Sunlight sparkles across the surface of the lake, casting silver tracers into my eyes from water wrinkled by a soft breeze. I’m gazing out upon this field of windblown linen, its glowing surface a crumpled foil of fire-scorched aluminum, as I sit on the edge of a beach nestled deeply within the folds of cottage country. Around me, the cool air rushes through cedars pointed skywards like sixties’ jet warplanes and ballistic rockets, permanently screeching into the stratosphere outside countless military bases and museums. Anchored by roots of concrete, these stoic, towering monuments stand awkwardly, stretching with a sad futility towards heavens they can never reach.
Limbs explode from their fibrous trunks, a surface-to-air missile strike caught in its moment of ferocious expulsion. Foliage a teeming, green morass of expanding gases frozen, reallocated, sustaining life instead of quenching it. Look closer; each branch splits fractaline into concentrated lines of mothballed bombers, condemned to a final holding pattern in the New Mexico desert.
Bird song blares occasionally from the tops of these Kawarthan minarets, piercing the air with the tumultuous immediacy of morning reveille on a remote firebase. A line of fortification against the sand, the trees surround this silicone salient and immobilize it while waves and wind and the leisure actions of human footsoldiers bombard it, maintaining a formidable picket until this beach disintegrates and slips away like the fading reels of an old John Wayne film.
We are all actors on the beach, strutting and sunbathing, lolling in the shallows, chasing an obstinant volleyball or frisbee into the sand. The sun looks down upon us like the harsh, unwavering eye of a studio camera, envisioning a massacre to tear apart this scene of listless lethargy. Down a celestial gun barrel, that two-faced orb spins a pummeling radiation to blast our carcasses as surely as sand whipped against titanium.
Slathered in lotion, we lay ourselves out like sacrifices beneath an emperor’s cruel eye as he graces us with a stare of punishing indifference. It is the stare of a chain-smoking camera operator shooting soft porn. The aging starlet beneath his hateful glare lies nearly motionless, bleached white and suffocating beneath a metric tonne of make-up. As the crew shifts lights, the rabid glow of her pitted, granulated exterior intensifies and diminishes in a slow, waltzing boil, pulsations shallow and intermittent, a soft echo of her coke-addled breathing.
Beneath the layers of base and powder, her skin is sketched with the lines and folds of an accelerated, truncated Hollywood lifestyle, her slumbers more often found under the artificial glow of a tanning bed than within the soft comfort of clean linen. With cheeks drawn thin and gaunt by a consistent, self-annihilating fast, her face is a dull matte, its glow extinguished by the lonely wasteland of a life spent in the service of a narcissistic empire. She is encased in a fibrous bark of misuse, musculature knotted, soul wooden, petrified; her eyes are impregnable shadows filled with night terrors of waking amidst a forest of formless trees and everlasting gloom. She fears this dream, this reality – her arboreal gulag is a life encased within the stained confines of a seedy cinema.
Framed within a landscape of yellowed sheets, she lies almost paralyzed as the eyes of the director and camera and crew make war upon her, as she is defiled, violated, and abandoned. Her carcass lies in a coarse, disorganized mass of grain and slow-flowing turmoil as we plunge beach umbrella shafts and plastic shovels into her flesh and bake our own gleaming celluloid bodies upon her non-stick surface.
Portable stereos blare a low, bassey rumble that might be music under more favourable acoustics; here the air resounds with a mixture of crashing artillery and the swarming suppression fire of a machine gun nest. Children yell and shriek; the longer I sit here, the more difficult it becomes to discern whether these are shouts of glee or horror.
The beach has the look and feel of a forced landing on a hostile shore. A jumble of discarded equipment litters the sand: water guns and beach chairs and a hundred other plastic pieces of beach paraphernalia – inflated assault rafts, empty beverage containers; foam noodles roll in the lazy surf like Bangalore torpedoes. Bodies lie motionless, splayed and contorted, as if arranged by haphazard mortar fire. A fleet of abandoned landing craft choke one side of the inlet, while the other side is punctured by children tumbling from the roof of a boathouse, their foamy splashes an ongoing bombardment. More troops charge through the shallows and onto the shore, hollering battle cries, only to collapse onto beach blankets, groaning at first but quickly silenced and anaesthetized by the sun and heat as surely as by a field medic’s morphine capsule. A parent barks directions into a cellphone straining to hold its signal; another wave of infantry is on its wave. Groups of teenagers lope through sulfurous clouds of sand kicked up by each others’ passage. Someone screams; tumbling out of the water, a girl points at her muddy foot. Blood flows from her talonish ankle, evidently gouged on a sharp, unseen rock. She is quickly evacuated to the medical tent. I take a sip of warm beer.
A dull, accelerating rumble rises from the tree-cloaked horizon behind us, slowly building until it explodes monstrously above us and then quickly fades into nothingness in the vast sky.
“What’s that?” Ian yells above the near supersonic din.
“ARCLIGHT!” I answer.
“ARCLIGHT! B-52 strike!”
I go to take another swig of beer, but some overeager child has kicked it into the sand. Golden brown liquid glides across the miniature dunes in a stream of silty rivulets, a flow of blood pulsing from an arterial bleed that just won’t clot. Arms extending outwards, grappling the beach, urging submission before being sucked into its vastness, swallowed up, destroyed. A wet, foamy scar remains for a time, but the sun’s crushing vision will soon take care of this transient creature as well; he’ll reshape this beach as he reshapes our cancerous complexions, dividing, conquering, until all is lost.
Smiling children are chasing each other around, a gull twirls overhead, sweat dribbles off my scalp, flocks of high-explosive dancing towards a burning cityscape. On the other side of the world an American air strike pounds a village in Afghanistan. Knocked through the sand by the concussion blast, I fall into a wall of tantric flames, my skin writhing, forming bubbles of charred obsidian as a cedar coughs out squadrons of sparking aggression and crashes down on top of me. A young girl cries, her flesh boiling off of her arms, as she tumbles into the forest. The world is on fire; the lake begins slurping up the bomb-shattered beach. Ian laughs and hands me another beer.