By Trevor J. Houser
There is an inlet near where I live, which can be reached by a leisurely stroll through grassy dunes, or it can be reached perilously by kickboard in the shark infested shore break. When I get there I sit on a park bench dedicated to some old dead lovers and wait. I watch living couples amongst the dunes and sandbars tease each other in rolled up jeans. Also there are old men with metal detectors looking for misplaced cutlasses. Then it’s silent and everybody’s finally gone. That’s when I go to the old log deep in a yellow throb of scotchbroom with my shovel and protective goggles.
I’ve been digging awhile.
I have to defend the beachhead from the invasion that’s coming any day now. I’m building a heavy machine gun bunker at the mouth of the inlet. It’s coming along pretty good, but you never know. My ex-girlfriend pointed out its flaws while getting the last of her things. “Nice fort,” she said, rolling her eyes, before storming out the door with a box of old sweatshirts. Then she said my line of sight was worth shit. She laughed. “They’re going to eat you alive, mister.” Her name is Maxine and she is clinically depressed and she has beautiful green eyes like molten jade.
It was the way she used “mister” that made me cringe. That’s the how she used to wake me up in the morning. “How did you sleep, mister?”
When I dig I think about a lot of things. I think, How am I going to get heavy machine guns with my credit history? I think about how much I like razor clams in egg batter and how much I enjoy clouds. Smoky thunderheads! Brumous vapors! I also think about the pleasures of interactive sea life. I once fought a hammerhead shark to a draw in shallow water with an actual hammer. Hard to explain. He was already injured and clearly dazed when I bumped into him, but the fight was more than fair. I like fairness. And women. I respect breasts that are forthright and appear to have exotic goals of their own. I enjoy WWII history. Sometimes I have dreams concerning a great naval conflict in the sizable milk vats outside Lisbon.
This is the sleepy town of Blue Beach, Oregon, and geologists of every shade have given up on the reasons why the sand only in these exact global coordinates is the brightest, most peculiar pigment of blue. Blue like chunks of moonlight, like fields of detergent that leave cerulean steaks on the arms and legs of sunbathers as they rise to leave. Evening swimmers will sometimes tragically find in the midst of their submersion that they can no longer distinguish between sky above and the sparkling blue sand depths below. So they dive down further. They get disoriented. A few pop their skulls on a giant rock or simply run out of breath.
Here is what the invaders will do: They will wait till I am sleeping and they will come in through my window and cut my head off and send it priority mail to my third-grade schoolteacher. The one who swore I was going places. Then they’ll eat all my razor clams and probably stick their hands up my ex-girlfriend’s shirt, wildly mooshing her breasts. They’ll send obscene Polaroids to my dentist.
Just like some people were born to be lawyers or pipe fitters, I was born to lay down a withering suppression fire on a coastal inlet. Besides, I’m a homeowner. My place was built in 1903, like a hundred others surrounding it. It is weathered wood the color of white-hot engine metal with white shutters and hand blown panes of glass that perceive the outside world as frightening blobs of movement. I have a black and white flag with a giant martini on it that I stick in the lawn for cocktail parties. Some nights when the mood is right, I escort an anonymous girl to a grassy mound in the back yard to sip our drinks and discuss the things people discuss before they unbutton each other’s jeans with their teeth.
Other nights I just toss back gimlets with my friend Marty. He sometimes helps out with the digging. He’s an unemployed ad exec with a lot of time on his hands and at least two prescriptions (that I know of) for severe anxiety. He’s also growing a beard, which hasn’t come in properly. It itches him and he has to take a fair number of breaks from the digging to scratch himself and to relight his joint.
“What are you going to do if it’s a submarine?” he asks, puffing mammothly on a too-tight wrap.
“Nothing,” I say.
“A submarine can’t fit in the inlet. It’s too shallow.”
“What about that hammerhead that got in here two summers ago?”
“Yes, if the submarine was as big as a hammerhead it could get in here.”
“Do they have the technology?”
“Whoever these guys are, the invaders.”
“Oh, I don’t think so.”
One day after testing a light machine gun in the inlet the sheriff dropped by my home during cocktail hour. I had the martini flag out in one of the potted plants and there was a small herd of neighbors clumped out on the deck in heavy duty Adirondacks. Big, clean, white ones. Good for conversation and for falling asleep. They aren’t very good for sex, though. Hard on the shins.
I was just reviving a New Orleans Buck (bourbon, orange juice, bitters, sugar) when the sheriff let himself in. I turned away from the wet bar, my fresh drink illuminating the room a dreamy citrus. Because the sheriff had about three other jobs, not to mention being well past retirement age, he didn’t really get off on the power trips you find prevalent in your younger, more single-minded big city sheriffs.
“Hi there, buddy,” said the sheriff.
“Hiya, Chief,” I said raising my highball.
“Want a drink?”
“No thanks, buddy, not right now.”
