She walks on the beach, sifting her toes through the old cigarette butts and bottle caps, humming an old rock song she heard here once. The color of the sky dictates that this place is empty today, which is good; she isn't looking for company.
For the occasion she has donned a black bathing suit, maybe a little too ambitious for her age. Behind her is an aging amusement park, built out onto this humble peninsula by entrepreneurs decades before she was born but which she is still old enough to remember as a seedy teenage utopia. Now dilapidated past all relevance, it still opens on the first day of summer and draws a handful of curious visitors each year willing to ignore the peeling paint and concrete blotched by old gum.
On her left and growing closer is a rocky outcrop in the water, populated at the moment by some dormant seagulls. As a kid she climbed those rocks virtually all the time, thrilled by the adventure of slick handholds and a youthful desire to summit just about anything. At a later age she had been chased up its side by some boys (who meant her no harm) and it happened that she was somehow distracted and slipped near the top, crashing down onto the jagged rocks with her hip and opened an impressive gash in her side.
It hadn't been particularly painful and the salt water had rushed in to disinfect everything right away but she remembered how horrified everyone was as she surfaced from a murk of blood. They'd brought her straight to the hospital and when they sent her home the same day she was kept out of the water for the rest of the summer.
The following winter was the most dismal and academic of her entire life. When June rolled around again she had wasted no time in coming back here and climbing that stupid rock again, albeit in a much more discreet bathing suit.
Thinking about that particular bathing suit was enough to make her grin all by itself. It had left so much to the imagination that those same boys, who had been looking forward to doggedly pursuing her again, were shocked and dismayed by her new found humility. It took the most devoted of them the entire season to weasel her out of it and touch the long and livid scar that ran up her side. She'd grabbed his hand and attempted to coax him into repositioning but he had just hung on and laughed. It had been fantastic.
She can't remember his name now of course, nor his face. Like so many young lovers he is immortalized in just a few traits: his hair, his teeth, the sound of his voice on the phone when he woke up in the morning. Or maybe that had been another boy. Ugh. Those poor boys. She wrinkles her nose in sad disgust.
Those boys, the ones who hadn't left or died, are just bitter old men now. They have wives and jobs and all of them smoke either more or less than they want. They're dead on the inside, no; on good days they can still show her how capable they are of passion. They're still her friends. But, you know, she just can't stand sound of chains clanking in the back of their heads anymore, not even when they make love.
The woman exhales. She has now reached the head of the peninsula and the wind is picking up, blowing her long black hair around her face as she stands there and lets goosebumps raise on her skin. She is thinking about freedom now. She thinks freedom has a lot to do with it, this feeling she has in her chest all the time. Adult life is just too restrictive and takes you too far from the beach. You have to work and save and talk to your doctor and she talked to her doctor a little bit longer every year about bad habits and that feeling in her chest and how quickly she ran out of breath when she walked on the beach.
She wants a cigarette.
No, that's not right. She wants to be young again. That's the truth. When she was young she had been a swimmer. She had started here and kept on at school during the winter, shriveling her toes in the chlorine doing laps late into the night. It had made her strong and sleek. She wants to be strong and sleek again.
The woman steps out towards the ocean and the water washes over her feet. It's cold, always colder than she expects this time of year. It climbs up over her hips and then her breasts before she pushes forward and submerges herself completely, striking out from the shore.
It doesn't take long for her lungs to protest but she assumes an even, deliberate stroke. Thoughts dissolve in an athletic haze and all that's left is the sound of the water and the taste of salt. Somewhere behind that is the sound of her pounding heart.
By the time she stops for the first time she has long since lost track of time. The sky is getting grayer by the instant and the park has become so tiny that she can fit the Ferris Wheel between her fingers. This does not dissuade her in the slightest from swimming further.
By the time she stops again it is almost dark. The peninsula is a degraded cluster of shapes on the horizon and the wind is gusting. Her entire body burns in the sea. Then someone turns on the lights again at the old amusement park and she tries to swim back for one more year.