Last Tango at the Beach
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by Buck Maelstrom and Ms. Manners With a Whip
It was still dark when Mark Danielson pushed aside the screen door of his condo and stepped out on the porch. A salty mist filled the air. The late September air had a hint of autumn in it, and he stood, leaning on the railing, as the sound of curlews filled the air.
As he stared out at the bay, barefoot in jeans, his dark green zip-front Polartec 300 jacket felt quite comfortable against the morning chill. He savored the warmth of the white ceramic coffee mug against his hands. Although he had already done his morning series of situps and ab crunches, as well as his morning arm exercises, Mark was sometimes slow to get going in the morning.
Was it his age? The march of time was inexorable. But “Captain Mark” — he was head of the Centralized Beach Patrol — did not feel old. He jogged every afternoon, and had never had any interest in alcohol or cigarettes.
He did not look like David Hasselhoff on “Baywatch,” despite having a similar job. Oh no. He looked, or so they said, like the actor Sterling Hayden in his middle years. In shades, with a tan, he could pass for 35. He had overheard Amy, one of the young lifeguards, refer to him as “Mark Hasselhottie.” He assumed it might have been a favorable remark, but did not pursue it.
But Captain Mark, despite his only slightly weathered appearance, was not 35. He had been 18 in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War. Like millions of others, he had been swept up in its fury only to emerge, in the early 1970s, into a world as empty and bleached as the moral landscape depicted in the old Nick Nolte-Tuesday Weld movie entitled “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”
Vietnam, as one of Mark’s friends used to say, was a gift that never stopped giving. Despite the passage of 30 years, its relevance remained. Did one political candidate slip into the Guard? Did another lie about his presence in Cambodia? The circumstances of the Vietnam War were unique. Boys who were drafted came back and were treated as though they had been mercenaries. As CCR noted, the rain kept pouring down.
Confronted with the bleak employment picture for veterans, who were assumed to be babykillers or heroin addicts, Mark elected to avoid decisions and attend college. By the time of the Watergate hearings in the sultry summer of 1973 in Washington, Mark was working on a degree in education. Slowly, a vocational plan was rising, phoenix-like, from the ashes of his confusion.
Mark taught high school math over the winter and spent the summer months pursuing his old job as a lifeguard. The pay was sufficient to meet his summer needs, and it provided an excuse to retain contact with the soothing sound and smell of the ocean. And it allowed Mark to constantly update his knowlege of bikinis and waistchains, not to mention low back tattoos and necklaces.
Though he couldn’t help but observe the trend of tattoos and piercings in his classroom, he’d trained himself to remain as detached as J. Krishnamurti seeking enlightenment. Many was the occasion when, strolling through rows of desks during an exam, he’d glimpsed thongs above the low-rise jeans favored by his nubile female students. While he himself remained impervious to their appeal, he pitied the adolescent males trying to test proofs in pre-cal. It couldn’t have been easy with their concentration fragmented by a thong strap bisecting tanned flesh only inches away. Um, tanned flesh.
After 26 years of teaching, Mark had accepted an early retirement offer from the school system. The number-crunchers were well aware that teachers with more tenure earned more money, and plans had been put in place to induce some of the more experienced teachers to retire early. When the early retirement offer had arrived out of the blue, Mark had already been pondering a premature exit given the astounding performance of his investments. In 1999, his worst investment had returned 93 percent.
This confluence of circumstances allowed Mark to accept an offer to manage the Beach Patrol all year rather than simply during peak season. True, the pay in lifeguard management was poor, but his other sources of income permitted him the luxury of such a position. Although the stock market then entered a period of dismal performance second only to the Great Depression, Mark was able to grit his teeth and survive the downturn without selling any of his holdings.
Did Mark find it ironic to be heading to work in jeans at his age? There were times he did, but any doutbts were outweighed by other considerations. First of all, he had worn a shirt and tie during his years of teaching, though perhaps that practice was ending. Secondly, the perks. His office, by its very nature, had a large glass window overlooking the ocean. Fresh air, healthy exercise, these were part and parcel of the job.
