We all go down to the sea, Annie, Duane, and I. Annie surfs. She digs on
the big waves and the small waves, but mostly she likes the sand and
the water. Duane goes for the scenery, as he calls it, and he gets as
turned on from the guys pumping iron and glistening with oil and sweat
as from the blonde perfect women in bikinis wearing roller blades.
"You never watch them, Kim," he says to me. "You should check out those
muscle beach guys. You could get lucky." He's joking. I hope.
I like the scenery too, but my view is up. The hot sun beats down on me,
slantwise in the morning and edgewise in the afternoon, and I keep that
boiling star to my back. I'm looking for the things that fly. Yes, the
seagulls and sandpipers are adorable in a clumsy way, but I'm not a bird
watcher. The bright-colored kites spin, buffeted by the salt wind, and I
stare at them, but they aren't the main attraction. I look for the
planes; well, sort of planes. I search for the other things. Duane and
Annie make a joke of it, say I'm searching for flying saucers, but I
look for points of refracted light coruscating off the fins of a
cigar-shaped rescue vehicle. My people won't send a whole ship; they'll
send a small snatch and grab job. If they send one.
Duane brings me a soda, sloshing ice, and plops down next to me on the
sand. I blink the sundogs out of my eyes and take the cup with a
"Seen anything green yet?" He smiles at me lopsided.
I'm not attracted to Duane, but sometimes I want to brush the coarse
mane of sunbleached hair off his forehead. When he smiles at me like
that, I want to touch him.
"Annie," I say, joking. Her surfboard, one of the stubby ones, is green
and white, and she wears those colors under her black neoprene bodysuit.
"Yeah yeah," he says, then sucks on his soda. The air rattles through
We both look out at the breakers where Annie and a dozen other surfers
are lined up, waiting for a good swell. We can just make out their dark
silhouettes; Annie is the small one near the middle, because that's
where she always is. The sun burns out any identifying details and
leaves the surfers democratically identical shadow black silhouettes.
The people on the beach who care will be wowed by a good ride, not by
the rider. A swell develops behind the line and some of the surfers
begin to paddle. Annie isn't moving; she's waiting this wave out. She
probably timed the swells and knows a better one is coming up soon.
I shade my eyes and look over their heads. There, something bright
flashes on the sharp horizon. All my muscles tense and hairs rise on my
forearms. Duane gasps. For a moment I think he sees it but he's still
watching the surfers and Annie has spilled off her board. She'll be
fine, she always is. I stare at the horizon again but see nothing.
Stiff cool breezes presage sunset. Particles of sand are blown in
undulating ripples, seeking and finding entrance in my clothes, coating
my skin with grime that stinks of fish and salt. Summer night on the
beach and I feel fine. Duane and Annie and I sit around the brick pit,
feeding sticks of firewood to the flames. I dream that maybe we're
assuaging some minor god's desire with our burnt offerings of
marshmallow and hot dogs, the god of the evening sand perhaps. I smile.
My eyes burn a bit, both from watching the sky and from the smoky heat
of the fire, and my smile brings involuntary tears.
Annie passes a soda can filled with something a bit stronger than soda. I
slug some down, then wipe my face with the back of my arm, then pass
the can along to Duane. It's time for me to begin. I hold the
steel-string guitar like a pillow across my lap and fiddle around with
the pegs. They don't need much tuning.
"My favorite movie is Endless Summer," I say, plucking a high-pitched
chord. Annie and Duane sigh. Since I've known them, we've watched that
movie almost every night, forty-two times, on a dvd that Duane bought
specially for me. I want to surf but I'm too clumsy, too tall, too old
to learn. Boogie boarding isn't enough but it'll suffice when the urge
gets too strong. But boarding doesn't channel that wild surf urge the
way the music does, the music that somehow combines with the waves and
shakes me up. Every time.
"Steve-o plays the best music ever," I say, jangling up a mix of notes.
Steve-o is a surf music god. Sometimes his band performs on the pier of
the next beach over. I haven't seen him yet, but he's sure to take the
stage sometime this summer. Listening to his band play the live sound
would be the highlight of my visit.
