PROSE WRITING SAMPLES
DINNER AT THE BEACH
a short story by
Harry Michael Bagdasian
We were about half way through our two weeks at the beach. I was on the patio behind our rented townhouse, talking through the screen door with my wife, Robbie.
It being late afternoon, the dinner menu was the topic of conversation. We had that kind of relationship. Very 90's. She looked after the needs, care and cleanliness of the kids, I did the same for the kitchen and our appetites.
"I took a burger and a couple of chicken breasts out of the freezer," I explained. "I hope they're still there."
"No," she replied. They're gone. They up and walked out of here about 3 minutes ago."
She said this very calmly, mind you.
"What do you mean, 'out of here'?"
"Open door, step outside, close door and walk away," she answered very matter-of-factly. (She had a knack for an economy of words that wife of mine.)
Not wanting to call her a liar, I poked my head in the door and looked over at the counter next to the sink. She was right. The burger and chicken breasts were no longer defrosting on the counter. Further recognizance showed all of the foodstuffs had also departed. All except for half an egg salad sandwich -- which I found in the master bedroom talking to a pile of clean laundry.
"...so there's no use staying! This is it! Our big chance!" the sandwich was explaining as I turned the corner and entered the bedroom.
"She's right!" a pair of jockeys exclaimed. "I'm outta here! The rest of you with me?"
Murmurs of assent rippled throughout the room as drawers began emptying and piece after piece of clothing began an orderly exodus out the room and down the stairs.
This fantasia-like march was so incredible, I barely had time to snatch a pair of sandals, wrestle them to the ground, and securely fasten them to my feet before everything else was out the door.
The kids, Jennie (age 18 months) and Katie (age 7) found it very funny. I would have suspected them to be terrorized, but they'd watched so much TV that the scene before them was nothing more than a cartoon come to life. And they loved it. My wife giggled, but I was a little concerned. I joined the three of them on the ledge in the bay window that looked out over the courtyard. From here we could observe inside and out.
Everything was vacating our little rented home. Everything. The mints from the candy dish on the coffee table, clothing, furniture and fixtures -- making an orderly exit. They (and I use the word loosely) -- they were all chatting among themselves like a bunch of school kids liberated from the classroom by a fire drill just as a geography exam was about to begin.
"Hold on to your shorts," my wife exclaimed.
Too late. They wiggled their way off and followed the pack.
"Sheep!" I cried.
"Bug off!" was their reply. Out the door they went.
The four of us, Robbie, Katie, Jennie and I, were left standing in our bathing suits, amazed at the activity around us.
"Why are the bathing suits not revolting?" my wife Robbie wondered aloud.
"We get to go to the beach all the time," replied her black Speedo.
"Oh, that certainly explains everything," my wife wryly intoned, shooting me a look not unlike the ones I'd get when one of the kids was misbehaving in a public place. Translation: 'don't fight it, they'll out grow it.'
At that particular moment, I wasn't about to chalk up that display of anthropomorphic activity to the excesses of youth. I started to comment but was distracted by the activity in the courtyard.
"Mma," little Jennie uttered, pointing out the window. This last being a utilitarian expression we'd come to understand meant just about everything from sneakers to French toast with syrup. And, in this instance, she was right. Parading through the courtyard was everything you could imagine. Clothing, foodstuffs, appliances large and small, paint cans, ice trays, and the like. Three cans of peas, a clock in the shape of a chicken and a philodendron had hitched a ride on Katie's scooter and were headed for the beach.
"This is amazing!" I cried to my wife.
"Loony Tunes," added seven-year-old Katie.
Of course, one of our neighbors, unlike ourselves, was not about to take this lying down. She was scurrying about the courtyard with a crab net trying to recover her escaping possessions. The couple from next door were busy trying to revive an elderly fat woman who had passed out on the grass.
"Can't tell if she's breathing or not."
"I think that's here dress that's moving, not her."
"It's trying to escape!"
The fat woman revived for a moment, looked around, and then chose unconsciousness once again.
"Why is all this happening, Dad?" Katie finally asked.
"Seems like a good day for the beach," I calmly replied.