As the first traces of the dawn became evident, Mark grabbed his bag, locked the condo door, and headed down to his Jeep Wrangler. bahis firmaları Firing it up, he drove around the L-shaped drive by the little lagoon, past the stand of trees and grass, and headed for the Beach Highway. Briefly switching on the radio, he was immediately inundated by depressing news of world events. Heaving a sigh, he flipped off the radio and turned on a Delbert McClinton CD.
It was a short driving away from the bay, down the road, and over to the Beach Patrol headquarters. There, he exchanged the bayside view of his condo for a magnificent view of the ocean. Ah, the perks. The ocean took on a whole different look with summer’s end. Choppy waves washed over sand untouched by footprints, and there was a tranquillity on the beach that was absent in the frenetic summer months.
Mark did a routine check at the headquarters, made sure logs were up to date, and went out to the tiny deck to settle in. He had a batch of paperwork to plow through, but somehow it didn’t seem onerous out here by the shore. Even though it was early in the day, the work was piling up fast and Mark needed these tranquil interludes to ease into the pace. After forty minutes or so of reviewing and signing, he paused to unscrew the thermos he’d brought. He poured his last cup of coffee for the morning and took a brief break, propping his feet up against the rail of the deck. As he swept the horizon with his gaze, he saw a lone figure running down the beach, oblivious to the wind that swirled the sand and tossed the waves into gray froth.
The runner seemed so intent on his run that he didn’t even look up at the lifeguard station. Mark could understand. The cloudy, windy weather made him feel exhilarated, too, and he had the urge to lace up his New Balances and go for a run before it rained. He glanced at the radar weather screen and then at his watch, giving himself ten more minutes of paperwork before he took off down the beach.
Five minutes, later, however, he realized he’d better go now if he wanted to get even a quick five miles in. The green blobs on the radar were moving inland quickly, and already the sky looked darker, as if a storm was encroaching. Despite the appeal of running in the rain, he didn’t want to be caught in thunder and lightning on the exposed sand. At most, he had forty-five minutes, an hour before the storm struck.
But it was enough. At a fast pace, and with the added difficulty of sand, a run of that duration would be sufficient. Mark laced up his shoes, descended the pressure-treated steps, and stripped off his jacket. Moving his shoulders to warm up, Mark made certain to flex in order to impress any lifeguardettes who might be in the vicinity. The weightlifting twice a day, plus his routine of situps and ab crunches, could not turn back the hands of time, but Mark was in excellent condition.
Mark knew that runners using oval tracks changed directions daily to prevent stress on knees from the turning motion. Because beaches sloped, Mark did half his run down the beach, and the other half up.
Gazing up at the sky, which had a slight hint of pale yellow through a distant cloud, Mark elected to head up the beach first. As the fresh, salty breeze filled his lungs, Mark was certain that his arterial blood gas readings were good. He also suspected that his forced expiratory volume and maximum ventilatory volume readings were high.
As the sky darkened, Mark realized that he might not be able to complete the run before the storm hit. Considering a backup plan, he remembered that he still had the key to an empty supply shed where lifeguards stored chairs, umbrellas, and surf mats of all shapes and sizes. He scanned the horizon for hints of cloudbursts, and noted a black speck far down the beach.
As he grew closer, his feet pounding on the sand, he realized it was not, as he first assumed, driftwood, but indeed a person. Who could be lounging on the beach in such breezy cloudy weather, he wondered. His curiosity was immediately satisfied when he recognized the runner he’d seen earlier. Though he was a New Balance man himself, he not only admired the jazzy design of the Mizumo Wave Riders, but had read the Runners’ World commendation of the shoes. He assumed, from the moisture-wicking fabric of the sleeveless tee, that this was an experienced runner, despite the obvious distress.
The runner was also a woman, he realized. She could hardly be more female, in fact, her long, sleek legs in brief running shorts. He was glad he was prepared to offer assistance due to the rigorous lifeguard training. Preparations to rescue distressed swimmers were far more strenuous than most people realized, or than he’d imagined when he was a teenager dreaming of sunglasses, suntan oil, and zinc oxide on a perch over the beach. He could splint broken bones, perform CPR, do a resting stroke in a rip tide, and he knew all the signs of dehydration and sunstroke. This runner, however, seemed to have kaçak iddaa a mere strained muscle.
