Dr. Carson’s presentation was exacting and thorough. She was a woman who was accustomed to being correct, and also to being doubted. She would not tell you the current weather without five pieces of evidence to back herself up. Still, she had to observe friends and acquaintances walk out into the rain without an umbrella. So, at the end of her presentation, that included photos, graphs, expert testimony, and satellite imagery, she was unsurprised when the city council said they would look into it. She knew that immediate action would be too much to expect, but at least they hadn’t completely dismissed her. But, to those of us familiar with Dr. Carson, who had seen her perfect and mathematically arranged garden, who had heard her confidently but not conceitedly speak at our book club, who had smelt the ocean on her after a long day of research. To those of us who knew her, there was no doubt that she was correct. The ocean was receding. Not that there was less overall water, but that the ocean was slowly departing from our town.
We were already wondering. It had felt like it took us longer to reach the water. We’d park in the lot, carrying blankets, and kites, frisbees and coolers. It used to be fine, manageable, but now we got tired. Setting up our place with still a distance to the tides. We worried we were getting older. We should have exercised more over the winter. We were used to the subjectivity of time and space. Now, dear, perfect, wise Dr. Carson had the proof. We were as fit and vigorous as ever. Our senses were keen. There was nothing wrong with us, it was the ocean that was letting us down. The sea was gaslighting us, and she had photos, graphs and expert testimony to prove it.
It was unclear what the city council could do about it. They were an affable group of people, but they all had other careers. Mostly, their job was to decide parking restrictions. Each year, just prior to summer, they’d tweak the no parking zones before tourists started to arrive. Have you been visiting for years, and this is where you always park? Well, not this year. That’s a red zone now. The fines were an important part of our economy. Now, the ocean was rezoning, and they were thoroughly out of their depth. They considered asking the state for help, but the state just wanted to send more scientists, and council was convinced that Dr. Carson’s hands were the safest ones to place their trust in.
We got used to seeing the doctor on the ever-expanding beach. We didn’t know what she was doing, but she was there, looking serious, measuring things with increasingly sophisticated gadgets. But the beach was drawing in more people. Yes, there were families, and sunbathers. People who wanted to swim in the ocean before it was too far away and we were just another inland town. But the biggest influx were the treasure hunters.
We were learning that the ocean was filled with junk and where there is junk, there is the slim possibility of there being something valuable. There was the usual small trash, bottles and cans, plastic bags. But we were also finding history lessons for our kids. This is an 8-track cassette. It was for music. These are a dozen empty film cannisters. Film would come in it, and then we’d fill them with quarters for no real reason except they were the right size. We found plastic jewelry, and hundreds of cd jewel cases. We found our past mistakes, buried beneath the ocean, but now returned. Some of us didn’t want our kids wandering among the trash. We remembered needle scares, and the more prosaic broken glass and jagged rocks. But we also knew it was only a matter of time before a body was found. We didn’t have an unusual number of missing person cases, but over the years there had been enough that it felt like a given that we’d find somebody.
When a body was found, it felt like a relief. The ocean was still moving away from us, and no amount of police tape was helping. Now, there was a case. Something the police understood. City councilors made speeches. Dr. Carson was asked to comment, and she pointed out that while any death was sad, we shouldn’t get distracted from the graver ecological problems at hand. Even that pleased us. We were so tired of Dr. Carson being correct, and the voice of reason. Finally, we could dismiss her as a cold fish. We remembered how smug she always seemed in book club. Were we paying for those devices? What’s the matter with a tape measurer? We no longer cared about the ocean. At best, it had been a fickle friend, at worst, it was a murderer. (How else could the body have gotten there in the first place?)
We held a vigil for the body. We demanded justice. We’d wake up from nightmares, imagining we had experienced the body’s last moments. Seen what they had seen, felt hands on our neck, or the ocean filling our lungs.