"Don't sugarcoat reality for the kiddies," objected by bathing suit. "Today's the day! This is it. You people and us, we get to enjoy the beach while everything else is stuck with every day drudgery."
"I was bound to happen sooner or later," my wife's Speedo chimed in.
"Watch the kids," I told my wife, and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"To the beach. This I gotta see!"
"No way!" And she shot me one of those "looks" from her wifely arsenal. Wives, especially those with children, develop quite an effective "and leave me alone with the kids?" look. It's very useful, instant guilt for hubby.
"This is history! I’m not going to miss this!" she insisted.
"It could get ugly," I warned.
That stopped her short.
"What the heck!" I cried, throwing caution to the wind as only fathers can. "Let's all go!"
"You'll have to carry Jennie," my wife insisted.
"Why?" I asked.
"Dad," Katie chimed in, "the stroller left ten minutes ago with the TV and the coffee table."
Resigned, I scooped up little Jennie, Katie grabbed the ever-present Mr. B (a faithful stuffed companion) in one hand and her mother's hand in the other and we headed for the door.
"You have a key?" I asked.
"Why? There's nothing left to steal," my wife dead panned. "Besides, there's no door to lock. It's gone, too."
"Let's go, Dad!"
"Mma!" Jennie insisted.
So off we went, across the now-empty courtyard, across the coastal highway, up the walk and to the beach -- us and several hundred others.
Some of those hundred others were chasing their things. Some, like us, were off for a look. There were mixed reactions among that mass of humans headed for the beach.
"It's the end of the world!" cried one violent-eyed old man.
"It's too radical!" one spaced-out teen proclaimed over and over and over to anyone within ear shot.
"I paid top dollar for that rib roast! No way that sucker's gettin' away with this kind of nonsense!" one sunburned old man explained to his companion as he popped two shells into his double-barreled shotgun. "That sucker's dead meat!"
"The man's got a way with words," my wife commented under her breath.
Besides being redundant, the man's expression was very alarming. So I asked him what good would a roast full of #6 duck shot be to anyone.
"It's the point of the thing, young man. And I'd kindly ask you to mind your own business!" He then stormed ahead through the crowd and toward the beach.
I turned to my wife. "If there's going to be shooting . . ."
"Don't worry, kid," another elderly gentleman reassured me in a very calming voice. "Old Bob's the state duck hunting champion. He's a sure shot, and he follows all the rules of safety."
"Gee, I feel safe, how about you?" my wife asked pointedly.
"I think everyone's safe, except the ducks."
"Wonderful! But where does that leave me?" asked the duck applique on Jennie's bathing suit.
"We'll stay to the back of the crowd." I assured it.
"Good idea," It agreed.
"I'm totally reassured," my wife added. So we held back, and let others pass for a while.
It took some time for the mass of humans to squeeze on to the rise along the snow fence. No one dared venture any further. However, it was worth the wait. The beach was quite a sight.
The boom boxes were blaring Beach Boy tunes. Everything was swinging. There was dancing, surfing, sun bathing and the rest. Only instead of humans, the sand was covered with everything except the kitchen sink -- and that's only because it was nailed down back home.
"Look, Dad! There's our VCR!" cried Katie.
"Over there!" And she pointed.
Oh hell, I thought, just as it spilled its cherry flavored snow cone all over itself. How am I ever going to get that cleaned up? Not to mention getting the sand out of it.
"Look, honey!" It was my wife's turn to point. "There's a Webber kettle using our coffee table as a surf board! Cute. And there's a stove hanging ten on an ironing board. Pretty agile for a major appliance, wouldn't you think?"
It was past the point of "think." It was a total circus that would boggle the broadest mind.
Foodstuffs were frugging with canned goods, clothing were romping about with gay abandon, and furniture pieces were sunning themselves.
Of course, everything was visiting with everything else. They seemed a lot more friendly and willing to mingle than the humans who normally crowd the beach on your average late afternoon.
Feeling a little ashamed to say it, and rather like a stuffed shirt, I had to ask, "What do we do now?"
"Let 'em have their fun," my bathing suit chimed in. "They deserve a day off."