I don't rave about Steve-o as much as I want. Annie isn't a fan of
instrumental surf music, and Duane's tastes are so channeled that he
likes some of Steve-o's tunes but not others. He won't listen to a live
performance because Steve-o might sing; he hates Steve-o's voice, but
digs the instrumental stuff. He's got the tracks, the ones he likes,
ripped to a portable music device that he attaches to his ears whenever
he doesn't want to talk.
I like the honest sound of a live music experience. Nothing I've ever
heard is better than good musicians working out the chords of a wailing
song. There are other good surf bands, like the Insect Surfers, who play
surf music with a rock feel; or the Mermen, a jam band in San Francisco
who improvise and extend the tunes; but Steve-o is my favorite. He's
the original. His tight music tugs at my viscera. I picked up the radio
broadcast - why yes, we are listening - and followed the music here.
"I talked my captain into stopping here," I say. "The ship's crews are
built of friends and family. Our journeys are far too long for
strangers. We can't chance being so far from home port and learning we
hate one another. The down side," and I grin because I love that phrase,
"the down side is that we can sometimes influence the crew to do
unreasonable things. Like setting down on an interdict island just
because the music is so good. My captain, my lover, he did this for me,
he sent me here to appreciate and collect. He ran the interdiction for
Duane and Annie have edged closer to each other, their hips touching.
They think it's high romance that my lover did this for me, to please
me. I strum something sweet I composed just for them, something alien
and off-pitch according to Duane but romantic according to Annie.
"He set me down here, clean landing area, the beach at midnight, and he
promised to pick me up again in a week." I wipe my stiff fingers down
hard on the strings, a harsh jangle. "I watched his ship go up in the
sky and I watched it explode. The interdict police shot him down. The
landing ship disappeared in a pinprick of light, but the community ship
exploded like Fourth of July fireworks. My comms all went dark."
I start a single-pattern arpeggio on the strings, running through the
chords, a beginner's practice but comforting. "And then I found you
two." I stop playing and wrap my arms around the guitar's cheap birch
Annie unwinds her arms from around Duane and puts a little distance
between their hips.
"You can couch surf with us as long as you want," she says. "Until your
ship comes back for you."
Duane stifles a snigger and she digs her elbow into his side, ungentle.
Duane still doesn't believe me, but he does like my story. And my
playing. As usual, he has his recording microphone pinned to his tee
shirt and the red light is on.
"Can you play 'Wipeout'?" he asks. He knows the answer, he's asked the
same thing for the last four weeks.
"`Wipeout' is best on electric guitar," I say. "But I can play something
I swing into a standard surf riff. Duane and Annie seat-dance a bit,
getting into the sound. After a few minutes I stand up and begin playing
my own compositions, like I always do. Other people who've been tending
fire pits start to wander over. I'm developing a regular audience. My
music builds from the whisper and thunder of waves hitting the beach and
the sounds of deepest space. Deep space doesn't sound all sterile and
cold, by the way. Whale songs are more like it. I've heard the birth of
stars in recordings of whale song.
After a while people are dancing and a couple other acoustic guitar
players have joined me; someone has bongos and tries to keep us honest
with a good steady beat. The fire pit burns high and I'm grooving on the
salt wind chill and the heat of the open flames and the emotion of
people having a good time. I'm grooving on music that I love. A while
later, the fire has burned down and people have moved off, nighttime
silhouettes as they leave in pairs and groups. No one is alone.
I stop playing when Duane and Annie start for their apartment, a tiny
place just steps from the beach. Sand scrunches under my feet. They open
the door but don't bother turning on the lights. Their bedroom door
closes behind them. I collapse on the futon, a green stained mattress in
a wood frame. I'll shower in the morning. For now I take comfort in
smelling like beach and fire. I dream of home. I was born and grew up in
an urban center in the midst of a continental landmass, but my life
revolves around my community ship. I don't yet have children in that
community, but I have parents, siblings, lovers past, lovers future. The
captain is my current lover by lottery and we like each other more than
usual. He likes my music, which grates on the conservative crew's ears
and won't earn me a place on the education board. A visit to the world
that produces this music and throws it away into space like gifts to the
universe, I whisper in his ear when cuddling him, a research visit will
complete my apprenticeship and confirm my worth to the ship's
community. You can navigate around the interdiction police, I entice.
