Even the seagulls were quiet

One look and anyone could tell that my natural habitat was a foggy moor or maybe some dark corner of an industrial dance club – not the beach on a sunny day.

Yet there I was, Clearwater Beach, burning to a crisp with sand up my ass.

It was that or social hibernation every summer. I chose at the margin – accompanying Becky or Cathy for twenty minutes of prime-time exposure to skin cancer, then leaving to roam air-conditioned lobbies of nearby resort hotels. My friends were used to such disappearances; finding me at the end of the day sprawled out in the backseat of their car, reading a book with the windows rolled down.

This day was different.

I walked along where the water reached the land, hoping to find some shells, but also looking ahead to the clouds and hoping they’d come my way. Our oppressive sun existed, I firmly believed, to help the masses appreciate overcast days and accompanying cool breezes.

Not the other way around.

God, it was hot. Sweat rolled down my back and into my ass. I licked the top of my lip and wondered why more people weren’t uncomfortable, especially those whose bellies rolled over the bottom of their bathing suits. Everyone looked content and happy. I envied them.

I noticed a crowd to my left.

Between ten and fifteen beachgoers gathered to watch two middle-aged men circle each other like dogs. I’d never before seen a fight in person. One of the men was angry and seemed to be egging the other on, encouraging him to throw the first punch. When he obliged, blood squirted everywhere and they were soon on top of one another, wrestling and scratching and snarling.

I got closer, elbowing my way to the front of the crowd.

They smelled like beer. They smelled like my father.

Spit and blood mixed together with their bodies and the crowd stood silently, like a herd of dumbfounded cows. The guy who seemed to start the fight was losing, pretty soon he was on his belly. I could hear his bones crunching. The winner delivered calm but steady blows, teaching this asshole not to start fights with people who were clearly superior.

His face held an amused grin as he kicked the downed animal into submission.

Arrogance. I felt sick to my stomach and stepped forward, holding my hands up. He stopped, staring at me with blood dripping from his fists.

“You made your fucking point,” I said, so close I could smell his breath.

I leaned over and stared at the broken man beneath me. His eyes looked shattered and empty. I felt hands on my shoulders as cops moved me back and arrested both men.

“You didn’t bring enough handcuffs,” I said, a little too loud.

Clouds rolled in, but the breeze was about five minutes late. I walked back to my friends, leaving bloody footprints in the sand behind me.