I cannot go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
– Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)
There isn’t much to say with regards to this story’s inspiration, because I have no coherent memory of actually coming up with the idea for this one. I sat down one day and the words just poured out of me. I completed it in one sitting, which is pretty impressive by my standards: usually I’ll drag out the writing process for weeks or even months at a time until my motivation is all but gone. Despite the lack of planning it still ended up having a lot of depth, and I’m really happy with how it came out.
The closest thing I have to offer by way of inspiration is that I like beaches and I like existentialism.
Summary & Meaning:
The first thing you have to understand is that this entire story is metaphorical. The beach isn’t real: it’s a metaphor for time in a non-linear form. The narrator has died, and the beach he stands on is the middle ground for his entire life, stretched out before him in past, present, future.
In the first paragraph he describes the place he’s currently standing, a.k.a. the present. He describes how the water rushes up, wiping away all the impressions he’s made in the sand. There are two ways to interpret this: in the first the water represents death, and the imprints he’s left in the sand are him, symbolic of his life being swept away. The second interpretation is on a slightly larger scale: the water represents the passing of time, and the impressions are the sum of the impact of his life on earth. Both are a little depressing, perhaps, but from his standing point he sees it as a cleansing process, a chance to do away with any earthly sense of self-importance or ego.
“The water rushes up with a sound akin to that of a mother’s call, familiar and comforting in its embrace, and as it washes up over my ankles soaking the cuffs of my rolled-up jeans, the earth beneath me shifts and I sink deeper into the ground.”
From the void we are born, and to the void we return. The water (the void, or simply death) comes for him with open arms, a mother welcoming her child with open arms.
He then looks to his left, to a young couple sitting on the beach. This is his past, a vision of him & his lover in their glory days.
“The nearest of my neighbours are to my left, close enough that I can see them but far enough that they are out of reach, a memory in passing as I look over my shoulder. It is a young couple, lying on a beach towel, in one another’s arms as they stare out over the sunset.”
Naturally this vision has him feeling very nostalgic, and he gets pretty emotional. He releases a single tear, a testament to the time they spent together (it’s quality, not quantity, otherwise he’d be an absolute mess with snot and tears and shit just running down his face), and then nods, releasing the tear in a proper farewell. There’s a whole thing about the tear falling into the ocean and becoming part of something bigger, but I’ll leave that up to your interpretation.
He then turns right, to the future without him. He sees a mother and her two children, and (you guessed it) this is his wife and children, living on after he’s gone. They’re farther away, and the image is blurry because the future is harder to see than the past, but their presence is powerful nonetheless. She looks up (she can’t actually see him, of course), and he waves to her, saying his final farewell. She raises her arm and waves as well, but not physically- it’s a symbolic farewell, one that means she’s finally moving on from grieving, accepting that he’s gone and coming to peace with that fact.
Though I know she cannot see me, I still feel my heart flutter as a chill runs through my body. I smile, and now the tears flow freely, and I know what must be done. I stare a moment longer, the wind tugging at my clothes, picking up particles of sand that sting against my skin. And then I raise my arm, and I wave. She stares a moment longer, and then, though I cannot see it, she raises her arm too.
He begins to dissolve into sand, becoming a part of the beach and taking his place amongst the entire history of man, amongst something greater than himself. He looks back at the footprints he’s left in the sand, at his past, and smiles. But the last thing he sees are the footprints that lie before him, the footprints of his wife and children, who will continue on long after he’s gone.