You're a fantastic captain. Anyway, everybody does it.
He agrees. He loves me.
I awaken with the sunshine full on my face, this world's sun a yellow
flare that warms me through. I killed him. Him and my entire community.
The interdict police shot them down, as per protocol, but I'm
Of course I'll be rescued. Sooner or later they'll send a pod for me;
they surely can't leave me here. This place is isolated for many
reasons. I studied before I came here. I've done my best not to fall
into any of the traps. I haven't said, "take me to your leader." I
haven't exposed my physiology to official scrutiny. I never thought I'd
be here for longer than a week. But soon, my comms will chirp and I'll
know it's time to leave.
I might have time to say goodbye to my friends. I might not. The
rescuers will hand me over to the interdict police. I'm not sure what
will happen then. I imagine I won't like it.
We head out to the beach after a quick breakfast of yogurt and fruit and
I swim. I entertain a few children by building an enormous sand space
ship, which the tide erodes away. I lie in the sand and watch the
seagulls and pigeons fight over discarded food. In the long afternoon,
after the sun has slid across most of the sky, I think I see what I'm
looking for above the horizon. Something flashes through shades of
I think I hear my comms chirp. I glance at the receiver but it's dead
black still. Could I be hallucinating? Could desire have deranged me?
The answer of course is yes, but I don't think I'm insane.
I could be wrong. The sun beats on my head. I pick up my guitar even
though it's not dark yet and strum something harsh and fast. My comms
chirp again and this silvered link to my ship and community that Duane
thinks is a broken watch lights up, glows.
I'm not sure how much time I have left but they will find me soon. They
track me through the comms. I cannot remove the comms, though right now
I'm tempted, but the only way would be to remove my hand and then I
wouldn't be able to play the guitar.
I put down the guitar on my beach towel and run into the water. I'm not a
strong swimmer but I like to ride the waves, bodysurfing. I'm afraid. I
swim out to the biggest breakers, out by the surfers, and slide towards
shore on the curls. The water is like space, riding the waves much like
popping out of the airlock and riding the ship's skin.
After an hour my muscles are loose and I'm exhausted, in a good way. I
walk out of the water.
Two men are standing next to my beach towel. They're dressed for the
beach, flowered swim trunks, Hawaiian shirts, zoris, sunglasses. I'm
afraid all over again and my muscles tense into hard ridges. I walk up
to them and wait.
"Someone sent us a demo," one of them says. "Is this you playing?" He
presses a button on a hand-sized recorder and I hear music, my music,
compressed and somewhat tinny but identifiably me.
"Yes, that is me," I say. These aren't my people. I'm still dealing with
the shock of relief when they make the offer.
"Steve-o's playing tonight at the pier and he wants you to stand in,"
the other guy says. "Can you handle a Fender?"
I should say no. I want to stand in with my hero's band and play the
best surf music in the world; I can play a Fender electric guitar,
Stratocaster, wah-wah, reverb. But my comms glow. I'll be rescued any
minute. I don't want to commit to something this important if I can't
"You bet," I say.
They tell me where I need to be in two hours, just after sunset, and
while we're shaking hands Duane and Annie walk up. They're excited but
don't say much.
I remember Duane recording my fire pit sessions. "Did you send them a
recording?" I say. Annie blushes. I've never seen her blush; I'm
surprised I can see that heat rise on her tanned cheeks. Nonetheless,
her face burns. We stare at her. Duane frowns just a bit. "I knew I was
missing a session," he says. "I guess it's okay. Ask next time.
"You need to get ready," he says to me. "I'll grab recording gear."
I feel his upset and I know why. He tried to sell my story to the
tabloids but they didn't bite. They didn't even answer his letter. He
hopes to get some money for the story; maybe he thinks he'll get some
money from the recordings. Having a permanent houseguest is an expensive
proposition; he's said this to Annie when he thought I couldn't hear.
