She wove her way—dizzily, giddily even—along the deserted boardwalk. At this hour, everything was shuttered and still; the cold March wind gusted around her, whipping her hair—peroxided almost white, somewhat darker blonde roots sprouting at the scalp—into a frenzy. After the hideous ordeal of the last few hours, she felt blissfully light and free, as if she might actually levitate. Of course her recent chemical infusion—chemical infusion, she liked the sound of that phrase and congratulated herself on having come up with it—was contributing to her euphoria. But that didn’t matter. A high was a high was a high. So what if she ached in ways she had not known it was possible to ache or that blood was still oozing down the insides of her thighs? No one would ever know; that was all behind her now.
She touched her fingers to the metal railing, glazed and slick from the rain that had only just stopped falling. But it was cold, so she pulled her hand away and kept moving. Bits of trash—grease-filmed food wrappers, empty soda cups—were lifted in the air when the wind blew, and then dropped down again. She came to a bench on which sat a wet paper bag, its red and white stripes spotlighted by the streetlamp above. Reaching for the bag, she opened it to find the remains of someone’s meal: bacon cheeseburger, French fries in a sticky pool of ketchup. Suddenly, she was ravenous—when was the last time she had eaten? She flopped down on the bench and devoured the food. Had anything ever tasted so good? When it was gone, she was still hungry and began to look around. A brimming garbage can stood nearby and right on top, as if waiting for her, was a brown bag, this one not even wet, precariously perched on the mound. Inside she found an almost full container of coffee, cold of course, but so what? It was light, sweet, and tasted like pure, milky heaven as it went down. Next to that was an untouched jelly donut. She fairly inhaled it and then licked her fingers, the mingled taste of salt, oil and powdered sugar unimaginably delicious.
She slowed when she came to an opening in the railing. Beyond that opening lay the empty beach. How desolate it looked. And how beautiful. Veering onto the sand, which was packed and hard from the rain, she made her way toward the water’s edge. The black, foam-tipped waves rose, crested and crashed onto the shore, wetting the tips of her boots and spraying her shins.
She smiled; the sea was playing with her, inviting her to play back. Humming a little, she danced around the shoreline, feet getting wetter and wetter, until she knelt, unzipped her boots and then kicked them off entirely. The humming stopped. There was the cold, stinging shock of the water and coarse, gritty sand, but it was a good cold, a bracing, cleansing cold.
She lifted her arms to the sky. Her hands were hidden by the sleeves of her purple down coat; the coat, which she’d spied hanging from a hook in a restaurant and helped herself to, was way too big for her, but she had been drawn by the color—lurid, hideous even—and wore it anyway. She wished she still had that other coat, the camel hair with the fitted princess seams, velvet collar and buttons like pieces of melted butterscotch. Where was it now anyway? She had thought it prissy at the time but now she was regretting its loss: the luxurious softness of it. The warmth.
A big wave came and soaked her to the waist. The sea was getting more insistent now, its call more urgent. Come in, it seemed to say. Come in. She waded farther out. The cold was punishing, but also invigorating; she welcomed it like purification, a baptism. Infants were baptized…No. Don’t think of that. Don’t. But thought was stubborn and she thrashed around in the water, trying to escape it. The next wave swelled. This one was the biggest of all, rising in a great, undulant curve. It lifted her high before it broke—and then sucked her cleanly under.