Excerpt from Point Dume


Ellis Gardner climbed into her beat-to-shit truck and started the engine.  There was a crack in the windshield, on the passenger side, that had branched and was crawling towards her.  Another few days and that crack would cut right through her line of vision.  How did it happen?  Ellis had no idea, it just appeared, but she needed to get it fixed.  Soon.  Along with the passenger door and the tailgate.   And the engine.  And the rear brake light.  And definitely the suspension.  What she really needed was a new truck.  Whatever.

It was still dark outside, maybe another forty-five minutes before the sun would come up, and her body was stiff from too little sleep.  God Damn it!  There was no reason to go out every single fucking night; she needed to remember that.  Nothing wrong with spending time alone.  Solitude, introspection.   Silence was not the enemy.  She was thirty-five years old, old enough to face the music once in awhile.  And anyway the parties were stale, same thing year after year, getting high; hooking up with someone she knew far too well whenever the mood struck.  This was a small, small town and her group of friends very insulated, Appalachia by the sea.  When the surf got big you could see it in the ocean–people dropping in, fist fights and boards being launched at the heads and bodies of non-locals.  It was dangerous to be an outsider around here.  When the waves got overhead, the boys turned into a raging pack of wolves, a militia hell-bent on defending their territory and their sense of allegiance and loyalty to the local break was strong.  During those times it felt good to be a part of this clan.  It made Ellis feel safe.

She revved the engine, trying to get everything warmed up so the heater could do its job.  It was March.   The sun was coming up earlier; her days were getting longer.  Ellis loved the beginning of spring, loved the way the sun hit the water; the light seemed brighter, somehow fuller.   South swells would start rolling in soon and then she would be able to surf in front of her house but for now she had to drive up the coast for waves.

She gunned the engine one more time then turned the heater on high.  Lukewarm air blew into her face.  There was a slight throbbing at the back of her skull but nothing serious.  This was a level 3 maybe 3 1/2 on her 10-count hangover scale.  Not too bad.  Nothing the ocean wouldn’t cure.

Ellis shifted into reverse and backed up her long driveway.  She’d been paddling out in the dark for the last year, trying to avoid the crowds.  A lot of her friends were doing the same thing.  Surfing had become the new golf–every asshole, his sister, AND his fricking mother had taken up “the sport” and it was harder and harder to find uncrowded waves.  In the old days her group had taken care of crowds with assault-oriented intimidation, like slashing tires and breaking windshields, but now you had to worry about lawyers and lawsuits.   All these new people with their pompous attitudes and sense of privilege, hooting and hollering in the ocean—they completely destroyed the peace that came from sitting quietly in the water, waiting for the next set.  They’d make it to the lineup, usually in groups of three or four, because god forbid they do anything alone, and yell back and forth about how great it was to be out there and did anybody have a good line on property in Costa Rica or Nicaragua or any other trendy investment spot.  They were like bobbing cockatoos in some weird animal circus, perched on their boards, flexing their crests and puffing out their feathers, trying to take on the appearance of a bigger, more impressive bird, and all the while claiming their territory with shrieks of entitlement.  Fucking rich assholes were taking over the planet.  They bought all the beachside houses and drove prices through the roof, then got a couple of “Point Dume” bumper stickers and slapped them on their cars so the world would know exactly where they lived, threw on some trunks or a bikini and a pair of Uggs and called themselves surfers.   It was getting to the point where Ellis wondered if she would just have to stop.  Find something else. The thought was too depressing to consider.

She drove along the highway.  A few lights were on in the houses but most people were still sleeping.  She’d grown up here.  Ellis’ mother died when she was born, complications of childbirth, some type of infection.  No memories.  Her father ran a hardware store down in the village.  She been here all her life; this was her home but it was increasingly hard to recognize.  There were still a few beach shacks but they were increasingly rare, crushed by the elephant steps of the wealthy developers.  Typically a rich asshole would buy two or three cottages on the sand, level them, and fill in the space with a monument to his own ego, some crazy architectural statement that said look at me.

Ellis turned into the lot, drove past Frank’s black BMW and pulled into a space next to Pablo Schwartz’s beat-up camper.  Pablo had been parked here for the last week, cooking his dinners on his little camp stove, drinking beers out of his ice chest, using the showers at the public restroom.  He knew the lifeguards and they let him stay around, sometimes for two weeks in one spot, even though it was against the law to sleep in your car.  He moved from one lot to the next, year round.  It was the only way he could afford to stay.  His mother sold her house years ago and, even with his savings; Pablo would never be able to afford the smallest shack now that the billionaires had invaded.

Pablo walked over, stuck his head through her window and kissed Ellis on the lips.  There was a little spark in that kiss but no pressure.  She smiled as he pulled back.

“What are you doing later?”  Pablo had his wetsuit zipped and was clearly ready to get in the water.

Ellis shrugged.

“I’ll buy you breakfast if we can shower at your place first.”

Ellis nodded.  They both knew that Pablo wouldn’t buy her breakfast.  Pablo never spent a penny unless he absolutely had to.  After he showered she’d make him something to eat and then maybe they’d hangout or maybe she would send him off, depending on her mood.

Pablo kissed Ellis again, this time on the cheek, and headed for the ocean.  She watched him go as she pulled off her jacket.  They’d grown up together, learned to swim, then ride mats, and finally surf on the same beach.  It was Pablo whom she picked when she decided it was time to have sex for the first time.  She loved him in a weird, complicated brother-sister-lover kind of way.  She liked his wiry-hard body, the way he didn’t need to fill up every moment with words and the fact that he didn’t give a damn about material possessions.  All Pablo needed was a good surfboard, a decent wetsuit, tons of pot, a stomach full of food and a dry place to sleep.

