LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND
I took the little shovel from the lost sand bucket and began writing in the sand. The shovel was meant just for shoveling but, as a lettering tool, it served me well. I could make Q tails or cross Ts or form half-circles for the Bs. Sometimes I went to the shoreline to get water in the bucket, in order to wet small mounds for dots, like over an I. I tried not to go for water too often since it scared the plovers.
The lifeguard watched me for a long time from his highchair before he walked over. He was the master lifeguard, I could tell, and was trim with muscles like a boxer. He never moved, like a watch tower statue, until he hopped down and headed toward me. On his left thigh was a blue-brown bruise.
“What you up to?” he asked.
“Writing love letters in the sand,” I answered.
He kneeled down on one knee, on the leg that wasn’t bruised. His face wrinkled and he tilted his head, but he couldn’t read my writing.
“Who to?” he asked.
“My sweetheart,” I said. “That’s her first name.”
“My name’s Ramon,” he said, as he played with his jump-whistle.
“A famous name,” I replied.
“Only to my mother.” We both laughed.
“I’m waiting for my sweetheart to show up.”
The guard turned to scan the silver beach, then returned to his chair. I kept writing my sweetheart’s name in the sand. Sometimes I gave it a different spelling, to give it another meaning—to write my love in a little different way. The red-orange fireball of sun over the sea warmed my work.
The lifeguard came back.
“Not finished yet?” he asked.
“No,” I said, “I want to get the one word right.”
“You’re stuck on one word?"
From a small side pack he took out a metal pointer, extended it, and drew a ring around the word.
“A name, nothing else,” he said.
His face was gloomy as he watched my face.
“Over and over, I’ve written it,” I replied.
“Amaya—it looks like a Spanish name,” he said.
“Could be,” I said. “She’s a bird on the wind, a brisa.”
“I didn’t see her,” he said.
“She hasn’t showed up yet,” I said. “Have you ever seen a song sparrow fly?”
“No, never,” he said.
“They dive up and down, like a wave,” I said.
“You should leave,” he said.
I did not obey. Instead I put a conch shell to my left ear and listened to the waves. The guard took pity and stood by me.
“When the plovers run, it looks like they run backwards,” he said.
“I watched them in the grass, by the gate. It looked like they ran forwards,” I said.
He moved away to the gate, opened it and walked a few steps. He put a hand over his coffee eyes, squinting down La Avenida de las Palmas.
“A woman’s crossing. Young. In a cardinal swimsuit, one piece, wearing rope sandals,” he shouted back to me.
“What color is her hair?” I yelled.
“Black,” he replied.
“She would not have black hair,” I explained, before I began writing again—Pájaro. Paloma. Chica. Amaia.
The lifeguard, turned pugilist, hovered over me as I smoothed away the words with the back of the shovel.
“You sure that wasn’t her?” he asked.
“I am sure,” I answered.
“Your beach bum alibi. She’s not real,” he said. He grabbed my arm and motioned me to leave. I stepped away and my sneakers filled with the white sand.
At the gate I stopped to shake out the sand. I saw my sweetheart exit the Cemetery of Our Lady and flutter down Calle Magdalena del Mar. I saw the back of her head and hair, the color of a strawberry. She carried a straw basket because of All Saints’ Day. She must have decorated a grave.
“Do you know that woman in the flamingo dress?” I asked two little girls selling candles at the portal of the cemetery.
“No,” said one. “Buy a candle, mister.”
“Yes,” said the other, “she’s my cousin.”
“Where’s she going?”
“Casita de Cuba for coffee.”
I gave her a coin and she shot off on her scooter.
At the Casita de Cuba she was not there.
“Did a woman in a flamingo dress with hair like a strawberry have coffee here?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the waiter, “an espresso and an empanada.”
“Where did she go?”
“She didn’t say,” he said. “She forgot this tiny bottle full of pink sand.”
“Along the streets, I’ve asked. No one knows where,” I said.
I walked down to the village—past beach bungalows, the pineapple grove, cement block houses painted yellow. I guessed and stopped people. I gave up and went to Mojito Jo’s.
I asked the bartender. She said, “Yes, she had one mojito. She paid in sand dollars.”
“Tell her when you see her she owes me,” the bartender explained.
“Where did she go?”
“Her shell shack,” she said. Strange bird. Don’t let her fly too close,” replied the bartender.
“Here is payment for her mojito. Can I have her sand dollars?”
I visited the shell shacks on Back Bay. She must have polished her shells there before she sold them at Plaza Market. I guessed the third shack, third for the Trinity, for luck.
She sat on a mat that faced the sea. She worked the sand like a palette, shaping shells into letters. I spoke to her like I spoke to a robin in winter.
“You bought my shells at market,” she said. “Thank you.”
“What are you making?”
“Letters in the sand, names of loved ones. My mother’s name—Mercedes. She lives in heaven. The others live on earth.”
“Who is Diego?”
“My big brother who is always sad.”
“What does that one spell?” I asked, pointing to a far one.
“He saved me from drowning.”
Mike Lewis-Beck writes from Iowa City. He has pieces in American Journal of Poetry, Apalachee Review, Cortland Review, Chariton Review, and Wapsipinicon Almanac, among other venues. He has a book of poems, Rural Routes, recently published by Alexandria Quarterly Press.