Saturday morning Jon and I leave our hotel and walk the one block to the beach. We’re on our first trip since shelter-in-place began, a one-night sojourn to Santa Cruz for our anniversary. The thick gray fog has lifted, and all across the beach a floating veil of mist visible to the naked eye is being sucked back into the sky. I wonder if this process is unique or everyday. I’m just an interloper. Either way, I get to bear witness.
The seagulls and pelicans are a high-wire balancing act, one by one tracking an almost identical path to an old pier at the other end of the beach. The pier has fallen into disuse, with multiple pairs of barnacle-encrusted legs walking into the water. It ends abruptly mid-air, road to nowhere. Just beyond, a half-sunk house rests at a cockeyed angle —the front door tilted diagonal to the onrush of waves.
A few dogs lope by. Fishermen cast their long lines. And the mists keep rising above our heads, ghosts departing this earth.
“What a place for a house,” I say as we get closer to the pier.
“Or maybe it used to be a restaurant,” Jon says. “That would make more sense.”
Then all at once the house is no longer a house or a restaurant, but resolves itself into a broken ship, the prow nosed up and the midsection and stern broken away. What I thought was a front door turns out not to be that kind of door at all, but a cargo hold or something that shifted from the level of the horizon, not the vertical. One by one, the seagulls complete their chute of air current and land on the edge of the sinking ship, exchanging places with a line of other gulls ready to head back the other way.
Though you can no longer walk the length of the shuttered pier, you can still watch its feet marching into water. Maybe it was the 1989 earthquake that destroyed it. Maybe anything. Later I will look up the real story of what happened on this beach and fill in the missing gaps. For now, it’s more fun to imagine the story of how it all began, and how it will end.