J. Edward Vanno

Jubilando
 

He didn’t find it in Mexicali so he retreated southwest and
disembarked at the arroyo off the highway and hitched a ride in the
bed of a pickup with a burro and a stout tower of splashing water.
From there he walked through town, chatted with a woman selling street
tacos, and observed that the supermercado was gone. The fragile cliff
road remained. A thousand black birds spilled like pepper over a
patient, kelp-fringed cove. Spinach and basil stretched east, brighter
and greener as the marine layer faded. Each visit there was more
agriculture, greener agriculture.
 
A rocky headland marks the subsequent beach and here, the farms ease
to red dirt and goats graze over lichen rich outcrops. A rancher on
horseback tips his hat. Stout, barnacle encrusted lava slabs dip into
the water, like a reluctant bather. Tide pockets reflect what little
light penetrates through the now thick marine layer and, upon tidying
up of the moon’s high-tide, evidence of life will disappear.
           
He watched the waves rapidly break and peel over the shallow water,
aguas poco profundas. He reminded himself to think in Spanish. There
was another headland and another beach, then the postcard cove and the
burly surf beach. After that it was cactus-hills dropping to rocky
waters where the ocean surged in lethargic lulls, up and out –no
matter the swell, the ocean refused to change. After this, the road
curved inland and stretched lazily until the intermittent fish camp
and the lighthouse –of which he claimed pleasant memories, surfing,
picnicking with a girlfriend.

He walked past Pepe’s camp and past the postcard beach. During their
last visit they had given Pepe a chainsaw. The three previous trips
Pepe had recited a sad story of having his chainsaw stolen. The only
observable income Pepe had was selling firewood to gringos once or
twice a month.

The fishermen had gorged a new ramp into the bluff. Two pangas were
wedged into the sand and a makeshift camp spilled out under a sun
drenched blue tarp. Over rolling sand dunes he observed countless
strings of toilet paper emerging from the sand and strung against the
cactus.
 
The whisper of water turned to the roar of surf. At the top of a
bluff he stood and admired the unobstructed view –the beautiful
patterns of succession and ecology –the observable battle of
individual against elements and species against species.

The bluff said something of geology. An amateur could explain the
differences in layers as the conglomerate drove earthward at the
center of the beach and disappeared beneath what lay at their feet.
Sandstone was uplifted and bent toward the south, engulfed in rolling,
windswept dunes.

He walked over cobbles to a gulch and climbed up and looked over the
ground. He imagined his truck, his tent, their table, surfboards, beer
coolers, and chairs all lined up as they’d been throughout the years.
He spotted their cache, under their unique pile of stones. How
interesting, they had sagged oceanward. He began to dig. Quickly, he
unearthed a carefully wrapped supply of beans, chili, and soup. He
continued digging and found three more packages. He took the smaller
one and unfolded the tinfoil, then the plastic bag and held a medicine
bottle of low quality marihuana. He slipped that into the chest pocket
of his flannel and held a small bottle of liquid, pulled out the
dropper and released two drops onto his tongue.
 
He sat, mesmerized by the waves, watching the birds stalk their
territory with their unique design. Eventually he fell asleep and
woke, unsettled with the memory of a dream passing from his grip. He
concentrated on the impressions, reconstructing the setting. It was
another “duty” dream. He was with an ex-girlfriend. There was
something indefatigably chasing them. He had a knife and it was his
duty to use it, this action was foreshadowed by a deep dread.
Sometimes the dreams would reach the point where he’d painstakingly
sink the knife into the chest of the person as tears welled in his
eyes.

When he woke again it was pitch dark and he was freezing. There was
no moon. The atmosphere was empty and it seemed every star was curious
about this empty beach on this empty peninsula, staring down with
clear intention. He stood and walked toward the light of a campfire.
 
