Enough of us to constitute a class, a phyla, is what the redhead who cleans the Petri dishes calls us. He is taking us away from twisting our legs into DNA under our desks or leafing through bio periodicals in the library for Big Ideas so opposite sexes might fall into awe of us, he is taking the day off to show us which cliff down to the beach is best and maybe even shed his clothes with us so we will all look like those squirmy bits, he says, on his dishes. He is cute enough and we are ten or so equally aged and indeterminately gendered with interest. Along the freshly work-studied-hewn path that he leads us down lie no bras—who wears them?—but various undies, shirts in plaid, chopped jeans, thongs of any rubber and color, with all the real shoes tossed off right at the last. We lose our own bits here and there, while the cliff heats up.
Best to jump in fast before the revelations of nakedness set in, the visible feel of it, he says. Insouciant naked others will loll your way if you jiggle tenderly over the wet pebbles, if you ease in, he says, more or less. Fewer loll your way if you jump. We all jump in fast and stay in after jumping, we all watch the naked instead of vice versa, despite our gasping and thrashing in the cold, trying to keep just our eyes out.
The eyes have it.
Those on the beach do stand if they have to, they stand to pick their way to the pop, where a tired-looking bronze Asian keeps a cooler of block-and-tackled drinks, but mostly the naked loll, lie low, and look.
People always come to look on beaches, to look and to learn, says the redhead, paddling near me. Especially the men. They like to loll around on their backs and look. Except the Greek.
There are a lot of men lying around, and one Greek in spotless white pants. He uses the binoculars to spot invading ships, the redhead says with a not-so-straight face. Maybe ships actually invaded here once, since concrete bunkers still crumble at the most picturesque point where the naked divide from the others, and maybe the Greek served in an army to protect Greece—some of us followed juntas like team swaps then—but just now the invasion seems to be coming from inland, over the moons of aureoles and pubis and awful sandy coitus.
It isn’t the Greek or the redhead who keeps me neck deep in the too chill water long after everyone else finds spots to lie on, in between the rocks or squatted on top of the rubbly beach. A man reading an actual book to show off his utter udder boredom with the woman parked at his side and the man at the other end of the beach with the too pink ass are both my scheduled evening companions, times carefully staggered between movie and music. The one so obliquely womaned will not do an overnight so he has the early slot, scant hours off. The other, the whole-night-stayer, has begun to move toward me, in dim recognition.
I dunk and I dive. I fight current where others work for purchase, skin to skin, and take no notice. I swim over to a row of logs slashed into a raft that carries several sated sunbathers, and I hang on.
If he sees me, he will ravish me with kisses, long deep ones that say Sorry, I’m not looking anywhere. And then the other, seeing me with him—
The redhead, a no one from either pole but willing, I know from his lack of other escort, reminds me, using my name loudly, that deepness of water is the real problem.
I go under again—just to check.
The water stays dark where it needs to and no fish other than wriggling lovers bump me, no fish in those cold deep waters. I cannot swim around in all that coldness, I can. The man is stretching arms that long in my direction, and glancing over. The man with the book is looking up. I splash to hide behind the water, which is mostly ornamental anyway, just a setting for these encounters so mostly mammal. I dogpaddle, I sidestroke. The raft whirls itself and all its dazed bodies out of reach, as if reach is all I need.
The redhead, almost upon me, shouts, Don’t struggle.
I swim away. The point with the concrete bunkers quickly comes up and instead of further beach, the ocean begins, and no one follows me.
Except for the redhead. In ten strokes, he clamps a hand to my shoulder. As if there were seafloor, I shoot my foot down—into an iron railing from some piling or sub submerged so long it has rusted to just the sharp parts. I catch the rest of the railing full-chested and hang on while the tide, aswirl already in reverse, pulls at me, pulls at us backward.
Great, I say.
Wow, says the redhead.
I haven’t taken much notice of how his eyes, their middles, evoke the Petri mindlessness of the pharmaceutical until that Wow. I shiver and hold on anyway, hold onto him as much as the railing, and tell him how I am planning to go to class, study and shrug off temptation, that if not him, someone else even more serious will help me in bio.
He tells me about sharks and how I should thank him already.
We shiver and huddle, treading water, we spoon and we float and I hold my foot where it hurts when I can. No point in screaming, no one can see us in this odd rift between naked and the otherwise beaches, in the pulling waters.
The sun is easing its redheadedness into the lit up waves when we feel the tide at last pull right at us and we take it. But where will we end up? Too far from the raft, now nude of those humans, and the Greek will never turn to us with all that beach in his binoculars. We finally feel bottom near where happy nannies pack their children with sandy efforts and efflux toward a parking lot lined with gawkers.
They’re on their knees! yells a boy old enough to know better while we sidle and knee-creep beach-ward toward the brush along the cliff that surely somewhere vertical hides shorts and shirts. Then running isn’t what I can manage out of water with my foot so we walk, two wet nudes—one limping—between the beach chair-bottomed matrons, their staff, and pointing children, we walk as if they are the ones who shouldn’t be there, who should at the very least cast off their clothes in solemn acknowledgment of our bravery. Or so I suggest as soon as we make the bushes, giggling. Or is it sobbing?
We cannot stop to let me sob long. A cop is somewhere close, says the redhead, reaching past the bush for the first bit of cliff. We climb, and throughout the long time it takes us to traverse the side of the cliff with our small handholds, slipping a little back for every forward motion, bare buttocks bucking, we hear the cheering and jeering below, and some sirens. To block this, I hold my two dates in my head, both of them glaring from one beat-up pickup to the other’s, both surely parked in front of my empty apartment. One will so soon be back to his book and woman, and the other to watching the beach, not the water.
I wish them love.
Perhaps shorts hang on that ferny bush ahead.
I kiss him and kiss him.
Fiction fan? Read Brad Zellar’s short fiction blog at www.rakemag.com/yoivanhoe