The man can hear the waves whispering over the sand even from inside the house, but somehow, he cannot muster up the strength to move. The waves are whispering his name, but Man has chosen to ignore them. He knows that if he goes down there, they will attempt to give him advice again, none of which has ever done him any favors. Besides, it’s good in this recliner, very good, and the dog on his lap isn’t helping things.
Okay, they were right about the diet and how it would make his back feel better. The problem was that he’d gotten active after the weight loss and torqued his back out again and now, once more, he has to look over a belly to see the legs his last lover had said were great.
“Of course, they’re great. Men always have great legs. Besides, I got all this muscle carrying this fat gut around.”
Dog grunts in agreement, but Man knows that Dog will grunt in agreement to anything. Dogs are reliable that way.
Still, the waves are grumbling at him now, like water chewing rocks, which they are, in fact, doing. More sand is good, Man tells them silently. Keep at it.
Pretty soon, though, he lunges the chair forward, gently turfing Dog off his lap. Dog gazes at him reproachfully until the leash comes out and it is apparent that walkies are in the offing. There are people who will claim that bassets cannot bounce. These people are wrong. Dog is practically in orbit, great flapping basset ears providing liftoff.
“Honeydog,” Man says, “I cannot take you anywhere if I can’t get the leash on you,” and Dog, smart canine that he is, settles immediately. It would not do to lose walkies due to an overabundance of enthusiasm.
The screen door slams closed behind them, barely missing Dog’s behind. They are only a block from the ocean, in one of the few old neighborhoods that has held fast against the encroachment of the monster high-rise hotel. Man thinks high-rises are a scourge, and if he rejoices in anything about global warming, it is the thought that these behemoths will go down first. If he can only be there to watch, he’ll put his own house onto a barge and laugh happily as he paddles by.
People pass Man and Dog on the sidewalk. The sun has gone down, taking at least some of the heat with it. He can hear music from everywhere—lots of Latino pop, salsa and, bless whoever it is, Barbra belting out show tunes. People sometimes smile or nod going by, sometimes not. Sometimes lovers of all varieties pass and they are moving in their own bubble of love. Nothing exists but the lover, the great moon with its worshipping star in darkest sky so that these heavenly bodies shine ever brighter.
Man tries to ignore the clenching of his heart and focus on Dog and the ocean ahead of them.
Up by the high-rise section of the beach, all is well lit. The white sands are shining and there are people on them. Here, the sands are have nothing to light them up. Man and Dog turn toward where the palm trees are shadows against darkness and the ocean breeze murmurs sweet nothings to the leaves. Man can hear the waves rushing toward them. They are telling him to find their special listening spot, which he can never find because it’s dark and the beach is the beach. They walk until it is dark enough, until only the faintest hints of song bounce and boogie in the distance.
Man, the waves address him. Good of you to come.
You would not have stopped nagging me if I hadn’t, Man observes sourly, but he sits down (carefully) on the sand and Dog sits beside him, shoulder pressed against Man’s side in a show of solidarity.
We have, of late, been thinking, the waves begin.
I really wish you wouldn’t, Man sighs.
The waves ignore this attempt. They are the essence of the flood and they will not be gainsaid. Any attempt to dam them up will only see them renew their efforts to sneak through the chinks and gaps. Man sighs again and readies himself.
Man, they begin again. We think you’ve given up too easily.
Given up on what? Man asks warily.
Everything. Anything. All of it. Here you are, not dead yet, and there you go, giving up again on all of it.
All of what? Man asks again.
The waves sigh. Do you have any idea how many people we’ve seen die?
Man assumes this is a rhetorical question and waits for the punch line.
Even we don’t know how many. And do you know what they are thinking as they die?
No, Man replies rather rudely. How would I know that?
Oh, we rather think you do, the waves reply rather archly.
I know what you’re going to say, Man sighs.
Oh really? The waves sound peeved.
How they wanted to live and how sad they were about their families. Man cannot resist injecting a small air of superiority into his tone.
Wrong, say the waves. Oh, they do actually do that, but that’s not the first thing they say.
Wait for it, thinks Man. It’s coming. Okay, you’ve got me, he concedes. What?
Actually, the thing they think first is Oh, shit. The waves seem to chuckle, which Man concedes is a pretty sophisticated trick for water not tumbling in a stream over stones.
I believe that’s what I said when the last one walked out, Man observes acidly.
The last one was an asshole. If the water had eyes, they would be rolling.
Man shrugs. The last one had been an asshole. He sure could pick ‘em.
Do you really want your last thought to be Oh shit? Seriously. It’s not good. A good, hearty YEEEEhaw at the end of a full life, that’s the ticket.
But my back hurts. Yeehaw requires that I move, and it hurts. Dog, picking up on the mood, whines in commiseration.
Okay, so your back hurts. Yeehaw slowly. It can be done. The waves seem set to argue this at length.
This is why you brought me out here? To tell me to ‘yeehaw slowly?’ Man gets up (carefully), gathering Dog’s leash.
Yes, that’s why we brought you out here. To tell you to ‘yeehaw slowly.’
Thank you very much, Man succeeds in swallowing the bitterness that wells up in him; he is an actor, after all. I will ‘yeehaw slowly.’ And now I’m going back to my recliner.
Don’t forget, the waves sound like a gaggle of grandmothers, all shaking their fingers as they proffer advice.
Yeehaw slowly, Man repeats as he and Dog return the way they came, the klieg lights of the high rises illuminating his path.
Back in the light, the sounds of life return, seeping in at first and then boiling around him like a storm of sound and motion. Suddenly, his recliner and its surcease from pain don’t seem to beckon so compellingly and Man slows down, to the great delight of Dog, who has found a very strange-smelling trail (Chihuahua? Rat terrier? With a kidney stone?) he wishes to follow it with all due deliberation.
The Latin pop has morphed into the cha-cha and Barbra is now cooing about people who need people. The ocean breeze is soft and caresses Man’s cheek, teasing the smallest of smiles out of intransigent glumness. He is walking now, but stiffly, still so carefully.
“Hurts like a bitch,” the voice is cranky. “Back?” he says and, not waiting for an answer, “Mine, too.”
Man carefully turns around. Dog sees that he has been following a long-haired Chihuahua with a tiny leather collar festooned with spikes. Chihuahua as macho dog, Dog thinks. Sad.
I am Chihuahua, says Chihuahua. He’s Chihuahua Man.
I can see that. I am Dog, replies Dog, but you can call me Basset. My human is Basset Man but that’s just for now. Mostly, I just call him Man.
As do I with mine, but we cannot both call them ‘Man.’
True, that, Dog-now-Basset concedes.
Chihuahua Man is somewhat on the thin side and quite dapper in a faux old-Hollywood sort of way, complete with cravat and masses of lustrous hair combed and styled with painful precision. He carries himself with a subtle irony that tells Basset Man that he knows he looks a bit ridiculous, but the style suits him anyway. He is moving painfully himself. He reaches out a hand to offer it to Basset Man but stops short with a grunt of pain.
“Never mind,” says Man. “It hurts me, too. Dammit.”
Chihuahua Man snorts sharply, trying to pass it off as a laugh. “Bar is over there. They let dogs in. Want to go get a drink and exchange war stories?”
Man thinks on it a moment. Why not? Alcohol is a pain killer.
Basset Man and Chihuahua Man alternately toddle and stagger to the bar where they talk half the night away. Basset Man somehow manages not to tell the sniggering waves to shut up. Even from here, he can hear them say I told you so.