The Lost Things

It wasn’t the first time that we found something washed up near the tidepools. The first time it was a pair of left-behind underwear, tangled around the blades of dried-out sea palm. We’d been walking along the northernmost shore of the reserve, searching for mottled starfish and sea lemons, skimming our field guide, occasionally tossing a tennis ball out into the choppy water for our dog, Plum, to retrieve. It wasn’t particularly sunny, but the winds were low and the air had an occasional popcorn-like smell to it: brine mixing with brushfires further north. My wife and I were helping each other negotiate the alluvial bluffs, stopping to snap photos of abandoned fishing poles and beer cans, of crimson wildflowers further inland, when we’d happened upon that bright patch of color amongst the detritus. Thong. Pink and black lace. It looked familiar, but I’d thought nothing of it at that time and was mostly surprised by the fact that it seemed so uncharacteristically clean: as if it’d just been deposited there. My wife said nothing at first, merely stared at the discarded garment as though she’d gotten an upset stomach during our walk, which happened sometimes, then asked a curious question aloud. “Is this some kind of joke?” she said, looking around the beach, though she said it in a tone that made it clear she wasn’t directing her question at me or anyone else. There was no one else for miles. When Plum came running over to investigate, my wife simply snatched up the article and tucked it into her purse. We leashed Plum and began the return walk back to our car, during which my wife twice commented how much she hates it when people litter.

A few weeks later we’d found a slightly used toothbrush, one of those deep-reaching kinds we both had at home. Plum carried it out into the water like a plastic chew toy, and soon it was lost in the waves. We came across it again on a subsequent trip, in the same location as before, and it simply became one more marker along our regular tidepooling walks. Later in that same week we came across a restaurant receipt—one appetizer, one soup, two entrees, a bottle of overpriced Burgundy, no dessert—dated a few days previous, slightly crumpled but still dry, from a bistro in the same city my wife had just been to on a work trip. “You should toss it in your purse,” I joked. “You can add it to your collection of other people’s crap.”

One afternoon we’d find an empty champagne bottle, an inexpensive brand rebadged for the local hotel chain. One day we’d find nothing new. One day we would clamber around shale cliffs to find the black-rock shoreline sparkling, newly littered with what—from a distance—appeared to be a beaching of used condoms, undulating in the surf like jellyfish. I kept Plum leashed and close by, away from the things that washed up, which he was drawn to by smell.

A month passed with no additional items appearing on our coastal walks, merely those same few articles that never seemed to get moved or picked up by anyone: the toothbrush jutting out from the sand like a bristled flag, the fluttering receipt that never fluttered very far. While the shore kept its coolness regardless of the seasons, in town we were enjoying a brief warm spell. My wife and I were home together nearly every night during that period: grilling out on the patio, tending to our sprouting garden of heirloom tomatoes and pole beans, performing basic repairs around the house in preparation for the long, languid summer months ahead.

It was only this morning, after my wife stayed out late with some of her girlfriends, that we found something new: a pinpoint of color tucked into the folds of a heavily eroded rockface. We both reached for it at the same time. The orange Post-it note detached easily from the basalt surface, barely touched by any wind or sea spray, and simply read “I’ve missed you,” in the clear, looping arcs of my wife’s handwriting. It was only by her reaction that I realized it wasn’t meant for me. Inside of an igneous nook nearby I noticed a pair of black stockings, which I quietly pocketed and did not mention. During the endless walk back, I threw Plum’s tennis ball so far out into the water that I was afraid he would lose sight of it, or we him.  

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