He looks like he’s missing an eye, Carla says, as spumes in the water twirl, laughing at what has occurred. We are sprawled on the shore of a beach, and there’s been an accident.
The first scream is not unlike the screams of the seagulls yanking each other across the air, and is followed by a moment of immense silence. The second and third screams are sonorous, marked by a shift, an understanding of what has happened. It is from a boat anchored near the edge of the bay, where the ocean meets the inlet. Two men jump off the boat, which rocks, trapped between the roughness of the sea and the tranquility of the inlet. They vanish, leaving behind a bracelet of foam where their bodies evanesced.
We are on a crescent-shaped stretch of sand. Several dozens of groups are scattered across the strip, and a few small boats are anchored off the shore, though it does not feel crowded. Beyond the inlet, the choppy waters of the open ocean. We are beside a large shack-turned-restaurant, which is covered by a roof made of crisp palm fronds, with chairs made of the same material. There is no kitchen, just a counter in which two people work on raw seafoods, and beers in an old ice cooler to the side. Carla and I are sharing one beach towel. When we first arrived, Carla pushed the granules under the towel around to transform the space into a mold that would better fit her body. Behind us, rolling hills of sand with pocks of dying green bushes, which slide smoothly into more hills of sand with more dying bushes.
Then, the men reappear with a third person, hung between the two as they drag him towards the boat. The water sparkles sadistically behind them, as if in contempt. This third person is streaked with blood. He is limp.
He’s dead, Carla says. He dove into the water. Pendejos. Que lastima.
I want to ask her why, what’s wrong with diving into the water, but we’ve only just met. Though Carla is my cousin, it is my first time in El Salvador, and she was given babysitting duties—what she did to deserve that punishment, I do not know.
They’re not from around here, she says.
Aiming her finger behind the boat, Carla says: You see that, the spot where the two meet, where the boat gets pushed around a bit? We know not to swim around there, where the current is strong. We know especially not to dive in there. Sharp, jagged rocks line the border, she explains.
Then, again matter-of-factly, she repeats, He looks like he is missing an eye. She pulls from her beer, and adjusts her pink hat, allowing a braid of hair to escape from the back, then she reclines. Her skin, slick with tanning oil, blinks under the sun.
We had a cousin die that way, she says from below. Then, the luster of her hazel orbs is gone—her eyes are shut. The cooks too, I see, have gone back to preparing ceviche and oysters. The people on the shore keep flapping arms, swimming, and beach balls again smack the azure sky. Small Fanta-orange crabs hobble idly across the sand as the volcanic sun attempts to gently bake them. They look like little cans that had been squished down, then given Barbie limbs as an afterthought. The boat disappears, the accident leaving the blanket of the beach. I now dip my fingers into the soft ground and pull out a small shell, then another, and another. I collect the shells in my palm, and slowly small creatures crawl out of their homes. They do this in unison, as if dancers on a stage, and I wonder at how the well-choreographed creatures are so unafraid of me. I tip them back into the sand, where they disappear as quickly as they appeared, their performance suddenly over, not unlike the accident. Before I rest my eyes, I take a swig of beer.
Josh Vigil is a writer living in New York. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in blush, Expat Press, Full Stop, Neutral Spaces, Rejection Letters, and elsewhere.