We stopped going to the beach. We boarded up the windows facing the ocean. It was continuing to get more distant, but that was not enough for us. Motels were renamed, no more Wavecrest or Oceanside. We purged mention of the water from official signs and our town’s website. There was some disagreement about lobsters and other seafood, but we decided it was allowed because the taking of the ocean’s children was fair play after all it had taken from us.
It all culminated in the trial. Kensiport v. the Ocean. The main crime was of course the murder of the body. We still had not identified who she was, but it no longer mattered, her identity, like her life, had been taken from her by a heinous criminal. There were additional crimes added on. Everybody had a grievance. The Ocean had stolen somebody’s keys when he’d accidentally dropped them on the beach. It couldn’t just give them back? A girl had been stung by a jellyfish. If my dog bit somebody, I’d be responsible. An insomniac who was sure that the ocean had been responsible for his sleeplessness.
It took weeks to hear all the testimony. The town had essentially shut down. We’d awake early and rush to the courthouse hoping to get a seat. There were two remote rooms to watch it streamed, and sometimes we’d sit there, but there was a 30 second delay, and we could hear the courtroom’s “oohhs” and “ahhhs” and general commotion before we knew the cause. The Side Diner (formerly Seaside) also had a contract to show the trial, and we’d sometimes grab seats at the counter to watch. The waitress would keep our mugs filled with hot coffee, and we’d always drink more than we intended. Leaving the diner at the end of the trial day, we’d feel uncomfortably energetic, and needing to pee.
Nobody had seen Dr. Carson for weeks. She, alone, had continued going to the beach. She’d set up her work at the point where the waves ended. It was now so far away from the town that it no longer made sense for her to return to her home at night. She’d set up a tent, and even that had to be moved every few days. Her garden was getting overrun with weeds and bees. She had kept it so precisely ordered that now untended, it was returning to wildness with a passion. The book club she had attended had disbanded. At first, they’d been delighted she was gone, spending a few sessions discussing the book less than Dr. Carson’s idiosyncrasies. But without her there to help guide the discussion or to provide new fodder for gossip, it soon folded. Killed the book club was added to the Ocean’s list of crimes.
We were so excited for the day of the verdict. The jury had deliberated overnight. An insider said that they had actually made the decision in less than an hour, but after such a long trial, they felt that the public deserved the drama of a wait. It gave us the chance to go home, get some rest. We showered, shaved, dressed up nice. There would be cameras, and while we knew we weren’t the focus, there was a chance we’d be in the background of a photo, and we wanted to look nice.
“Has the jury come to a decision?” Judge Willis asked.
“We have, your honor. We the jury find the defendant, the Ocean, guilty.”
There was applause and cheering in the court room, and 30 seconds later, echoed in the run-off rooms, and then the diner. Judge Willis let it proceed for a few minutes before banging his gavel for quiet.
“During the proceedings, I have overlooked certain irregularities. The inclusion of largely unrelated charges, many of which are not actually crimes. The fact that the defendant has not been present for the trial, nor could it be, the defendant being as much an idea as a physical presence. But, I understood the catharsis involved. At best, the Ocean has always been inconsistent. Coming and going as if its actions were controlled by the moon. Damn you, moon. Yet, as much as I would like to put the moon on trial, it is not within my jurisdiction. So too with the ocean. I’m declaring this a mistrial.”
The courtroom was cleared quickly and peaceably, but most of us had nowhere to go immediately. We milled around the square, complaining, igniting each other’s anger. Finally, we were marching. More people joined, and then it was as if the whole town was on the move. We knew where we had to go. We stormed the beach like it was Normandy. But the ocean was gone. It was so far off, we could no longer even see it. We chanted for a while. Told the ocean it better not show its waves around here again. Then content in knowing it would never return, we went home.