James brought Penelope some junk food from the 7-11 across from the I-5. She felt the beginnings of a crushing headache beginning to form behind her right eye. She knew she should be eating something organic and leafy--with the residual taste of soil. But she wanted salt and sugar and bulk, something immediately filling.
James plopped himself down in a corner chair in her hotel room. James--her big strapping surfer son who had moved to San Diego--what was it now? Seven years ago? She was often amazed that this man-child had actually come out of her body thirty years ago. James--with the body of a linebacker and soul of a teddy bear, who always looked like he was on the verge of giving her a hug.
"You look tired mom," he said.
"I am tired, baby," she mumbled between bites of Chex-mix and Doritos. Penelope couldn't decide if she should start in on the Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia before it melted. "You kids are killing me--a slow and painful death, " she joked.
He flashed his big white teeth as he turned on the TV to watch the game. Penelope had escaped to San Diego with her thirteen- year -old daughter, Annie, the day before--right after her "walk out" from work. Right after she had stepped out the back door of the clinic, and lit a cigarette-- after spending the morning, counseling patients on smoking cessation. Right after she had been unable to decide if she would ever come back.
She had craved some kind of peace of which she had no idea of the content. She had craved water and deep sleep --the endless kind-- in clouds of hotel pillows and clean white sheets that she didn't have to wash herself. She wanted fluffy white towels--where did hotels get those anyway? Her towels at home were always grey and limp after only the first or second wash.
Annie was dancing around the room to music on her I-Pod and the filtered sound coming from her ear buds sounded like African drumming. Penelope knew it was either Sean Kingston or Justin Bieber. Her daughter looked like a young gazelle, sinewy and lithe in her Juicy Couture sweat suit.
Penelope got up from the bed, sweeping crumbs off of the lily-white sheets, and put 'Ben and Jerry' in the fridge (no freezer) She knew 'they' would be melted by the time she got back. She left Annie and James, now curled up together like puppies watching TV, and took the elevator to the first floor. She passed by a room service tray on the floor. Chicken bones were scattered across the hallway next to it. She made eye contact with the maid and as if knowing her question she said, "Los animales, que loco!" Penelope wondered how a raccoon or possum could have found their way into the hallway like that.
She walked out into the damp air and light rain was falling. A path led to the Marina. San Diego was always a surprise. On the short plane ride that she had done numerous times, she always imagined palm trees, and ocean, lush tropical gardens and bright flowers. Her imagination left out the freeways and strip malls and packed housing developments, and she would experience a moment of disappointment at the bird's eye view of urban sprawl, coming in for landing. This morning as she walked, she noticed that she was literally sandwiched between I-5 and the water. Her only escape would be one of the boats up ahead.
She leaned on the railing overlooking the marina, and her hair was already soaked by constant drizzle………….And then she remembered her dream…………..
The night before she had dreamed of this exact spot. It was overcast and grey and the sound of barking seals provided a backdrop of sound effect. That is, until she heard bulldozers and loud voices of men, coming right up to the water's edge-- the sound of loud machinery, digging and clanking, the sound of rock and gravel hitting metal, the sound of scraping, some kind of scream. It occurred to Penelope that one of the bulldozers might just slide over the fifteen-foot drop to the water. She slowly walked up to a man standing off to the side, also watching.
"What exactly are they doing?" she asked the man. He turned slowly to meet her eyes. His were grey, the same color as the sky behind him.
"They are paving the ocean, " he replied.
When she woke up, for a minute she believed it to be true.