A line had formed at the bus stop and I did a quick count. Capacity was twenty and the bus ran every half hour. I hustled over so I wouldn’t have to wait. Six boys on bikes came speeding along and a car blew its horn. It was the one I thought had been stalking me, and as the door swung open, the big guy got out. The boys dumped their bikes and when the bus pulled up they butted ahead of the line.
A woman stepped out of the line and yanked a boy’s collar. She seemed to be brandishing some kind of weapon. “Don’t make trouble,” she said in her beautiful accent. “You are on the next bus.”
I was surprised at the way they acquiesced to her authority. The boys sulked away without muttering a word and she calmly went back to her place in the line. “Okay, Klaus,” she said, “we are going to be on this one.”
“Now can I have my boomerang back?”
It was a hot and humid ride but the windows were open. When we got to the beach we spread out like a fan or a delta. Klaus and his mother cater-cornered away, her wheaten hair trailing its whiff of lemon. He was already scampering and larking on the shore. She seemed to have great distance in mind.
I walked down to the water and started skipping stones. The big guy removed his spotless sneakers, and they dangled from his fingers with long white laces dragging in the sand. His other hand held the Miami paper rolled like a sheath or a holster.
I focused on the foam flooding my ankles. The other ankles it was flooding were his. The waves worked tiny pebbles and sharp broken shells under the straps of my sandals, and my feet felt alert in all of those places.
“Some beach,” he said.
I looked at his face, smooth on the outside, ravaged within. I gave him a friendly answer. “I’m always surprised that vacationers find it.”
“You can thank my concierge.”
“You hit some nice weather.”
“I’m not exactly here on vacation.”
Three pelicans dove into the water in quick succession. For such big ungainly birds they made little splash. The one that came up with a catch in its bill flipped the fish over and swallowed it whole.
“I came down for my wife,” he said.
“That’s a good enough reason.”
“She wasn’t too happy to see me. You ever been married?”
The wash undermined my footing, sluicing the sand, and I had to step back. He stepped back with me.
“I thought I just had to wait it out,” he said, “but I couldn’t just sit there.”
“I guess that can’t be easy.”
“But I agreed to it if that’s what it took to keep her, or at least to get her back. When a woman says, ‘You don’t own me,’ she means a lot more than what you think she does.”
I skipped another pebble. It went in behind a wave and glanced off the water twice before sinking. Three splashes but according to my ex the score was only two because the final splash, the one that didn’t skip, didn’t count.
He held out his arms, shoes in one hand, rolled paper in the other. He had a lot of body and seemed to have a lot more in reserve. He made the arm with the paper even longer.
“Here,” he said. “You want this? I’ve already read it.” He knocked the sand off his feet. “There’s this girl,” he said, “thirteen years old, walking between villages on her way to see her grandma. Gets raped by three men, in Kismayu, Somalia, and when she reports it she’s charged with adultery, put in a hole and stoned in a stadium while a thousand men watch. Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow. I memorized her name.”
He looked at the sky.
“I don’t want to get too much sun,” he said. “What’s that bus, every half hour?”
After he had gone I used the paper as a sunhat. When I walked up through the dunes I rolled it back up and dropped it into a gull-proof trash bin. The bus had already boarded, and Klaus was sticking his head out the window, tapping the glass with his boomerang. The seat in front of them was empty, and his mother’s smile encouraged me to sit there.
“Hallo,” she said.
“Guten Tag.” I sat half-turned with my back against the window.
“May I see your tattoo?” Klaus asked.
She watched intently as I unbuttoned my shirt. “And it is what did you say?”
“Entwined,” she said, delighted to know the word. “Like links in a chain.”
I smiled at the way she restated our conversation from yesterday. Her voice sounded risky, candidly knowing, all the stark raving beauty of her north Teutonic stereotype shining unabashedly from her face.
I pointed to the boomerang. “Have you taught that thing to float?”
“It floats good,” she said. “But it never comes back.”
I looked out the windows behind her and watched the dunes slide by. “It’s the pressure,” I said turning back to her. “Same principle as airplanes and sails. Things move in the direction where the pressure is lighter.”
A sea haze was drifting through the dunes, and as the bus drove into it the air took on the warp of old glass. She gave Klaus some kind of gorp in clear crinkly paper. Then she took deep swallows from a bottle of water and I watched the slow contractions of her throat.
When the bus dropped us off I was the first one out because everyone else had beach paraphernalia. I came down to the bus’s tall afternoon shadow. Standing by the sidewalk was a handsome trim man with biopsy pittings across prominent cheekbones. As Klaus and his mother stepped down through the door he raised a slow hand in greeting. “Erika!” he called to make sure she had seen him.
Charles Hansmann has published five poetry chapbooks, three as award winners and two on open submission. His haibun and haiku have appeared in numerous haikai journals and anthologies. A native of rural Wisconsin, he holds a JD degree from New York Law School and lives with his wife in Sea Cliff, New York.