We’re all crowded at the Sand Dollar condo on Crescent Beach, Florida, and I hope the condo inspection team doesn’t come around. We had just enough beds to sleep eight adults, and we brought three air mattresses to sleep the six children. We weren’t expecting my nephew to bring his girlfriend and we weren’t expecting my niece to bring her friend. The upstairs toilet has been clogged twice, the air conditioning is running twenty-four hours and hasn’t made it to seventy-four degrees, and my sister-in-law is eight months pregnant and snoring all night.
Even with the door closed, we can all hear her, but we don’t say anything because we fear it could deform the baby or something, but this baby is doomed with his gene pool from the start. Mama already broke a plate, sweeping chards off the tile floor and saying, “They won’t ever miss just one,” and Dad has broken the rusted pull chains on two ceiling fans trying to turn them counter-clockwise to push air down to the sweating family.
My brother said, “I guess we could go get some at a hardware store in town,” and dad told him, “It’s their fault; they shouldn’t have rusted chains to begin with. I’m not paying for that. To hell with them. We paid enough for this condo. Ain’t worth it.”
The next morning, around nine, we’d all awakened and slurped coffee, suited up, and dragged chairs, umbrellas, floats, coolers, and cheap toys to the beach. We’d paid top dollar for all this beach ware at Bob’s Beach World, which we’d seen signs for on the interstate the entire trip down crowded I-95; from the planes above, I’d imagined we look like a trail of ants rushing to a pile of leftovers, hauling off our bucket of shells. One elderly beachcombing couple with weathered skin told me the shells were larger at a more secluded beach a few miles away. I thanked them and guess we looked like the rest of the tourists, though we’d been converging here once a year for ten years.
My daughter and I left our condo and drove to Publix just a mile or two away. I volunteered for the thirty minutes of freedom. We needed to pick up just a few things: milk; bottled water (because the water from the spigot tasted bad); more sunscreen and block and lotion; some chips and salsa, breakfast bars, deli meat, and a toothbrush. No matter how many lists we made, we missed something.
The grocery store at the beach looked like the one back home, minus beach paraphernalia, the large alcohol section, and all the deputy sheriffs. I asked a clerk if they’d been robbed, and she says, “No, a ten year old girl is missing.” “Oh,” I said, and she responded, “Probably just wondered off.” Her eyes scanned the area, as if there’s an abductor lurking around, and I hold my own daughter’s hand a little harder, and she said, “Daddy, that hurts.” “I’m sorry,” I said, loosening my grip.
Items purchased, we head back to the condo complex, hidden behind dunes, bushes, and undergrowth, like the million dollar homes drivers can only see the roofs of lining A1A unless they’re walking the beach. I sent my daughter to the beach to rejoin her mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, while I drank margaritas, closed my eyes, and listened to the waves crash on the beach.
After grilling burgers and dogs by the pool, we all head back to the condo to shower, get ready for bed. Someone watching the local news talked about an abduction at Publix, finding a girl looking askew, violated, in the undergrowth just across the street from the Publix shopping center. By morning, they had taken a man into custody for questioning, a sexual predator on parole and living at the beach in an old mobile home park, across from Publix.
Everyone else had gone to the beach or pool the next morning when my daughter awoke, and after a quick breakfast, I helped her with sunscreen. As she dashed out the door, I told her to come back, and I grabbed my hat, keys, and wallet, and I walked with her, keeping a close watch. The cars, trucks, and SUV’s in the parking lot were no longer vacationers from various parts of Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and even Arkansas, but were potential predators. Even the older couple next door from Atlanta with their young grandson I now saw as predators and holding a young child captive.
I wish this story kept going; as it ends now it serves as a warning, a call to be always afraid. I can’t handle that. This story could do a lot more.