There's a boy with a bucket down by the shoreline. He runs up the beach, fills the bucket with sand and then runs back to dump his load. With each trip back, he finds destruction. He shrugs. He starts over. I want to walk down there. I want to tell him to move back a bit, to build his sand castle beyond the shore break. I don't. He keeps building. As I look to my left and then my right I see the newness in the houses that hug the beach. I can smell their fresh paint. The hurricane took the houses that once sat here. The owners rebuilt on the same piece of ground, some closer to the shore than before. I wonder if we ever learn. Do we? I turn back to the beach but the boy is gone.
I think about life. It's short. The pictures in this morning's newspaper haunt me: smiling faces, happy people, all in black and white, all from past summer’s on the beach. Dead people. I rub my hands together. I feel the life in them. I do this to remind myself that I am still here. I am alive. It's a habitual process that I go through to keep myself from becoming too enamored with things. It helps the mind stay focused on everything but things and keeps me grounded in the reality of living, the basics, those things that matter. I watch the waves roll in. I listen to the call of the seagulls.
My neighbor loved seagulls; not my neighbor in the next-door sense, but my neighbor in the Jesus sense. We shared air together on this spinning rock that I inhabit and he once inhabited. He died yesterday. I may go to his funeral. That would be the neighborly thing to do. I really need to find out the where and the when of it all. He was an odd fellow but he calmed me. He was a gay man with Christian tendencies. He addressed everyone with "God bless." He picked up trash along the beach in the early morning and fed crackers to the seagulls. I would watch him, bathed in the shadow of the gulls, as he fed the birds. On Sunday mornings, he would carry flowers to the cemetery just over the dunes. He would clean the cemetery and sit, surrounded by seagulls.
Some say the man was his brother. They lived together. They were very close. Those who knew him know better. Brothers don't walk the beach, hand in hand, when the moon hangs low and the tide whispers and laps the shoreline. Brothers, even close brothers, don't sit that close, arms around each other, watching the lights from the shrimp boats as they bob on the water.
He once gave me a box of Girl Scout cookies. He hated Girl Scout cookies but he always bought them. He liked the little girls who sold Girl Scout cookies so he bought them and then gave them away. He also liked kites. He would sometimes take out his big kites, the kind of kites you don't buy at Wal-Mart. Kids would gather around him, and he would teach them all about kites. The boy with the bucket spent an entire day with him once learning about kites. The boy had a small kite that failed to launch. He asked his father to help him but he just sent him to grab another beer and told him, "In a minute, son." The old man brought out his big kite and spent the day teaching the boy how to fly a kite while the boy's dad watched and drank his beer.
He wasn't his brother. We do that to people. We try to make them like us. We do that because we know that good people must be like us. Bad people don't teach fatherless boys how to fly kites. Bad people don't buy Girl Scout cookies that they don't like just to see the smile on the little girl's face. Bad people don't pick up trash, feed seagulls and clean the local cemetery. Good people do that. Good people with good brothers. He wasn't his brother.
Clouds are moving in. I can see the rain offshore. The waves now twist and turn. The gulls move out, and the world becomes gray and still. The cemetery lies beyond the dunes. Dead people. Brothers. Soon my neighbor will lie there, and the gulls will line the picket fence that surrounds it. I need to call the funeral home. I need to find out the where and the when of it all.