There was very little in the room–all the clothes were neatly packed away, suitcases in the closet. Not so much as a wrinkle in the cover. But then, that was Jane for you…fastidious to a point.

The only thing askance in the entire room was a brightly-colored paperback on the nightstand. The Popular Tree. It was a sentimental story about a big-city girl finding herself by returning to her home town for a funeral, and a New York Times bestseller. It was easy to see why the title had appealed to Jane; she had been back in town from far-off Hopewell for only about a month. Her small home, with its lakeside view and sliver of golden sand beach, was more like a hotel room, with all the major items still in storage.

But that book…touching it, fanning the pages, one couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the sense of it, before reading a single word. The cheap paperback pages had sponged up every scent of Jane’s month-long beachside stay. The aroma of sunblock, of water, of fish…shampoo, clean cotton, even a hint of nail polish. The Popular Tree had absorbed them all, and to be near it was to have those sweet memories of blissful afternoons unlocked.

It was a bauble too bright and too intoxicating for the house as it now stood. All the warmth and memory in the world couldn’t wash away the bitter truth behind Jane’s book.

It had been the last thing she ever read.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!
Advertisements

I know it’s not

realistic

But some days

I dream of

an open beach

Quiet

waves

at

sunrise

Not

a

person

or

structure

in sight

Just me

the sand

the sea

the sun

I know it’s not realistic

but I still dream of it

some days

in winter

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

The secluded beach at Phak Trang was often the star of such expat stories, catering to tourists and thrill-seekers who craved an escape from the commercialized beaches that littered the South China Sea for something pure and undisturbed. Phak Trang was said to be the best-kept secret in the province, a sheltered cove with beautiful gypsum sands, calm waters near the beach, and surfable waves further out. It was a modest hike from the nearest access road, but cabbies in the various resort towns were always ready to arrange dropoffs and pickups, though none of the local guides would go there, forcing seekers to rely on hand-drawn maps circulated by expats.

Many people who had been swore by the place, but it also had a tragic air: swimmers and surfers who went to Phak Trang had a tendency to disappear. Certainly, the deaths–noted as hashmarks on a crude sign near the beach–lent an aura of danger to the place. The US Consulate in Surat Thani held that these accidents–which had accounted for 8 citizens 1960-2010–were due to treacherous features of geography, like the cove’s fierce riptide, and the occasional local banditry.

Ask a local cabbie, though, and a different story would emerge. Not shy about sharing it, with paying fares at least, they maintained that Phak Trang was a point at which spirits could enter the world of the living when the tides were right. People who vanished might sometimes have been killed by the riptide, the cabbies conceded, but more often they were abducted by vengeful spirits or fell through the pale into an otherworld beyond imagining.

“So you’re working as a lifeguard over the summer, huh?” the girl said.

“Yeah, that’s right,” I said, sucking in my gut and hoping that the loose t-shirt I wore gave the impression of muscles lurking beneath.

“That must be hard if you can’t swim.”

“Who said I can’t swim?” I said.

“You did,” the girl purred. “To Betsy, two tables down, just a minute ago.”

My face instantly was red as a beet.

“I, uh, er…that is…um…” I sputtered.

My brain was trying to come up with something witty and subtle to say that would quickly evaporate the incident into a cloud of soft laughter. All I came up with was a sort of stutter. Doubtless, I would wake up in the middle of the night a week from now with an absolutely perfect line, but it’d do me little good now.