The sheriff paused briefly to look over the house. I have oversized leather furniture and large African masks and spears on the walls. An American flag is painted on the entire living room ceiling. The sheriff removed his state-issue ten-gallon and proceeded.
“Buddy, have you, by any chance, been firing automatic weapons out by the inlet?”
I nodded vigorously as I sipped my overflowing drink.
“Yep, guilty as charged.”
The sheriff smoothed out his cowlick and furrowed his brow.
“Well, people are complaining a little. It seems some fishermen thought they were being shot at and got pretty spooked. Right now we’ve got them on some tranqs, but they were pretty wound up this afternoon, if you know what I mean.”
“Had to give one of them mouth to mouth because he had a stroke and fell out of his boat.”
“Won’t happen again, Chief.”
“Well, thanks, buddy. I appreciate it. You know how the Coast Guard gets this late in the summer.”
Then we didn’t say anything. We both took long looks at each other. I took a heavy slug off my drink without breaking eye contact.
The sheriff understands what I am capable of. He’s seen the bunker.
The Bunker: It’s located on the crown of a high sandy embankment. Inside this thatched hideaway of briar tunnels and conifer abutments lined with wooden spikes and bear traps, I will recline in my ripped out Cadillac bucket seat with a network of belts and pins strapping me tight to the earth for the gut-rippling recoil of those heavy machine guns I have to probably buy over the Internet from some guy in Turkey. Moreover, this bunker allows me intimacy with the crab grass and coastline I will soon be protecting with my life. It is melting darkness in there with only pencil stabs of sunlight shooting through blue gaps in the pine needles, dazzling my plate of peanut butter sandwiches and New Orleans Buck highball like the Second Coming.
My kill zone is a pretty good one. When I get my heavy machine guns, preferably German 88s, Marty and I will be able to spray metal across three large dunes stretching from the sandbar to the old Johnson place. I’ve alerted the Johnson’s as to my preparations, but they seem to have little interest outside playing tennis and sleeping off hangovers in their hammocks.
If everything goes to pot, I have an escape tunnel that goes all the way to the local golf course across town. It took me and Marty three years to dig and it leads up to the clubhouse bar. One of those old rustic jobs with brass and smoky crushed felt and solemn diagrams of lighthouses of the Pacific Northwest. I have instructed the bartender there to ready two double scotches upon our arrival in case of retreat. Unless, of course, we don’t make it. That would, for all intents and purposes, be the end of it. Marty thinks heaven is a bunch of slender gold clouds and topless redheads, without all the anxiety. But that’s where he’s wrong. Heaven is actually a thirty-dollar bottle of cab franc and a package of Red Vines left in the afternoon sun.
I sometimes wish I still had Maxine. Sure, there’s always Marty hanging around drinking my good scotch and pissing on my toilet seat, but I need passion. I think of growing old and going to funerals alone and then getting stone drunk. I saw a movie once about a Canadian guy who grew old by himself and he went crazy and shot a bunch of Mounties. The movie starred Charles Bronson and one of the guys from the Dirty Dozen. It was a long time ago.
I remember dusk outside the window over the sink with the I Love Lucy postcard stuck in the frosted sill. Maxine bending over an open dishwasher, steam, short auburn hair, her breasts inside a smart black blouse peeking out full and white and her green eyes still wet from crying. I don’t remember what she was crying about. Either way she looked beautiful.
For three whole days in belated recognition of our breakup, I gloomily drank all my vintage Bordeaux and listened to Mahler with the lights off. I often wore one of the giant African masks and little else. One day I went back to digging.
Then the other shoe dropped.
In this case, Marty was the other shoe. He stopped coming by to help dig. Then he stopped coming by altogether. A few days went past when I finally stopped by his place and he said he was moving inland where his parents had a cabin in the mountains. They hoped to survive the invasion up there, I guess. Naturally, I asked for his camo netting and flak jacket back and that was basically it. “Horses and whiskey,” he explained lamely from his bathrobe. So our friendship is on hold until further notice. He left the very next day without so much as a goodbye. Not long after that my 88s came in the mail, gleaming and pitch black and with serious attitude. But I can’t show them off to anyone. A lot of the summer residents followed Marty’s lead, escaping into the hills, to never-ending mineshafts, to weather balloons in Greenland, delaying their inevitable demise.
My martini flag is in the cellar gathering spider eggs now. No one stops by for a New Orleans Buck and conversation anymore. The sheriff died of a blood clot in his head.
Lately I find myself lying in the bunker, waiting with a tall, cool drink, watching the clouds more and more, the shapes they make loping across the horizon: a man on his belly robbing a cash register; a football player being shot from a cannon; a dead fox; a dead duck; a dachshund with cigar, unlit; an alien in drag; profile of the majestic lion-fish native only to parts of lower Manitoba; the invisible sturgeon; the swallows of Capistrano; the mold in the shower; the breasts of Sophia Loren; exploding speedboats; krill; falling girl with ponytail; Maxine.
It’s hard to tell.