As he drew closer, she confirmed his guess, that she had turned an ankle in the soft sand and taken a hard fall. Though the damage didn’t seem permanent or her pain excruciating, a lightning bolt split the sky and rain began to pelt the sand, so Mark suggested they re-evaluate the injury in the shelter of the lifeguard shack.
Once under shelter, he probed the ankle to ascertain the minor nature of the injury. Distracting the runner with conversation, he learned that her name was Celia, she was a marine biologist, she was involved in a research project for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Though what Mark knew of wave sediment was hardly current, he found her explanation of swash zones and wave heights enthralling, almost as riveting as the way her lithe muscles rippled as he ran his hands up her calves.
When he brushed his fingers over the backs of her knees, she shivered, and he sensed that her concentration was wavering, also. But not only was Mark the most cool-headed, competent lifeguard the beach boasted, he was also skilled in the practice of thalossotherapy, soft tissue release, and sports massage . Though a seaweed wrap might not be exactly in order for the injured muscle, he thought it might ease the soreness enough to get off the beach. Besides, he was not at all averse (or “adverse,” as some bureaucrats said in tedious meetings) to massaging her bronzed legs.
Resisting the urge to say “This little piggie went to market,” he grasped her toes in his hands, and began with a persistent rhythm. It didn’t seem to exacerbate her pain at all; instead he could feel her body relax, her muscles loosen, and her breathing become slow and steady. The cold and damp of the cluttered shack receded as he continued, moving his hands up her leg, bending it at the knee to see if range of motion had been limited by her fall. On the contrary, she seemed flexible and lithe. She lay back and closed her eyes, obviously calmed and relaxed by his proficiency.
As he continued to work his way up her legs with a persistent rhythmic stroke, he was emboldened to caress her supple thighs. When his hands grazed her hips, she made no protest, and he sensed that she was stimulated, too. Her breathing became a little less even, and he noted that her skin was slightly flushed. When she sat up and opened her eyes, he saw both recklessness and passion.
For her part, Celia was almost speechless. One of her favorite movies was “Lifeguard,” in which Sam Elliott played a lifeguard named Rick Carlson. In that movie, the Elliott character attended a high school reunion and tried to determine what to do with his life. In a sense, movie was reminiscent of the lines from Frost where he pondered whether vocation and avocation could become one.
When Celia saw the craggy lifeguard jogging up the beach, looking for all the world like Sam Elliott in that movie, it was as if her personal fantasy had come to life. Sure, Celia was rested and tanned at the end of her autumnal vacation. And perhaps her usual defenses were somewhat lessened at the beach. But Celia had to acknowledge that her own hidden desires were very much summed up when Mark’s rhythmic, relentless stride gobbled up the beach between them, his shaggy hair falling over one eye.
Mark longed to remove her shorts and tank top, yet the sand coated her skin where she’d fallen. It looked as though it would abrade the skin if not washed off, and Mark recalled the shower at the back of lifeguard shed. It was enclosed, and there Celia could rinse off the sand. Checking to make sure the lightning had passed over and what was left was merely a downpour, he helped her out to the shower. The water coursed down, echoing the rain outside, creating an atmosphere that was both intimate and exhilarating, and he felt the blood in his veins begin to pulsate in the same rhythm. He ducked under to join her in the warm spray.
Celia assumed that an older lifeguard had either dropped out of college early or never attended. She assumed that this Sam Elliott clone might well meet her weekend wants and needs, but would have to be abandoned as silly. She didn’t care. Tonight with words unspoken, she would say that he was the only one. But her heart would be unbroken when the night met the morning sun.
Did Mark experience a moment of self-doubt? Yes, he did. He was older, and presumably wiser. Did he begin to sing to himself the song “Amanda” by the late Waylon Jennings? No, he did not. Instead, he began to recite
“If Beauty thus be clouded with a frown…”
Immediately, though, she held up an hand and said: “That poem is Delia, not Celia.” Properly chastised, Mark explained that literature had not been his major, and that he had been swept away by a strange destiny in the rain of August.
But the poem had served another purpose. Celia had realized that Mark was not all hat kaçak bahis and no cattle. Or, more properly, all suntan and no substance. She was thrilled at the possibility that he might have hidden depths. She was thrilled at the prospect of plumbing those depths. Um, plumbs, a favorite fruit. But Celia digressed. Finished with her mental sidetracking, Celia halted Mark’s explanation of her injury with a kiss far longer and infinitely more probing than the bipartisan inquiry conducted by the September 11th commission.
