Mendocino. Mendocino remained the dream. And now they were on the way to making it a reality.
Reality – that wasn’t quite it. Each day that they spent together had the feeling of hyperreality, in the artistic sense as much as the semiotic. Everything they saw seemed as if it had been created for their eyes alone, so vivid were the colours, the delineations, the textures, all of it magnified for the one by the presence of the other. He saw for himself, and simultaneously through her eyes, and he knew it was the same for her. Placed against the Pacific coast sunshine, she herself was real, living and raw and vulnerable; not untouched by time but to him she was all the more beautiful for that. With the car windows wound down, her golden hair blew back in the breeze, and his heart leapt to see her unvarnished vitality beside him. Suited to movement, to the vagabond life, to travelling light, she was at once a fixed body and a blur of motion, and even after all their travels and travails, he could still not quite believe that his was the gift of flying alongside her.
‘This is it,’ he said, turning into the parking lot. They opened the doors of the car they had hired in Portland two days before and looked out over the rocks embedded in the undulating deep blue coverlet of the sea. A gentle introduction to the wildness of the coastline that they were thinking of making their temporary home.
Earlier in the day, they had driven through a giant sequoia. He had told her that they were going to do that. But he hadn’t told her about the beach. He wanted to surprise her with it. He had even checked the times of the tides, to be sure they would see it at its best.
He let her discover it for herself. From the one sign they saw, from dropping in wonder to her haunches to pick handfuls of worn-down gems of wave-smoothed glass, clear and green and brown and amber. And then he told her the tale. For this beach had once in large part been made up of thrown-away glass bottles, along with general rubbish, unwanted appliances and even cars. It had been the town dump. The metal and other non-biodegradable detritus had been removed in extensive clean-up operations, leaving only what nature could over time wear down itself, the glass and pottery; these rounded-off pieces, the same size as pebbles, had originally been broken shards and jagged fragments.
They sat among the gumdrop remnants of the bottles and wondered about the elixirs those vessels had contained, the people who had drunk from them, and the dreams and disasters they had unleashed. It was so tempting to take a little green or amber jewel of glass as a memento. After all, that’s what everyone else seemed to do. They both thought about it. They both knew that not long from now this day would seem like a dream and they each wanted to be able to look at and pick up a physical reminder that their dream had been real, that it had come to pass. But they knew that if they took a single glass pebble, and every other visitor did so, then this beach would soon lose what made it special. It was clearly already happening, but they wanted no part of that. So they let the glass pebbles slip through their fingers, and listened to them clinking like marbles as they rejoined the beach. They would have to seek some other small reminder of the day – perhaps a coaster from the diner where they would eat chowder and drink Mendocino County wine, or a monogrammed towel from the sea-facing motel they were to stay at, neither of which would seem quite as heinous a theft as a single precious gem from this beach.
The following morning when their eyes met, he rolled himself on top of her, took her face in his hands, and kissed her so deeply that she felt she was falling through the whiteness of the bed into a place where nothing could touch her except his fingers, his mouth, his heartbeat, and all the smoothed and rounded parts of him. Lifting his lips from hers, he whispered in her ear. ‘Tomorrow, Mendocino. Today, how about we go for a ride on the Skunk Train?’
‘Yes,’ she said, the word so soft with love and thick with desire that she uttered it again. ‘Yes.’