I hope they find some way to profit from the music. I shower, using too
much hot water, too much soap, too much shampoo. I don't know what the
interdict police will do to me. The few stories I've heard are grim,
without a definite end; people just disappear. This bit of grooming, a
long cleansing in a tiny apartment's even tinier bathroom, might be the
last I ever experience.
We walk along the palm-tree-edged sidewalk in the dark blue evening. I
point out stars to Annie and Duane. They've asked me before to point out
my home star, but I can't see it from here, it's hidden by time and
distance. We get to the pier a little early. The crowds are already
milling, waiting for the king of surf music to come out on stage. A
warm-up group is playing and they don't suck. The audience dances,
gyrating in counterpoint to the high-energy sound of lyricless surf
Steve-o's roadies come out to greet us. Duane and Annie refuse
back-stage passes; they want to sit up front so they can record the
show. Of course they don't mention that; recording a live show is
technically illegal, and Steve-o is notorious for not allowing
recordings. I ask the roadies to help my friends find good seats, then I
move backstage to where the group is setting up.
They don't let me talk to Steve-o. I don't care; it is his music I love,
the sounds he can coax from his silver-stringed guitar, not the man
himself. I fondle the heavy Fender guitar they've given to me, heavy
maple lacquered to a high gloss, the name, Stratocaster, curling along
A band member, an older man with long silver hair and a van dyke beard,
works his way over to me. "You're not the star," he says, and I grin.
"You won't get a solo, so don't even hold your breath. Just try to keep
up, okay?" He sneers at me like he doesn't think I should be here.
Probably I shouldn't.
I'm so excited I'm not sure I can keep my fingers on the strings. I hope
that I do. I don't want to fail my hero. The warm-up band finishes its
set and clears the stage. We move out front. The van dyke beard guy
positions me near a tube amp on the left side of the stage. He jacks in
my Fender but doesn't turn on the amp. I reach down and switch it on.
I wish I could see Duane and Annie but I can't see anyone who isn't on
the stage. The lights blind me. There's some patter between the band
members and then someone announces over a loudspeaker, "Ladies and
gentlemen, the event you've been waiting for! Steve-o and the Newtones!"
Steve-o waves his arms over his head, his fingers making the shaka, hang
loose sign. The audience cheers. The band swings into the first number,
an oldie I memorized long before I set foot on this world, and I easily
My fingers add trills all by themselves and I see band members throwing
glances my way, but they're going with it. Steve-o is a master. He
commands the stage, strutting back and forth like a rooster, slamming
through his numbers and making the audience scream for more. I watch
from my tiny x-marked spot on the stage and I play this loaner Fender
guitar and I'm glad that Duane is recording this. There's a break
between the second and third number and van dyke beard saunters over to
Steve-o and shares some words with him. I can't hear what they're
saying. Steve-o shakes his head mournfully, and then it's time to play
the next number.
During the bridge in the third number Steve-o points at me. I know what
this means. I edge forward, up even with Steve-o, and follow along with
his chords. After a few moments he backs away and lets me take off. I'm
soloing with my hero's band.
The song is another oldie and I've built riffs for this, which I've
practiced over the years. I launch the trills I composed and the crowd
growls its appreciation, its love. I'd never considered how much the
crowd's love must affect the band; the energy and smell of sweat rise up
to sting my nostrils. I respond by playing chord combinations I've
composed on the spot, new ways to highlight the rhythm of this song. I'm
cool, I'm jamming, my fingers are hot and the strings vibrate.
The crowd roars.
I get to a sweaty place and let the song swing out of the solo and back
into its more familiar rhythms. Steve-o steps up to the front mic and
leads applause for me and the crowd adds clapping to its roars. My head
is filled with light. Someone is pulling my elbow towards my x-marked
spot and I back up gratefully.
The hand on my elbow doesn't let go when I get to the spot. I strum the
Fender and glance at the roadie. He's not a roadie. I know this even
though he's wearing black jeans and a Hard Rock Cafe tee shirt.
"Time to go," he whispers to me.
I turn off my amp and a feedback whine flares over the band's music. I
see Steve-o grimace but he keeps playing. I put the Fender down on the
stage. Goodbye, Annie, Duane, I think. Goodbye beach and music. Goodbye