As the water from the shower began to strike him, Mark realized that his t-shirt was still on. Sensing that t-shirt discretion was the better part of shower valor, he began to remove it. Just as it was beginning to lift, Mark felt a kiss on his abdomen. It was soft and gentle, much like the kiss a little dog named Abby had planted on his ankle the prior week during his afternoon run. But this was no doggie kiss. Oh no. As Mark glanced down, his t-shirt half removed, he saw Celia’s hair, tinted by the sun. He saw, and then felt, her tongue as it traced a lazy path across his abdomen.
Gasping at the sudden pleasure, Mark threw the t-shirt entirely off. He threw the shirt at a nearby chair and reached out for Celia’s slender arm. The shirt missed the chair, but he did not. Grasping her arm, Mark drew her near, and kissed her shoulder, tasting the warm skin, the salt of the ocean, the faint remainder of suntan oil washing away. Nevertheless, if he had entertained any thought of seizing the initiative, he was sadly mistaken. She buried her head in his chest, and Mark felt what seemed like electrical sparks as her kisses burned across his skin.
Mark gasped, his breathing almost ragged, as her kisses continued. He took a step backward, in a sensual fog, and leaned back against the rough wooden wall of the makeshift outdoor shower. He extended a hand to the top of the wood to regain balance, then almost staggered as Celia kissed his left nipple. The sound of the rain increased. The sound of the shower added its own rushing sound. And, penetrating that Spector-esque wall of sound, were Mark’s gasps.
Sure, Mark had read books about how to “make love to” a woman. Those books made it sound like a skill, something he should do. And Mark had even proceeded in that fashion as a naive boy. But this was different, far different. The shower with Celia was a cauldron of passion. Before he could even plan a potentially suave move such as kissing her neck, she was kissing his with a hunger and eagerness he had never before experienced.
Mark jumped slightly when she moved down to his armpit and he felt her tease the sensitive nerve endings there with her tongue. It was definitely a new sensation, and one that both fueled and slaked the thirst that from his soul doth rose. It tickled slightly, but it also created an electric sensation, spreading out from his armpit in a pattern of warmth and making him lean against the shower wall to see where she would venture next. The feeling intensified when she nipped gently and followed the nipping with a pinch on his nipples.
As his excitement surged, Celia raised her head. Mark felt a sharp pang of disappointment, but instead of turning off the shower, she plucked a bar of soap from the holder and began to lather his modest patch of chest hair. The sensation of both her hands gliding across his skin was at least as pleasurable as the armpit-kissing. He relaxed and leaned back against the shower as she trailed kisses down his chest, grateful for the bench seat. He noticed that there was also a towel rail inside the shower and marked it down for future reference as a convenient hand-hold.
She had worked up quite a lather, gliding her hands over his arms, his shoulders, and his thighs. Given his degree of arousal, Mark suspected Celia had read the female counterparts of the same books he had. Secret Garden, Little Birds, The Sensuous Woman–she must have committed them all to memory if he went by the confidence with which she explored his body. He wondered, briefly, as she leaned to brace herself against the sides of the shower, if she had written a deconstructive analysis of those works for her thesis. However, when she lifted her legs to straddle his lap and grasped the towel bar, he forgot exactly what deconstructionism was, despite the best efforts of Laurence Perrine and the essays from his well-worn Norton anthology.
Yes, the same Norton held together by clear strips of packing tape. Speaking of holding together, Mark could not help but wonder whether the towel bar would bear Celia’s weight. Not that it was much, perhaps 115 pounds of tan, lithe flesh. But the towel bar had been designed only to hold a few damp towels, not the sleek female form now depending upon it for balance as she writhed in ecstasy.
Turn, turn, turn. Celia’s body was turning and moving, and she was gasping as each new spasm of pleasure struck. Mark struggled to maintain a clear mind, but could not. He decided to stop thinking, once and for all, about the towel bar and instead live for the moments of unspeakable sensation now unfolding in the tiny shower with the wooden walls.
The rain pounded down.
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