“I used to sweep the patio, you know that?” he said.

She thought about the sound and feel of the sand gritting between her shoes and the concrete, the feel of it on the soles of her bare feet, cold compared to the sand on the beach or the sidewalk, because it was in the shadow of the balcony most of the day.

“I used to sweep it two or three times a day, and bitch about it while I was doing it. It was a constant challenge to me. I would keep the damn sand off the patio, out of the house. I became almost compulsive about it. Sweeping and sweeping. But the sand always came back. It blew in, people tracked it in off the beach. Still, I fought it, sweeping and sweeping. It became my white whale.

“Then one day, I’m there, first thing in the morning, sweeping. It was another glorious beach morning, like they almost all are, another one that you inland peoples dream about, cool and calm – the only sound was the waves. But I was missing it – I saw it every day. My Dad bought me this house when I turned eighteen. I knew what the morning looked like, and for the first two years I lived here, I relished that sunrise every morning. But by the time I was twenty, the sand fixation had gotten to me. No more joy at the sunrise, no more joy at the sunset. My only concern was the thrice damned sand, keeping it off the patio.

“I’d just begun to get into surfing – I’d met this fifteen-year-old kid – he had webbed toes and the coolest name ever. We were going surfing that morning, and he stood there impatiently, waiting for me to finish sweeping the sand off the patio.

“I remember, he wasn’t even looking at me. He was looking out at the ocean – the waves were calling to him – I always tell him that his unknown mother must’ve been a mermaid, because sometimes he just stands there and looks out at the surf, like it’s talking to him, like he’s listening to it. I had long before stopped gazing out at the ocean like a tourist – but not him. I’ve never known a native that still watches the water like he does.

“Anyway, he’s standing there, waiting for me to finish sweeping, staring out at the ocean. He said, ‘I think you oughta sell this place.’

“I dumped a dustpan full of sand over the wall, and said, ‘Oh, yeah? And why is that?

“He looked at me and smiled. ‘Because living here is making you crazy. The sand –’

“‘The fucking sand,’ I said, and started sweeping again.

“‘Stop a minute,’ he told me, and I stopped. ‘Look out there,’ he said, and nodded at the ocean. ‘What do you see?’

“Okay, I thought, I’ll play the pretty surfer boy’s silly game. I followed his gaze. ‘I see tourists. I see sea gulls. I see water.’

“‘And sand,’ he said. ‘Miles and miles, tons and megatons of sand.’

“‘And?’ I said. ‘So?’

“‘There is you and me, and the water, and the sand. So much sand. You can’t fight the sand. It’s gonna win, every time.’ Then he giggled at me. He actually giggled. ‘You’re ridiculous, trying to fight the sand, trying to impose your will on the fucking sand. So stop sweeping, and let’s surf.’

“And I realized that he was right. If I didn’t like the sand, I had only two choices – I could move away from the beach, or I could just accept that the sand was going to drift onto the patio, and stop worrying about it. Driving myself nuts trying to sweep it out every fifteen minutes wasn’t an option, because it was never going to work.

“That’s how he thinks. He loves everything about his existence – his Mom and Dad, his job. Me. You. Surfing. Everything is just okey-dokey-artichokey with him. He doesn’t yearn for something he doesn’t have – he doesn’t imagine that his life would be better if he could have this or that, if he could go here or there, if he had more money, if he had a car. If he could just keep the damn sand off the patio. He doesn’t want anything. He feels that he doesn’t owe anybody and nobody owes him. I think that’s the most amazing outlook on life. It made me stop sweeping the porch.”

“All I want is him,” she said simply. She expected him to laugh, or make some off-color remark, or mention that all the local girls wanted the same thing.

But his reply was serious. “Not an uncommon desire for a little girl from the world of hot and dry. He is like a force of nature to you people – wild and wet and free, like the beach. Like the sand. But make sure it’s really him that you want, and not some idea of paradise that doesn’t exist. You have a lot of nice things there in Riverside, I’m sure. Grass and trees. Sidewalks. Places to park. Are you really ready to give them up for all this sand? Remember what Spock said on Star Trek – After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting.”

She laughed, then, thinking about her glorious fallen angel. She thought of his blue eyes, his smile; she thought of how he smelled, how he tasted. How happy and alive he made her feel when he touched her, when he kissed her. He was certainly worth giving up grass and trees; she would put up with a world of sand just to be near him.

“You are ridiculous,” she’d told her friend then.

“That I am,” he said. “But I don’t sweep the patio anymore.”

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Duck Feet

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