Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sleeping Beauty

I made my way down to the public beach and along it to the sandy point which partly enclosed the harbor. A few people, mostly women and girls, were standing at the edge of the water, facing out to sea. They looked as if they were waiting for the end of the world, or as if the end had come and they would never move again.

The surf was rising sluggishly. A black bird with a sharp beak was struggling in it. The bird had orange-red eyes, which seemed to be burning with anger, but it was so fouled with oil that at first I didn’t recognize it as a western grebe.

A woman in a white shirt and slacks waded in thigh-deep and picked it up, holding its head so that it wouldn’t peck her. I could see as she came back toward me that she was a handsome young woman with dark eyes as angry as the bird’s. Her narrow feet left beautifully shaped prints in the wet sand.

I asked her what she was going to do with the grebe.

“Take it home and clean it.”

“It probably won’t survive, I’m afraid.”

“No, but maybe I will.”

She walked away, holding the black struggling thing against her white shirt. I walked along behind in her elegant footprints. She became aware of this, and turned to face me.

“What do you want?”

“I should apologize. I didn’t mean to be discouraging.”

“Forget it,” she said. “It’s true not many live once they’ve been oiled. But I saved some in the Santa Barbara spill.”

“You must be quite a bird expert.”

“I’m getting to be one in self-defense. My family is in the oil business.”

from, Sleeping Beauty

by Ross Macdonald

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