Marin, up to her ankles in sea foam that looks and smells like dirty dishwater, is alone. She watches the low tide wash over bare feet so white they’re almost blue, stealing the sand out from under them.
The water is cold as death. That, at least, is as it should be this time of year. The beach isn’t as it should be, though.
Marin counts five oily seagull corpses abuzz with flies, a scrap of blown tractor tire, a dozen dead silver fish tangled in wire netting, and a water-logged, red-painted wooden door that’s lost its house. Next to where the door washed up, a pile of food leavings and empty beer bottles spills from a green plastic lawn bag that flaps in the wind like a warning flag.
She shifts her weight to her heels and frees her buried feet. If she had to spell the sound her feet make when they spring from the vacuum of wet sand, Marin would spell it T-H-W-O-C-K. The big toe of one foot raises a red plastic circle from the sandy depths, the peel-away protective strip from a milk jug’s top. Across the dorsum of her other foot lies a shredded condom.
Weak orange sparks sputter from Marin’s fingertips. She vanishes the strip and the condom before a loon or puffin mistakes them for a meal. Using her power hurts more and more these days, and she’s exhausted afterward.
Marin walks up the beach toward the red door and green lawn bag, the weight of the eons in her nubile legs. She slices her foot on a flattened bottle cap. When she stoops to disappear the bottle cap, pain shoots through her thigh. She picks up the bottle cap and drops it into the lawn bag.
She’s grateful her father didn’t give her the entire Pacific to guard when he sent his daughters, the Oceanids, forth to protect the world’s oceans. Marin would be lost by now without her sisters’ help. But they, too, have their troubles. Take Oki, for example, still dissipating radioactive Cesium off the coast of Japan. The toll on Oki, on Marin, on all of them is great — their fates are tied to the oceans they serve.
I used to help sailors caught in perilous storms when they’d lost all hope, Marin thinks. Men, even gods, went mad for me. For the last sixty years, Marin has wiped the vomit from the sea’s sick chin, hoping its illness spontaneously remits. Zeee-uuus it’s been so long, she thinks. What I wouldn’t give to sate this lust.
The door, still in its frame, is a red paint melody with harmonic brass notes: knocker, mail slot, and numbers in a Craftsman typeface, three-seven-oh.
Marin puts her hand on the doorknob. She can feel the tax to her power in the cold brass. Only a Heraclean effort will make the door go away.
What’s back there? Marin thinks. Maybe I should open it?
Marin makes a deal with herself.
If she opens the door, and the beach is pristine underneath, he’ll come back. Micah, the marine biologist: slim blue jeans, wire rimmed glasses, red beard befitting a god who wants to save a dying ocean. He’s come here twice on stormy February days when leisure visitors stay home. He takes photographs, measurements, and readings with funny little metal instruments that whir and spin and beep.
She knows what Micah thinks. To him, she’s a 20-year-old hippie chick who lives on the beach, goes barefoot in winter, wears gauzy dresses, and strings seashells through her hair. Who stands so close he can feel her breath on his neck as he bends over pelicans tarred with oil, whose hands are so white they’re almost blue as she cradles the birds and buries her fingers in their feathers so he can’t see the sparks.
Like so many before, over her long, not-quite-immortal life, he called her beautiful, then lost his ability to speak and used his mouth for other things. When he comes back, she’ll let him see who she really is — something she hasn’t done for anyone, ever.
Marin pulls the doorknob, but nothing happens. She twists and turns and jiggles the knob, but the door holds fast, bolted against criminals and vagrants and anyone else who might want to come in, and who the door’s owners wanted to keep out.
She slams the knocker against the matching brass strike plate. She pounds the wood with the heel of her hand. She peers through the mail slot, wiggles her fingers through and touches a tiny rectangle of damp, clean sand.
She thinks again of her bargain with herself: if the rest of the beach behind the door is this perfect, he’ll come back.
With a surge of renewed energy, Marin jumps on the door, kicks it, stamps on it, her bleeding foot texturing the painted wood with highlights of a different red until she can no longer take the pain. She shakes her fist and roars.
The door doesn’t budge.
Marin flops down onto the sand next to the door. One of the last snowy plovers appears out of nowhere. It flutters to the doorknob and perches.
I won’t give up, the weary Oceanid says to the bird. I won’t stop trying to save you.
The plover folds its wings, cocks its head, and turns a black, almond-shaped eye toward Marin.
Yes, I’m sure, she says. I really want to open it.
The plover bobs its head. As it ascends, Marin hears: click.
And the knob, now hot under her hand, turns with power and ease.
J. J. Roth lives in the San Francisco Bay Area about two hours from Limantour Beach. Fortunately, in the real world, the beach is clean and beautiful. When not chauffeuring two young sons or working at a tech company, J.J. writes fantasy and science fiction stories. Her work is forthcoming in The Colored Lens, Aoife’s Kiss and Mad Scientist Journal.