She settled herself into the warm sand; her eyes closed for a moment. It felt like a dream. She was barefooted and wearing a red dress, a floppy straw hat, and oversized sunglasses.
“Grampa, will you stop that?” He was doing an embarrassing dance on the white sand, mumbling to himself. His shorts seemed close to falling down around his white legs.
“Did you bring the umbrella?” she asked, knowing everyone on the beach was probably laughing at the pale old man in a baggy bathing suit and wearing a woman’s flowered hat.
He stopped and glanced over the ocean waves into the blue horizon. He liked to talk, even if nobody listened.
“The sand is hot as blazes; I’m going in the ocean to cool off.”
“Just stop dancing like that. You are embarrassing me.”
A ghost crab saddled up beside the girl’s dress and was searching out the carcass of a dead seagull. She felt the crab’s legs moving beneath the folds of her dress.
‘How does it not notice me here, with those big stalking eyes?’ she thought. She’d never had a crab approach her like that. Ghost crabs were notoriously shy. From somewhere she heard a voice with a strange accent.
“Don’t you smell it? It’s a beautiful thing, I think you may be sitting on it.”
“What? What was that? Did somebody say something?” she asked, turning her head side to side.
“Just me,” said the crab, giving the girl a polite dip of the socket eye. “Would you mind just lifting this leg a bit?” It gave her leg a little pinch with its claw.
“Are you talking to me?” she asked, scanning the sand. “Where are you?”
“I’m right here next to your, no doubt tasty, but probably stringy, tough, leg meat.”
She noticed the crab, and found it amusing: “I usually do not talk to crabs. I find you a might irritating.”
“Pardon me; but I’m famished. I haven’t eaten for days. This beach is becoming too crowded. Could you just lift your legs a bit so I can check? I believe the carcass of a nicely seasoned, sunbaked seagull might be nearby.”
“I assure you, Mr. Crab, I am not sitting on a dead seagull. I would have noticed such a thing.”
“I doubt it. Humans notice very little. Just a moment ago that big fellow with the sagging belly stomped all over my home; one that took me most of my life to construct.”
“I happen to know it only took you one night,” she said, watching the crab ease away from her legs so as to study her face better. “How you crabs do like to exaggerate!”
“And how dare you lie to me? You know who I am.”
The crab was quiet for a moment. “We don’t live very long; and our lives are perilous. No one respects us; all are trying to kill us.”
“That’s true. It’s just awful,” she said. “And so unfair.”
“It is the lot we bear; no reason to dwell upon it.”
“You know, if you would just speak up a little more, I’m sure people would leave you alone.”
“I doubt that,” said another voice from the mound of sand just behind her. “Crabs, in general, are pretty ridiculous; and ghost crabs, with their pale tasteless carapaces are really just beyond hope.”
The girl turned her head and saw the seagull prancing around, looking down with disgust at the crab.
“If you weren’t so tasteless, crab, I’d pick you up right now and drop you on a rock. I might do it anyway, just to see you shatter into a gunky paste that only the sand fleas could appreciate.”
“Go ahead, try it. I’ll snip off your beak.”
There was shouting in the distance. ”There’s someone drowning.”
The girl turned to see a boy running as if in a panic to the top of the dunes; then disappearing into a lingering fogbank. Others were running about or pointing out over the sea.
Just above the neck of the beach, where distant soundless waves were crashing, boys were running like shadows in the mist. On the other side of the dune where the boy should have appeared, she saw instead, a pale thin man emerge, walking unsteadily on the same path. He stepped off the dune, lifted up, and rode a salty bit of foam across to the line of trees.
She smile and scanned the beach again. This was a place where time was doing eddies and churning into a foaming chaos; a place where ghost crabs talk and boys disappear into fogbanks, only to reemerge into manhood; she pondered and watched.
Then, with a laugh, and a glancing smile back in her direction, the man turned, bowed low and with reverence toward her, and disappeared on the other side into the forest of scrub oaks. She knew there were paths there that were carpeted with dense leaves. They wound through the trees and came out finally on the edge of a village.
There was more shouting on the beach.
“Well, look at that,” said the ghost crab. “Your grandfather saved the boy from drowning.”
“One less carcass for you to eat, crab,” mocked the seagull, then it lifted into the air, twisted to one side, stole a potato chip from a woman’s hand, and sailed away, laughing.
The girl looked out over the ocean and saw a pod of dolphins moving through the waves. She reached her hand out over the waves and touched their backs. “What beautiful creatures you are,” she said. “Was it you who saved the boy?”
She saw herself reflected in the salt mists, like she was riding across the sky.
From behind, her parents approached between the dunes; they wore matching straw hats and carried beach things under their arms, taking bites from watermelon slices and spitting out the seeds, while pointing at each other and laughing.
“Hot hot hot,” said her mother, not wearing shoes in the sand.
Her grandfather, having returned the drowning boy to his parents, was now standing over her, drying himself with a towel. He started dancing again.
“Such a silly thing is a crab,” he said, as he watched the ghost crab scamper away. “Today is a good day; somewhere nearby, there is someone divine on the beach, passing out the secrets of the universe like candied fruits and nuts; holding court and performing miracles.” Her grandfather looked down at her mocking smile and grinned. He didn’t think she wasn’t listening. She had other things on her mind.
“Taste this, please; it is the last of it,” said the girl’s father, holding out a deep red sliver of watermelon.
“It tastes quite good,” she said, and, with a sly glance at her dancing grandfather, she cupped her hands, holding them upward, and, with the blood red juices flowing down her arms, watched as the the moon, the sun, and the stars drifted around in the vortex above her head.
Zack Taft has been previously published in Flora Fiction.