Marla unfolded her portable beach lounge chair and took her towel out of her backpack. She’d come equipped with everything needed to spend a day out by the seashore. She unrolled the towel and with a flourish spread it on the lounge chair. The wind picked up in that instant and all Marla managed was sand and cloth in her face. She spurted sand (she had a nasty habit of concentrating with her mouth open) and wiped her face with her hand. The wind was fickle and every time she raised her arms to spread the towel the wind blew harder, until she gave up, and instead of extending the towel with one shake like she did her bedding every morning, she set it down on the lounge chair and straightened it out. She secured the towel onto the four corners of the lounge chair with cute dolphin-shaped clamps, took off the shorts and shirt she wore over her bathing suit and laid down on the towel.
Today was Marla’s day off and, when the weather forecast announced a hot, sunny day, she went to the beach. Marla rummaged through her backpack and found her book, she also took out the lunchbox she’d packed with a sandwich, soda and snacks, and opened an individual-sized bag of chips. Marla was ready to sit back, relax and enjoy the sun. Today was a day for doing nothing.
There had been a spate of thievery on the beach the last few days and Marla was determined not to fall asleep, but the sound of the waves breaking on the coarse sand and the sun beating down on her skin relaxed her so that, despite the riveting thriller she was reading, her eyelids were heavy and her vision blurred. Marla set the book on her stomach and reached for another chip. She’d almost finished the bag, and the chips were making her thirsty. Marla took the soda can from the lunchbox; she pulled the tab, and the pop blasted like thunder over the cool breeze while the soda fizzled inside the can like the backwash on the pebbled sand. Marla took a sip, then laid her head back on the lounge chair. Seagulls flew all around her, their caws added to the cacophony of the ocean.
“It’s such a paradox,” she whispered to herself, “how the beach can be so full of sound and yet so quiet.”
The noise of crashing waves, blowing breeze and seagulls surrounded her and, instead of bothering her like the city noise of traffic and people, the beach calmed her. The sun beams felt wonderful on her skin, unlike the city sun which exhausted her. Today was a weekday, and the beach was all but deserted; only Marla, the sea, the gulls and the sun.
Marla dozed off, the book forgotten on her tummy, the soda propped on the sand below the lounge chair. What glorious rest!
The sun was at its highest and smiling down at her when she roused herself from sleep and reached for the soda. She sipped. Something was wrong. Her backpack and book were beside her, but the lunchbox was gone.
“Who steals a lunch?” Marla muttered, but a more distressing thought crossed her mind and, in anguish, she grabbed the backpack and rifled through it, heaving a sigh of relief that her wallet with its contents and iPod were intact. She didn’t think there could be something else missing, those were the only two items of value she’d brought.
“Who steals a lunch?” Marla repeated in disbelief. She stood up and scanned her surroundings. Far away towards the street she thought she saw the shiny glimmer of the metallic bag of chips. The gulls no longer flew above her, they clustered a distance away from the bag, on the sidewalk. They seemed to compete or fight.
“Oh no, no, no!” Marla hurried towards the gulls and as she approached she understood. One enterprising seagull must have made off with the bag of chips, but not content, another seagull must have stolen the lunchbox. Marla knew they ate clams and oysters by flying way up high and dropping them onto the pavement so that the shells shattered and the gulls then picked at the inner flesh.
They had tried the same with the lunchbox and after who knows how many tries, it had given up its contents. The gulls had feasted by the time Marla arrived and there was nothing left but ripped up plastic bags, pieces of bread crust (weird, they don’t eat the crust like children, she thought) and the insulated innards of the lunchbox which they’d torn apart.
“Shoo! Shoo!” Marla waved her arms and scared the seagulls away; they flew out to the ocean and settled on the shimmering water.
Marla sighed, and with her head hung low, picked up the remaining trash and threw it in the garbage can nearby. She walked back to her belongings wondering “what now?”
She sat on her lounge chair for a moment, then pulled on her shorts, grabbed her wallet and iPod and made her way down the beach to the ice cream parlor a street block away. The sun shone on her shoulders but the waves cooled her sandaled feet. The seagulls cawed gleeful from the water as she strolled past them. Marla glanced at them and with a smile and a shrug, moved on.