The Towel

It’s almost an unspoken rule, or a common courtesy, that everyone knows—when you go down to the beach and look around to plop your chair down in the sand, you don’t plop down on top of your neighbor. Or at least I thought it was, until today.

The beach was packed for a Tuesday. Cruising through town earlier, I thought the island seemed rather dead for the middle of August. Turned out vacationers were, in fact, still here. Everyone just had the same idea to enjoy the cloudless skies on the beach.

My mother and I walked down to the beach around noon, with two chairs, a cooler packed with water and sandwiches, and two books. It was my day off, and the first time I got to spend a whole day with my mom in a while. We decided the beach would be the perfect location to share some quality time. Even though we only live three blocks from the ocean, let’s face it, we haven’t gone to the beach much at all this whole summer.

The sand was hot, I remember. I could feel the sand overlap onto my feet when I dug my flip-flops deeper into the sand with each step. It was a long walk down to the water, and as the beach grew longer, the sun got hotter. We finally made it to the cluster of umbrellas and looked around for our own spot around, but not too near, everyone else.

“Let’s sit right here,” I said to my mom as I took my off my back and proceeded to drop it in the sand.

“Don’t you see the towel?” she said back.

“Where?”

“You’re standing on it.”

I looked down to see a black towel almost swallowed completely by the sand.

“Do you think someone’s sitting here, or it’s just left down here?” I asked my mom.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, there’s no bag or shoes or anything with it.”

“Let’s just sit over here, instead,” my mom said. She moved a few feet behind the towel and put her own chair and the cooler down into the sand.

We sat together in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the crisp breeze coming off the ocean, the soft chatter of other beachgoers, the laughter of little kids building castles in the sand, the smell of hotdogs drifting from the venders up on the sidewalk and the sight of the waves tumbling and softly crashing before us.

“It really is a beautiful day out,” I said.

“I couldn’t agree more,” my mom said. “What are you reading over there?”

I didn’t answer her. I was distracted by the group of 20 people screaming at each other as they made their way down the beach, coming to a complete stop right before us and right before the black towel. I watched as a girl, maybe 11 or 12 years old, carrying a bag of toys in one arm and a boogie board under the other, stepped directly on the towel. I continued to watch her as she rolled the towel up into a ball with her feet and kicked it a little over to the side to make room for her toys.

“Is that someone’s towel?” an adult from her party said to her. “Should we move a little over?” She directed the question from the little girl over to a woman now.

“No, who cares,” the woman said. “They’re not here right now anyway. Snooze, ya lose.”

“Did you just hear that conversation?” I said to my mom.

“Rude people,” my mom said back.

“I really hope nobody comes back for that towel,” I said.

I was just getting into the good chapter of Tina Fey’s Bossypants when I saw a teenage boy walk up from the ocean towards the people in front of us. He looked lost, or confused rather. The people watched him as he stood in front of them, frantically searching the sand for something.

“Here’s your towel,” the little girl said to the boy, and she handed it to him.

The boy took one more look around, forcefully grabbed the towel from the girl’s hand and stomped away from the group, before laying his towel out a few yard away from them.

And when it seemed as if the boy was finally out of earshot, I heard the women again. “What’s his problem?” They whispered.

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