From brush he watched three gringos share drinks from a glass bottle
and chase it with cans of beer. Their truck was clean and new.
Wetsuits hung out to dry from the doors and the open bed. A
short-legged brown dog with floppy ears brushed past their chairs and
they shrieked from it like a cartoon elephant from a cartoon mouse.
They cried about fleas, el perro tiene polgas! One knew the
expression.

Something wet struck at his leg and his heart erupted, beating madly
in his throat. It settled as he saw a black dog with short legs and
pointed ears. The animal had pushed its nose into his foot. He relaxed
and let his hand fall against the dog, scratching behind its ears and
under its chin. It leaned against him and yawned and they both watched
the brown dog scavenge. He took out the bottle and released another
drop onto his tongue. The dog put his heavy chin on his foot and,
again, he drifted off to sleep behind the brush as the strong fire
jumped and popped in the short distance.

He was startled awake as the gringos stood, cracking brush underfoot
and pissing in separate directions. The fire had dulled to a glow.
They zipped up their tents and it was silent. The fire popped and
hissed. He watched for some time, the dog on its side and breathing
heavily. He looked around and the brown one was there too, appearing
now red. He stretched. He studied the night sky and waited for a
shooting star. The dogs did not wait, the black one vigilant, sitting
lopsided on its feet, while the red one scurried about the fire,
smelling everything.

He began to rise when he heard a noise and froze, sinking into the
sand, leaning into the brush, pushing against the thorns and feeling
them on his forehead and cheek. His ears pricked. Two men walked
boldly to the camp from the other direction, carefully took the
wetsuits down, retrieved a few items from the ground and walked away
in the other direction. As they left he rose and the black dog
shadowed him. He opened a cooler and found a block of cheddar cheese
floating in three inches of melt water. He took the cheese and half an
avocado protruding from the sand, he washed it in the melt-water and
followed the strange men.
 
*
 
The dogs happily trot after, the black one a step behind and the red
one darting from bush to bush, smelling and marking freely. The dark
figures of the thieves contrast the sand path. Eventually they turn
off at the top of the bluff, where the earth becomes hill and rock.
They leave the wetsuits to dry in the cold night, talk for a moment,
shake hands, and part ways. One man opens his trailer door while the
other revs a quad and climbs the steep hill.

A tarp angles from the trailer to the ground where it’s staked to
form something of a shelter. There is a 55-gallon plastic drum half
filled with water. Several prickly pear cactus and a weathered yellow
rope mark an attempt at gardening. Small pits of dark earth signify
watering efforts.

There are tools. He touches the serrations of a small handsaw. There
is driftwood and half-cut logs in a pile. A broken buoy and crab pot
lay on the earth. The red dog is sniffing, then scratching at the
door. He sees a rake, likely for oysters on the beach. He picks up the
cold neoprene and drapes it over his arm. The man inside commands the
dog to leave. His mind blends the syntax of one language with another.

He takes the rake in his hands, thinks, returns it, and tells the
dogs he’s ready to leave. The thief inside curses the dog and flings
open the door. Startled, the two men stare at each other. Caught. The
thief inside takes a step and stops. The man with the neoprene takes a
step back. They stare at each other and seem to acknowledge the path
of least resistance. He calls the dogs and steps back, back, and turns
around, descending the sand path without looking back.
 
*

He draped the wetsuits where they’d been and walked south over the
dunes. The moon was beginning to rise and the stalks of yucca stood
like soldiers in salute. He fell asleep and awoke to the red dog
licking his face. His dream faded and he was left with a feeling of
loss, before easily slipping to sleep again.

He rose and stretched his hands overhead. He’d slept well into the
sunrise. The gringos were in the water, bobbing insignificantly
against the long beach and the huge ocean. In the distance, a small
panga bounced south. He raked the low tide with his hands until he
found a dozen clams. The dogs sniffing, digging, and following.

He reached in his pocket for the applicator and applied three drops
to his tongue, then, with these gifts, he went to Pepe’s camps. The
dogs followed, for they were Pepe’s.
 
 
 
 
J. Edward Vanno lives in California.

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