The gritty path gave way to a low wooden walking bridge across the protected wildlife habitat between the parking area and the beach. Kak listened to the dull report of her steps on the elevated planks. Once across, the deep sand underfoot hushed her footfalls, taking her one step closer to invisibility. She kicked off her sandals, leaving them behind.
The higher beach zone, above the tideline, was composed almost entirely of polished quartz granules. An ivory carpet of sand. Millions of years ago there had been an abundance of minerals under Kak’s feet mixed with and obscuring the quartz. The entire beach had been brown, even this high. Wind and wave patiently assaulted it, pulverized it, broke it down in an eternal war. But the quartz was so resistant to the bombardment of the elements that long after the other minerals were ground to dust, quartz remained, the only thing left. She’d seen it once, under magnification in middle school. When viewed at even 100 times normal the grains of quartz sand became translucent gems that caught and returned the light.
You should have been quartz, she told herself. You should have been what was left when all else was destroyed.
Even as she thought it she knew it was too much to ask. She scanned the beach and found it blissfully empty. Only a middle-aged couple to the west challenged her claim to the entire domain as far as she could see. The woman walked just above the reach of the waves. The man, apparently trying to please her, scurried and splashed in the foot wash below her, picking up shell after shell as she pointed them out. These he brought for her judgment. Some were kept, most discarded. Either way her decision went, he pressed on unperturbed.
Kak let gravity pull her down the geological battlefield to the sea where the lower beach sand changed. This sand, unlike the higher beach sand, was comprised almost entirely of the exoskeletons of mollusks that had died in the shallows. A few steps carried her a thousand years into the past. She marveled at it. Why couldn’t it be this easy in her own life? If only she had the power to go back in time and retrace her steps. Therein lay the trick. Correct course before it brought her here. But that had proven impossible and time was up.
Under her soles she felt the tiny fragments of seashells. Billions of them stretching for miles, making up the lower beach at Algiers and every other beach here. A vast inclined graveyard of corals, conchs and clams pounded into granules for her pleasure.
So much death to create so much beauty. I understand, Kak thought, so much so that she found she couldn’t bear to look at it. She turned to the vast ribbon of empty sand to the east, closed her eyes, and began to run.
In two minutes she’d run farther than ever before. Much farther. It was easy here. Whenever she felt her feet slapping in the puddles of exhausted waves, she corrected to the left. When she sensed the rising elevation of the beach and its dry powder, she corrected right. In this way she kept herself in the tide zone without seeing a thing. Using this method it was possible, at least in her mind, to run blind until she circumnavigated the entire island. She didn’t fear stepping on sharp objects or tripping. The risk was part of the game. She played on, veering right, correcting left and back again, telling herself the rhythmic hiss of the waves sliding up the beach was the sea exhaling in her ear.