"Not everyone would agree with you," I replied, pointing out several humans scurrying around the beach trying to retrieve their things -- and, in some cases, their dinner.
"This could get ugly." I whispered to my wife. " I think it's time to get out of Dodge."
"You mean leave town?" she asked, a little too loud.
"Forget it Dad. Our car, remember," Katie reminded me.
"Yep." And again she pointed. "It's over there trying to pick up that pink Mustang!"
"That's cute," my wife chimed in.
Right she was. Our station wagon was trying to impress a cute little convertible. Poor guy, the Mustang clearly had eyes for a red Isuzu Trooper.
Resigned to staying in place, at least for the moment, I turned away from the scene on the beach and looked over the crowd of spectators. Factions were forming as the frivolity continued. Some humans wanted to storm the beach. Some wanted to call out the National Guard. Others, like ourselves were content to bide their time and take it all in.
Turning back to the beach, I easily spied the champion duck hunter running after his rib roast.
"We must have order!" cried a matron in a flowered bathing suit.
"Aw, put a lid on it, or I'll leave you with nothing but the clothes you were born in," snapped her Jantzen.
"Send for the Sheriff!"
"Call the networks!"
"Call Margaret Meade!" yelled a student.
"Can't. She's dead."
"Are you sure? With this kind of thing going on, anything's possible."
The noise, the music the chatter of things on the beach, the debates among the peanut gallery built to a deafening pitch.
Then suddenly everything stopped.
Each item of clothing, every appliance, bit of food, piece of furniture -- all of it -- stopped. Those dancing became still. Those swimming, flirting, jogging, strolling, playing or whatever -- just stopped and turned inland.
"Uh oh," I breathed to my wife.
"Mma?" asked Jennie, clutching me tightly.
"Ya got me," I answered in my least reassuring voice.
"Why are they all looking at us?" Katie asked cautiously.
"Are they going to charge, or what?" my wife inquired, drawing Katie closer to her.
"No way!" exclaimed Katie. "Look behind you, Dad."
So I did.
It was a glorious sunset. One of those sunsets that make you feel warm and relaxed and content. The sun was an orange ball, suspended amid streaks of blue and yellow and orange and indigo. It was a breath-taking sight.
"See, Dad? They know a good sunset when they see it, too." Katie explained. "I think they know a lot."
And suddenly it was over. The sun sank beyond the bay to the west and an eerie march began.
"Yes. They know a lot. See?" Katie pointed.
Every item on the beach began to leave.
I looked down at my swim suit. "So?" I asked.
"Listen to the kid," it explained. "Everything just wanted to know what it's like to enjoy the beach."
"That's all? But I never knew they even thought about it. It takes a certain intelligence to . . ."
"Listen, bub, you're the one who's talking to your swim trunks. Think about that."
But who had time to think about anything? The sight was too incredible. The spectators parted, allowing the supernatural parade to pass.
That migration of foodstuffs, furniture, clothing and whatnot back to their respective abodes took some time. The elevators in the high rise down the block were tied up for hours. But from all reports, everything was back in its proper place by the end of twilight.
Jennie fell asleep in my arms as we strolled on home with the neighbors, and, needless to say, we weren't very hungry when we got there.
So I dusted the sand off of Jennie's crib and put her down for the night as my wife snuggled with Katie and they read a book about flowers.
Going downstairs I found the kitchen was back in order. Everything was a little sandy and salty, but in order. Even the burger and the two chicken breasts were back in place on the kitchen counter.
"All right," said the burger. "Chow time!"
"What do you mean, chow time?" I asked. "How can we eat you when we've just seen you have so much fun?"
"S'what we're here for!" the burger explained.
"Let's cook!" said the fry pans as the stove turned itself on to medium high.
"All right," I gave in.
The meats hopped into the pan and everything settled down to normalcy. Everything became as it was -- silent and still.
Of course, before returning to its normal state of silence and inactivity, the microwave oven left me with this parting shot:
"Just promise that once a year you'll let us all out again. Everyone deserves a day at the beach."
Sure, sure," I lied.
The next summer we vacationed in the mountains.
Ocean City, Maryland Harry Michael Bagdasian
August 24, 1990 11425 Fairoak Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20902