Ellis got out of the truck.  The sun wouldn’t rise for another half hour but there was plenty of light now.  She could see that the swell had dropped considerably since yesterday but it didn’t look too bad. Pablo had already made it to the line-up and was sitting with Kirby and Bud.  She made a point of not looking over at Frank’s car.  Fuck him.  She grabbed her wetsuit, which was still damp from yesterday, and started pulling it on; there is nothing worse than an ice-cold wetsuit at the break of dawn.

“You’re just going to ignore me?”  Frank stood in front of her truck, board in hand.

Ellis didn’t know why she was mad at Frank.  He hadn’t really done anything but looking at him there in his brand new wetsuit and his expensive surfboard and his oh-so-protective ninety-dollar booties–he just pissed her off.

“You haven’t called me back.”  Frank cleared his throat.  “I’ve left you about twenty messages.  Did you get them?”

“What do you want, Frank?”  Ellis zipped her wetsuit and grabbed her board from the back of the truck.

“El Salvador?”  Frank put his board down and grabbed her shoulders.  “What?  You’ve got amnesia?”

Frank invited Ellis to go to El Salvador over a month ago.  They’d been lying in Ellis’ bed when Frank proposed a little surf trip to La Libertad.  They’d only been sleeping together for about a week but Frank was completely out of control in love.  He’d broached the idea of leaving his wife and kids after the very first time they had sex but Ellis nixed that immediately.  She definitely didn’t want to be the object of a midlife catastrophe plus she knew from experience that these things never last.  Why did she keep ending up here? She told herself that married men kept everything simple, no pesky commitment problems, but it always ended up complicated.  Did she secretly hope that they’d throw away their lives for the chance to be with her?  Demonstrate that she was the most desirable woman in the world?  Irresistible?  Even if she didn’t want them?  Was she that much of a monster?  Ellis didn’t want to think about it.  Frank was handsome, she liked the way he kissed her, and it was hard to resist complete adoration.  Plus he worked very hard to please her in bed and he had nice hands, so she’d said yes to the trip.  A weak moment, but she’d said yes.

“Surf’s been pretty good around here.”  Ellis stepped away from Frank and rubbed some wax onto her board.  “Maybe we should postpone.”

“I got the time off, worked it out with my family.  I can’t just postpone.  It takes a lot of planning for me to do something like this.  Last minute changes don’t work for me.”

“Right.”  Ellis stowed the wax under the seat and locked her truck.  She dug a hole under the left back tire and buried the key then stood and looked Frank in the eye.  “See the whole rigid planning thing–it just doesn’t work for me.  And that married thing?  Not so good.  You go ahead.  Have a great time.  I’m going to take a pass.”  Ellis turned and headed for the water.  She ignored Frank’s sputtering protest.  Later she’d probably feel guilty about dumping him so abruptly but for right now she was just relieved. She threw her board in the water, jumped on and paddled out to where her friends were waiting.

“Ellis, wait!”

Frank was somewhere behind her.  She could hear him working desperately to try and catch her.  No chance.  Maybe if he swallowed his pride and rode a longboard he’d have a chance of paddling as fast as she did but guys in their forties viewed longboards as an admission of defeat.  If you ever saw a guy, say forty-two, out on a 9’0” chances were you’d hear him say, “Yeah, left my short board at home.  Thought I take a few on this old dinosaur.  Ha.  What a log.  Can’t wait to get back on my 6’0”.”  They always gave dimensions.  Shorter the board, the bigger the dick?  She dug in and paddled faster.  If she made it to the line-up before Frank got close, she wouldn’t have to have the Why are you doing this to me? discussion.  Once she got in with the pack of guys, he’d leave her alone.  “The boys” intimidated everybody.

Frank was originally from “town”.  He grew up going to private schools, got a car when he turned sixteen, had expensive clothes and dated girls exactly like himself.  He’d married his college sweetheart, taken over the family business then sold it and bought a monster house up on the hill and surrounded himself with a vanity vineyard.  Fucking assholes like him were buying up all the land in these coastal hills and growing fucking grapes.  In Ellis’ opinion, a vineyard was as much of an eyesore as a strip mall or a string of pre-fab self-storage units. The people that lived on those vineyards bitched and moaned about destruction of the Amazon.  They held Save the Rainforest fund-raisers in their ridiculously huge mansions, invited Sting and served up their home-grown wines, but they never considered that maybe they too were guilty of raping the land when they stripped away the native plants and replaced them with rows and rows of pinot noir grapes.  The scars that they inflicted on those mountains would never heal.  But if you asked them, they honestly didn’t have a clue.

Frank was just another one of them, spoiled rich kid.  He was the guy that always showed up at the beach with the newest equipment and spent winter vacations skiing in Idaho or Colorado.   He had the best clothes and the fastest cars, perfect teeth and a beautiful smile.  He just assumed he’d be accepted into any group once he started sharing his pot or coke or whatever drug was in style at the time.  When they were in high school, Ellis and her friends were the kids that Frank was probably buying from.  Ellis’ gang couldn’t afford the dope without going into business.  Ellis came from the service side of the counter and Frank expected to be waited on.  His sense of entitlement wasn’t a choice; it was in his genes, a deeply encoded message in his DNA.  Frank was a foreign species, an alien, completely incompatible with whom she was.  Still there was something that drew her in, maybe a deep-rooted desire for something more ordered and sane?  Well, it was over.  Now when she looked at him, listened to him whine about his needs and desires, she just felt annoyed.  And the thrill of controlling him had lost its kick.

She made it to the line-up, spun around and took off in front of Pablo.

“Hey, what the fuck El?”  Pablo shouted.  No one dropped in on Pablo.

Ellis cranked her bottom turn and started down the line.  She didn’t look back, didn’t even bother to answer Pablo.