Fred's vintage Ralph Lauren messenger bag rested steadily on the sea wall. While unnoticed by nearly all of the passerby, if any of them had come of age during the 90s and happened to glance far enough into Fred's direction to see the manila envelope edges sneaking past the zipper, they would have been subconsciously reminded of the dot-com hustle that indoctrinated and subsequently tore through so many hungry and devout young souls over the next half century.
Fred was a lucky one. The very same bag he carried out of his office the day the market tanked was the very bag now collecting sand particles carried by the intermittent gusts of onshore wind. Its insides, once filled with scribbled inspirations, then term sheets, then quarterly reports, and then his resignation letter as CEO of the largest online retailer in 1999, was now replaced with something much simpler.
Colors & textures. Paint that had dried, cracked, and then chipped, eventually combining into a dull rainbow mixture that could be easily sold to any basic-income-creative who was trying to distract themselves from their own purposelessness.
Fred lifted his palm to his forehead steadily and used the enclosed napkin to wipe his brow. Then he looked back down to his painting.
It's not there yet. It isn't perfect. I know— it needs more color above the horizon to capture this red-orange hue that's coming out of the marine layer. Hmmm.
There's no movement to it, he thought.
All the surfers were just stuck in place. There was no flow, and no life. And definitely no emotion.
His back leg lifted up to help him balance as he hunched forward with a new brush. Craning his neck, he looked at his creation from the right. Now, the left.
He took a step back, slightly upset his vision wasn't translating to canvas.
The vibration on his wrist reminded him to take a deep breath. He took a moment and looked out at the wavy sand and the still sea.
The sun was nearly set now. For a moment, he forgot he was even painting at all.
"Fred! I said I'm cold and it's dark and you're doing that thing again where you go completely deaf like I don't exist!"
There was a brief pause while Mel collected her thoughts.
He never pays attention to me.
"I do exist."
Mel started again, "You just get excited, you know? Or, you get so focused on one thing and everything else disappears."
"I know", Fred said. "I'm sorry".
"Well here", Mel said. "Help pack up so we can get moving". Mel squeezed several brushes into her hand and then slinked the half-dried canvas away from Fred.
Another intermittent gust of wind coaxed a solitary, mustard-gold paint chip from Fred's bag and blew it straight onto the hood of Mel's car, disappearing like a chameleon as soon as it landed.
The gas tank is open.
"It smells like gas, Fred. And the tank is open. Did you open it?"
"God- did someone steal our gas? Can you try starting the car?"
Who the fuck steals gasoline these days anyways? Probably the same people that thought taking 30 second showers was going to solve our water crisis. What is this world coming to? If I have to sit out here for 1 more god-damn minute because some fucking basic greenie got offended by our exhaust pipe I swear I'm going to piss myself.
Mel closed the trunk and walked over to the passenger door, peering in through the open window.
"Fred. Start the car."
"I'm trying Mel. Why don't you piss into the tank and give it some extra juice to get her going", he smirked.
"Fred! Don't FUCK"—swiping her hand from left to right—"with me right now."
"I know how you get when you gotta go Mel. Look. It's not starting. I'm going to call roadside assistance and while we wait why don't you go down to the beach and find a private spot under the sea wall. It'll be here in no time. I promise, by the time you're back here you'll feel so much better."
Mel shot up without saying a word and made every step back towards the beach a statement about how much she deserved to be respected, and to be acknowledged, and to be thought of first for once in her life.
This is the last time Fred will see me. I'm not going back. He can have my car, I'd rather start using public-transit anyway. I do everything for Fred. And he just is always in his own mind. What is even going on in there? He certainly isn't feeling guilty about ignoring me or worrying about me leaving him. Which, I could do.
Mel heard a rustling noise from around the sea wall.
"Hey, got a light, friend?" a raspy voice asked invitingly.
"No, I don't smoke", Mel said, as she approached the person.
Great, now where am I going to pee.
"Me either. Guess it's gonna be a coooold night, this one."
The person looked... homeless. It was almost as surprising to see someone homeless as it was to be driving a gasoline-powered vehicle, but only Mel realized this between the two of them. The person was cloaked in a torn Rumpl and lay next to a dented and scratched HydroFlask that had been shoved into the sand, tilting slightly to the right by a few degrees. A foot in front of them was a pile of driftwood and kindling.
"What's your name", Mel said curiously.
"Name's Dakota. Sorry to bother."
"Oh, it's no problem Dakota. You know, I might have a lighter in the car. Let me go check for you, alright?"
"Bless you ma'am. Thank you".
"Of course, be right back!"
Cold cold night. Shake my legs shake em alright. Keep me warm, got my light. Light on the way, cold cold night.
Dakota hummed a melody under their breath as broken as the collection of driftwood in front of them. The sound of the crashing waves grew louder alongside the incoming tide, attributed to a fresh long period swell that outswam another large storm from the Pacific due to hit land sometime in the next six hours. The wind had already picked up to a steady howl.
Gonna be hard to start this fire with all this wind. Smart thinkin' on my part with this gasoline and all. Ooh boy it's been a long time since I smelt some gasoline. Shit, been a long time since I had a beach fire.
Reminds me a that time with Gabe when all we had was the shirts on our back but it didn't matter then and it doesn't matter now.
Nope. Cold, cold night.
Dakota was sitting up now, rocking back and forth to keep warm, as if their body was chanting a mantra.
What to eat, cold cold feet. Scratch my itch. Scratch it. Ahhh.
Fred saw Mel approaching the car with the exact same pip in her step as when she had left. "Well, how are you feeling honey? What'd I tell you?"
"Shut the fuck up, Fred. I haven't peed yet and there's a homeless person named Dakota on the beach. They need a lighter to start a fire with some driftwood and trash they collected and I'm not going to let them sleep cold tonight."
"A homeless person? Wow! Mel. Are you kidding? I've got to meet them. What's their story? Did you talk? I always wondered what it would be like to be homeless. Remember when we used to live in San Francisco, Mel?"
"How could I forget?"
"Well, it was 53 years ago, and I think even I forgot until this moment. Remember that time I stepped on a heroin needle and had to get tested for HIV?"
"Fred. Now is not the time to reminisce."
"I want to meet Dakota, let's go down there together. The lighter's right here."