her legs, attempting to free herself of what felt like biting insects.
An inverted cone of rock, liquid as sand poured her body into a mold, transformed her mind into a scurry of geometric shapes. Dull, slowly roaring, her ears availed her of the sound of water pouring through the cataract of her remaining senses. Then, a popping pushed her through to the other side of a filmy substance that seemed to separate one experience from another. Clarity returned to Earlene’s perception of herself as previously defined by habit, and she found that self lying in a pool of pinkish liquid, swarming with what at first glance appeared to be a prehistoric array of life forms.
She lay back and closed her eyes, lulled by the seething water. “Madame, Madame, est-ce que vous allez bien?” Pulled back from her reverie, Earlene opened her eyes. A young man with tangled black curls and a striped boatneck sweater peered at her from above. Earlene raised herself onto her elbows and perceived the slender yellow hound running circles around the young man’s ankles. “Te voila, encore!“, she exclaimed. The young man helped her to stand, and Earlene brushed the sand from her damp dress, stained pink and now tattered from her fall. All around her, the sand was smooth, uninterrupted. She gazed quizzically at the dog, now happy-go-lucky and seemingly both unhurt and unrepentant. A few meters away stood her shell-gathering pail. Earlene strode over to the pail and peeked inside. Full of that same pinkish liquid, bubbling with life – triumphant, Earlene seized the pail and bade the young man good day, tipping her head in thanks to his canine companion.