My head throbbed, intensified by the uncharacteristically sweltering Santa Barbara weather and the toxicity of last night’s overindulgence. In the midst of a torturous hangover, the beach is usually not the greatest route to rehydration and recuperation, but the promise of her adorned in a tempting sundress, her greased olive skin glistening in the spring sunshine was motivation enough to drag me out of bed and into the sunshine. Lately rhyme and reason had released its hold on my formerly scientific, ordered thought process. A normally solitary creature absorbed and obsessed with my research, I’d been yanked from the comfortable world of condensed matter and electron spin by a vivacious literature undergrad. Long nights in lab tweaking temperature settings and painstakingly charting, graphing, and analyzing everything were quickly replaced with endless evenings in bed talking, laughing, and quite possibly loving? No. Not just yet.
“Hey, B!” She spotted me trudging towards her, my head hung low and sunglasses drooping like a weary hound-dog tuckered out from the endless hunt. “You look like shit, lover.”
“I feel accordingly,” kissing her the cheek, I inhaled deeply and let the heavenly mixture of herbal shampoo and marijuana smoke invade my olfactory receptors.
“I got started without you. But I figured you might need this,” she passed me the smoldering remains of an immaculately rolled J. I eyed the craftsmanship admiringly, tenderly, and drew in a sharp breath, taking the smoke in straight to my dome. My skull pounded, reverberated, and settled upon the exhale quieting the echo of my ailing head. We walked along the sand conversing and making eyes at one another, enjoying the fleeting serenity of the ocean. Eva made me forget, made me feel rather than think. She had become my peace of mind over the last few months, but all of that changed upon the discovery of the body.
It peeked out of the drainage pipe where the lagoon met the Pacific and flowed outward. Like Ophelia, adorned with garlands of moss and muck rather than daisies and violets, the serene bluish female corpse bobbed just below the surface of the water with death and sorrow written all over her decaying face. My weak stomach betrayed me and I felt hot vomit churning deep within my abdomen.“Jeezus, Barry!” Eva yelped as I emptied the contents of my boiling belly mere inches away from her bare feet. Embarrassed, disgusted, and unable to explain myself, I collapsed on the sand and pointed to the woman that had undone my digestive tract. Eva approached the stagnant pool of salt water to get a better look. Indeed, a young woman barely Eva’s age lay beaten and nearly unrecognizable. Clothed only in the remains of a black halter-top emblazoned with an obnoxiously neon sports drink logo, she showed signs of sexual assault. Bruised thighs. Bashed face. Broken and helpless.