It was the day the tides reversed. That was the day the fever broke.
It was just another sunny day in Isla Vista. Clear skies, a slight breeze, and a temperature around seventy-six degrees. But all I could think about was how hot it would be over the mountain.
Many young people in the beachside college-town were making their way to the shore, beverage in hand, smile on face. I was not one of them.
Instead, I was headed to the valley for a wedding. No one I knew, it was just my way of making a living: catering to others. I chewed on the irony for a minute then forced it into a toothy grin, smiling back at the happy revelers I passed on the street.
Del Playa Drive sat atop the bluffs, the waves crashing onto the rocks and taking some of the cliff with it each and every time. Second by second, wave by wave, the town was sinking into the sea, eroding into oblivion so subtly it would take years to notice the damage. Those that did notice were not discouraged by the threat of slow eradication. They carried on as if they had forever to live.
Such troubles were for later generations.
It wasn’t ignorant, it was just common. Like many college towns, Isla Vista was a place where consequence was too far off to be seen, if not absent entirely; where youth abounds and naivety is king; where a new feeling of freedom causes young people to change like butterflies bursting from cocoon, or in some cases, to act like caterpillars crafting a dark dull place to hide from the world-- for with this freedom came an abundance of temptation.
The coastline wasn’t the only thing eroding in Isla Vista.
But that didn’t mean it wasn’t fun. The party started when you woke up-- around noon-- and would continue long into the night. If I was lucky, it would still be going when I returned ten hours later and I could catch the tail end of the frenzy. But a long shift stood between now and then, so I drove on, ignoring the music, the Frisbees, and the motion of the waves, which for some unknown reason had begun to crash in the opposite direction.
* * *
“Merlot or Chardonnay?” I asked.
The tray of drinks was getting heavy and the grin on my face was a lot toothier, but everyone else seemed to be having a good time. The guests were devouring their second course loudly. Forks clanged down to plates, food flew from laughing mouths, and all too often someone yelled “Waiter!”
I grabbed one of the servers by the shirtsleeve as he passed.
“That guest over there would like some service, Jack.” I pointed with my finger to the man with his hand up.
“Oh, thanks,” he nodded. “And the name’s Mark, bud.”
“I know that,” I said. “I call everyone by my name.”
He looked confused.
“Why on earth would you do that?”
“So you don’t forget it, Jack.”
He shook his head and walked on toward the wedding guest, now waving erratically as if blind to Mark’s approach. My thoughts returned to more important matters.
She was standing by the head table, talking with a member of the inebriated bridal party as she cleared his plate. I saw her smile and her eyes glistened the way they always did when she spoke.
The groomsman snatched an orange from the bundle of citrus the florist had disguised as a centerpiece and tossed it over his head. It careened into the pool, making a splash and eventually coming to rest on the surface with about seven others. At this she laughed, and something stirred within me.
It was no secret I found her irresistible. I took every opportunity to remind her, my favorite method was to provoke her short temper. She enjoyed the attention as all women do. But she was not like other women, not in my experience. She was as close to perfect as anyone I’d ever laid eyes on, and she was all I wanted out of this short life I had to live.
When she turned from the table and headed towards me time seemed to stop. There was me. And there was her. The rest of the world was dead to me.
“That all you can carry, April?” I asked, nodding to the single dish she was holding.
“Nope,” she responded. “It’s all you can carry.” She dropped the plate into my hands.
“I see we’re getting paid to collect phone numbers now,” I said.
Her temper stirred behind wide eyes. She couldn’t help it.
“He offered it to me!” she protested.
“I’d give you mine for free.”
Neither could I.
“What makes you think I’d call you?” she asked.
“Well it’s obvious that you find my good looks devilish and my charm irresistible.”
“That a fact?”
She blushed. Her eyes told me to keep going. Her mouth told me to get to back to work. I turned and headed for the kitchen.
“I wouldn’t call you,” she called to my back. “Not even if the world was ending!”
I let that one sear my skin and continued toward the back.
Sometime after the cake cutting we were standing around discussing the rest of the night. We were both scheduled past midnight, but she planned to reward herself for the hard day’s work by joining the last of the revelries back home.
I told her I was the perfect reward.
We agreed to meet up later.
* * *
The time passed and eventually the event was over, my feet sore yet my spirits high. Things seemed brighter to me, though it was dark outside, as I was carried by the inevitable second wind that picks you up as soon as you clock out. The roads were deserted and I sped all the way home, singing songs to my stereo with the windows down.
Arriving home this late was always a nightmare. By the time I got to Isla Vista it would be littered with kids. Emphatically intoxicated from the revelries of the day, members of the student body would stumble left and right across the streets, too wasted to notice the sedan as it rolled up behind them. I would always be forced to pause for some asshole that thought the street was the sidewalk and would get uppity with me for driving on it.
This night was no different.
The streets of Isla Vista were alive and inebriated. I rode slowly, with the music loud enough to drown out the dull roar around me but apparently not loud enough to usher the drunks to the sidewalks. I passed and heard the sound of hands smacking the rear and windows.
Bunch of savages.
Frustrated with the single man who was walking down the center of Del Playa, I laid on the horn and yelled from the window. He turned his head, cringed in the blinding headlights, and with a remarkably slow reaction time stumbled and tripped into a parked car, using his face to break his fall and the side view mirror.
He would be in a world of pain tomorrow, but I couldn’t help a chuckle. He was finally out of the way and I had a clear shot into my driveway just ahead. I pulled into six-five-two-one and killed the engine with a sigh of relief.
* * *
I opened to door to my apartment to find all the lights off. The roommates were either out or somehow sleeping through the chaos occurring just outside the window.
Down the long narrow hallway I walked, toward my room at the very end. The plain white walls and sickly yellow light bulbs combined to produce an eerie emanation. Some nights it was maddening. Other nights it was just a blur.
After a quick change of clothes and a layer of deodorant I walked back down the hall to the back porch. The sliding glass door opened to reveal to the moonlit waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing just below. I inhaled the salty air and let out a loud sigh in return.
The echo I got was unexpected. Instead of the waves, it was a groan off to my left that came in response. I turned to see a silhouette on the couch. The light was off and the moon was not bright enough to reveal its face.
I drew nearer and distinguished the figure of my roommate, sprawled out on the sofa like he was already in agony. His eyes were fluttering in some half-dream state. He was also drooling. From his open mouth I noticed a red splat that trickled down to a pool on his shirt. Leaning closer I noticed it bore a very close resemblance to… salsa.
That guy loves his burritos.
There was a burrito shack down the street that he loved to frequent, especially when drunk. Brain’s Burritos, they called it, on account of the burrito. It weighed about three pounds-- as heavy as a human brain. Based on the stains all over his shirt, I’d have guessed he wasn’t a hundred percent sober when he devoured one whole.
Shaking my head, I reached for the golf club and tapped a few shots on the makeshift putting green we had on our balcony. I was in the middle of my backswing when my phone rang. Although vexed at first, a smile came across my face when I saw the number on the screen-- the only one with more curves than eight.
Down the street I went.