The Beached
Elisa Fernández-Arias

The first night of the summer, they drive to the shore in Jeeps and in their fathers’ Range Rovers, in the heat, in a heat so hot that they cannot believe it, in a heat so hot that they strip off the t-shirts that wetly peel right off them. They drive right to the cliffs, and climb down to the great beach that so many other youths enjoyed before them, and that now exists for them to enjoy. The cypresses cling to the rocks, and lean in to listen to the laughter and jocular cries, the birds awaken, the owls hoot along, floating on the air in search of mice that run just like the boys, and all the while they run, those boys, stumbling across the broken earth, clinging as they slip across the sand, the sand in their nostrils and their lungs, with its piercing granularity, diminished only by the pressing palms of heat, starting at their heads and lowering. They run, heading for the beach, following the moonrays, heading for the water, where the twin of the light shines at the sky in double, and it is then, as they look at the moon, and what it lights, and what it gives them in sight, that they see on the beach that strange shape, a shape that is strange and surprising. It is hard to make out, but they can see, in stripes of white, that it is curved, and grand, that it is no isle or great rock but something larger, and newer, and it is the smell of the thing, salt-sweaty and sweet, that draws them in and will not let them go.

Dennis, at first, wonders whether it is a whale, a giant whale, of the kind that he has seen in movies about the ocean that swings against the sand. He rolls the word in his mouth, and the sound itself is unbelievable. He feels drawn to the thing on the beach, to its arched form and sculpted dips in moonlight. A whale, he wonders. If not a whale, then what? He spells the word. He holds it in his tongue and in his cheek and then he sees the thing more clearly.

He comes across what seems like a giant reflective sheet. It is just a foot or so taller than him. It is shaped like an inverted window, bright—not as bright as the moon—but still shining enough that he can see himself in its reflection, so that he is distorted, bent out of shape with his torso enlarged. The shape of his body frightens him, and so does the shape of the object, and then when he sees that it ascends into a skin just like his own, that it is a fingernail, and that it is attached to a finger, which is itself attached to its own skin and bone—that is when his breathing stops, and when he cannot see anything but the blinking light that comes into his vision from the water. It blinks, and the darkness blinks back. He hears the footsteps, and then a hand is resting on his arm.

Dennis, his friend Ethan says to him, for in his voice he recognizes the name. Come on.

Dennis watches as Ethan walks to the woman he has discovered, the new giantess who is too large to take in, just like the view from the cliffs when the sun is out of hiding, just like the mountains that rise above their valley.  He watches as his friend takes sandy steps toward her, and upon coming to the fingernail, mounts it, slipping one leg on each side so that he straddles it. Ethan smiles, sticks out his tongue, rubs it along the sharp, pink edge. It is then that Dennis notices the small flecks of polish on the nail, a pale blue glimmering where the light touches them, a beige line on the thumb that a ring once circled.

Almost he says, Stop, but then he sees that the other boys are joining in, that they are running toward her as though she is a roller coaster or a field at the end of a victorious football game, that there is nothing he can do to stop them. Felipe turns on the radio, George turns up the bass. Henry builds a fire, like he learned in Boy Scouts, and in its flicker they make her out better: she looks just like the girls they know, they want to know, but she has been expanded into a greater being, elephantine, mammothized, behemothesque. Her lips are large, her eyes are huge, and her breasts, they are magnificent. Dennis watches, standing away from the action, as so many of his friends—Isaac, Jack, Kyle, Liam—follow Ethan’s example, climbing up the stretch of her legs and the toes and feet that are still wet with water. The frayed denim of her shorts, they use it as ropes to get atop her, the loops through which a belt must have once been passed, they use it for resting, as though they are large hammocks or swings. She has lost her shirt in her travels through the water, and is wearing a bikini top, loosely falling from her and revealing breasts like dunes, which is barely enough to contain them. No hair ties or clips to hold back the wet and yellow hair made white by light, no charm bracelets like the kinds the girls wear, the girls that they invite to this place, but who always say no, with an emphatic shake of the head, they say No.

Climb inside, he hears Ethan exclaim, and with the moon and the fire and the sea around, pushing them into the girl, there is nothing the boys can do but follow. Max does not pull open her lips with the help of Nick and Owen and Peter, and they do not climb inside, in front of the teeth, to the sides of her cheeks, little lumps. Quentin does not crawl into one ear; Raff does not climb into the other. Instead, all of them fight for a place in the crease of her breasts, and, upon seeing that there is room for each and every one of them, they rest there, curling their small shapes into the fold. A stretch of laughter spreads, dots the woman like the Milky Way. Terrence crawls into a place that none of them have ever seen before on—in—on a woman, beneath the buttons of her shorts, and Umberto joins him. Vance crawls behind an eye, to the space and flesh that are behind it. It is a quiet night, and in its silence, all of them are still for a moment. What sounds like breathing is the sea, they think. The movement below them, they imagine that it must be the wind.

And then, like the moon that has drifted across the sky, she rises. Dennis is thrown against the beach, and his hands are bloody from the fall, and he can see almost nothing. Only blackness and light, and then, the lashes, the river of her hair. A sliver of white upon her lips. Her footsteps, they quake the earth, and through the sand and her skin they send ripples, shaking the narrow trees, and the purple thistles, and the boys who are inside of her.