On the Beach
The last of them walk the beach as if they’ve become human kindling.
Only the weak waves speak, faintly slapping in an injured muffle, as if they are thirty, too.
Bloated, like a too-yellow sumo, the sun broods overhead, refusing to bat a lash.
The youngest of them thinks, The sand is oven-hot. How much longer? When can we eat? What will we eat?
The oldest of them wonders, Where are the gulls? Why no clouds? How can I possibly save the young one?
They slog for miles or centuries.
The predator sun wants them dead, same as all the others that came before.
In the distance, another body has washed up on the shore, only when they get there, it’s not.
Instead, a rowboat. Empty. With oars and two jugs of water.
They swallow and swallow and swallow, and as ridiculous as it is, the water tastes like hope.
There’s only room for eight.
The oldest of them flips his hand, Go.
As they push off, he waves and smiles for the first time in years.
The sun, so fierce that it hates itself, watches the last group slog down the beach, each of them, even the youngest, no more than scarecrows.
In an hour, two will be dead. In an hour, another. Then another. Another. All of them.
The sun wonders, How did I become this way? Where is my cousin, the moon? Why am I so bloated, yet thirsty?
The rag-tag group below erupts in disobedient joy.
What they’ve found is not a corpse, but a boat.
Eight fill it.
An old man waves as they shove free from the electric sand.
As they drift, the sun feels its face smile, which shades the sky, which sends the boat sailing, which makes the sun grin once more, as the waves carry hope on her shoulders, into the orange-gray sea.
The gull has never felt so alone. Or thirsty. Dizzy. Uncertain.
It loops and loops away from the sun, though the sun only seems to scoot closer, like a blazing magnet.
The gull has not seen humans for months, yet, what?
Single-file, like a jagged line of ants inching along, a troop of them move below on the scorched beach.
The gull wants to caw or mew, but its throat is bone-dry.
Instead it swings downward, through each sheet of blistered sky, landing on a piece of nearby driftwood.
They’ve found a boat. A boat!
The gull watches them load in, except for the old man.
The gull wants to nudge him with its beak, wants to caw caw caw, but she’s the interloper here.
So she waits until they’re seaward before lifting off to join them.