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My eyes slipped along the curve of the beach. It was ours. All ours. The whole beach was ours: if only for the weekend. We went native. Shed our clothes. In the Pacific coast mists that dampened even the heat of summer we peeled off the layers, the work of decades of refinement and cultivation. Huddled closer to the fire, the hot burning fire of salt-bleached driftwood, when the mists rolled in. Or scorned the biting, exhilarating, tiny, cold, needle-point lashings of the elements; driven to primordial couplings in the sand, then, dancing in the froth and foam of crashing breakers, washing the sand and each other's wetness away in the shocking salt coolness... And so on.

We did lots of other stupid hippie clichés too. Like running naked along the beach, dodging the litter and trash and broken glass and plastic tampon sheaths that intruded upon our little weekend in primeval paradise. That's what I was doing when I first saw it: dodging crap from Japan and crap from seagulls. Before me the gulls all rose in a whirl of wings and sad-spirited cries, settling down on the sand once again after my passage. That's when I saw it. The one seagull that didn't rise with the flock. The one that made for the water's edge, flipping over and over again every time it tried, instinctively, to take to the air. The haggard-looking gull, dragging a broken wing.

I watched it for some time. Flipping and flopping it reached the water, then paddled into the waves, its impotent, twisted limb trailing along behind. I searched up the beach for a driftwood club. "Put it out of its misery,' I thought reflexively. That was the phrase that justifies clubbing. Getting close enough for a whack didn't seem so problematic, given the handicap, just required a bit of stealth. Logistics were hardly a worry. But then came the other garbage, the flotsam and jetsam of civilization in the form of nagging doubts, asked rhetorically with the annihilating skill of an Ivy League debater. "Could you kill it?" came first, followed by a precisely timed "Should you kill it?" That conjured up the even more debilitating question, posed in a thundering sub-vocal voice: "Do you have the right?" "Right or wrong," I meekly conjectured, "it all pretty much amounts to the same thing." "The bird's fate is hardly the point," the Rhodes Scholar inside shouted rather forcibly. What's important is the part you play in the whole tragicomedy, isn't it?" "Tragicomedy? Now isn't that overdoing it a bit?" I countered, parrying question for question. "That's an old trick," the voice of absolute insight reminded me. "You have but two choices: to play god here on this forlorn waste or forsake the role and allow nature her own. What will it be?"

I argued this way for sometime, standing alone against a backdrop of dramatic blacks and greys and whites, my dong shrinking and shrivelling in the cold. Eventually I opted for the third way, the path of least resistance as I knew I would. I couldn't decide so I didn't. I let the matter go, unresolved. I shuffled back to the camp dragging the stick behind me, my spirits dragging too. As for the bird, it died. No doubt. It had no choice.

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