The Reverend arrived in Gold Beach at four in the afternoon. He crossed the stately bridge spanning the Rogue River adorned with exquisite obelisks. He powered down the windows and listened to the ocean. He could smell it.
He drove into town and saw an elderly man with long gray hair playing a ukulele in a tiny park alongside Highway 101. Behind the musician, a young man and a woman lived in separate makeshift tents pitched in the park. The Reverend thought about pulling over and listening to the performance, but it was getting dark and he wanted get to the beach before everything turned to black.
A sign pointed the way and he turned west and drove down a hill toward the beach. He saw a faded sign that read: Oregon Trail Motel. Then the motel came into view. It was a two-storey beachfront dump with peeling siding and frayed shingles. A vacancy sign was lit up red. Perfect. The Reverend pulled in, parked, went to the office and said he wanted to check in, but was going to see the beach first. The clerk said that was fine. How long did he want to say? The Reverend didn’t know. He’d give them an idea in the morning.
The Reverend donned a sweater and took a short trail through some dunes and shore pines. He emerged onto the beach and was staggered to see all the driftwood strewn about. Some of the logs were as big as school buses. He also noticed a dozen forts constructed from driftwood, each one unique. A few of the forts had campfires near their entrances. One of the forts had a tattered American flag attached to a twisting spar. The Reverend could hear voices, laughter, dogs barking and music coming from the forts. He smelled salt and something barbecuing.
Various shades of gray ruled the horizon as the last light died. The Reverend wasn’t all that disappointed at the lack of a sunset. Sunsets were bromides anyway. The sight of lazy breakers and the old sound of the ocean were more than enough.
The Reverend meandered south down the beach as dusk fell. He was getting hungry again and remembered a Chinese joint he’d seen on his way into town. He would check into the motel, order Chinese, and eat it on the balcony while watching waves give up their ghosts at the shore, ending journeys of thousands of miles.
Tomorrow was Thanksgiving. The Reverend had never spent a holiday alone.
The Reverend woke at dawn and was surprised at how restfully he had slept. Despite the chilly air, he’d kept the sliding glass door to the balcony open so he could hear the ocean.
What was the Reverend going to do on Thanksgiving? Was he sticking around for another night? Probably. He had nowhere to go and Gold Beach still had a mellifluous ring to it. He could microwave a turkey TV dinner and watch football all day. He could explore the beaches. He could hit a dive bar (were they open on Thanksgiving?) and hit the sauce. He could pick out a Lee Child novel from the lending library in the motel lobby and read it to witness the good guys win. He now had so many options opposed to his previous Thanksgivings, when there was only one and it was always the same and always joyless. That was no way to live, thought the Reverend.
He cleaned up and walked to the ocean before driving around Gold Beach to better assess the town. The air was cold and dry. The forecast called for more of the same.
He first investigated the forts and smoldering remains of the campfires. There must have been good partying around them last night. He ducked inside a few of the structures and it felt like being a kid again, although he realized adults had built them. Why had certain adults done so? It was beyond the Reverend’s grasp of reality or metaphor to answer, but he considered building a fort later. Why not?
He checked his phone. No messages. He had no one to text.