It was the kind of thing someone would do on a deserted island, this magical totem structure built smack in the middle of the beach. There was no one around. David had walked far from the parking lot at the hotel, scanning the beach ahead for the “clue” she’d said would be there. He saw it from far off, a pyramid of sticks. As he got closer, he saw that there were things dangling from it, blowing in the wind, but he couldn’t tell what they were.
As he closed the final 10 feet he saw what it was. Kay — or likely someone else, because she would never have touched these things — had gathered beach junk and tied each bit with found string — green string from a fishing net, looked like. A crab claw, crab shell, driftwood, an empty white plastic bleach bottle, bits of seaweed, a child’s sand shovel, a red and purple kite without its sticks, a stringy piece of coconut shell, the carcass of a fish, all the detritus of a day’s walk on the beach, the washed up and forgotten, the tossed-out and the scorned, all the things that never make it into the tourist photographs, just dangling, like a little welcoming committee waiting to greet something that might rise out of the sea to take its place in the shadows of the land.
Then he saw the dangling note, written on hotel stationery, swinging erratically in the breeze. As he pulled it from its string and unfolded it, he saw the blue handwriting there. He knew then that he had finally touched her. He had never seen her handwriting, the big loop of the el in “love,” the swoop of her jay — and he was suddenly deep in the woods, near a rocky outcrop where the coyote he’d tracked had eaten and left bits of bone from its prey, and he was putting his finger into her muddy track, touching the wet, round indentation where her forepaw had been, feeling the lightning in his blood: I know you were here. The thrumming thrill of touching something wild, something unseen and previously untouched, the intimacy of that blue handwriting — it almost didn’t matter what she wrote but he read it greedily anyway, filling himself with her.
Hello my love!
I am just a little way into the dune. Come find me.
His eyes darted toward the dune. He immediately spotted the trail of footsteps in the sand, climbing up past the clumps of dune grass and continuing out of sight. He followed. When he reached the top, he looked across the expanse of dune and saw a bolt of orange in a shallow depression.
He walked toward the color. He could see her hair, and then she turned to him. She turned to him and she smiled and even from that distance he could see that little gap between her two front teeth, the one she tried to hide in her early pictures to him, preferring the Lana Turner coy look with her hair drawn over one eye, the sly smile, her lips hiding her teeth. But that gap had made her real, it meant she was a normal woman and not an Internet chimera, not a goddess but an honest-to-god woman who one day he might meet, might touch for real one day, and that day was today. She stood up and it was like seeing a horse ready herself to race, he could see some power within her welling up and about to burst out the gate. He smiled back and walked faster and then he was running, running with the dune grass whipping his shins and for a minute he thought, this is fucking ridiculous, it’s a cliche how I’m running to her but he ran past that and stopped in front of her and they did not know what to do except smile like Hare Krishnas at each other, not even touching.