At dawn, the sky over the Atlantic reddens. I imagine a trumpet fanfare heralding the approach of the sun. An orange hole emerges from the amber sky growing larger, brighter, faster. From this vantage point I can feel myself hurtling toward the curvature of the horizon like some mad astronaut. The sun reaches out its rays and catches me in its arms.
"What's in Myrtle Beach?" Friends asked when I shared my itinerary.
There's nothing in Myrtle Beach.
Strictly speaking, of course, that's not true. There is ocean and light and sand that lingers in my shoes for weeks. People live here, but that's not the point. The town is built seemingly for the sole purpose of entertaining families during the summer. The highways are dotted with pirate-themed buffets and dinosaur-themed mini-golf courses and advertisements for $20 helicopter rides. But the parking lots are empty, and it's too cold for ice cream on the boardwalk.
Everywhere I go I sense the absence of people and time. An empty Colosseum feels grand; a deserted amusement park feels sinister. I don't go indoors. I have to assume everyone left inside is already infected.
I spend most of my days much the same as I have for the last year-- sitting in front of my laptop, answering emails, taking meetings. Every hour my fitbit nudges me to pace around the apartment, which I sometimes do while skipping or flapping my arms to combat the monotony of trying to prevent a pulmonary embolism.
But in this apartment, I can leave the balcony door open and listen to the sound of crashing waves while I work. The way the light hits the water, skipping across the surface in a brilliant daze, catches my eye. Is there anything more intoxicating than light on water?
I watch until my eyes unfocus, and the sparkles start to look like static on an old TV. I remember I used to linger on the static channels, imagining the stories hidden behind all that noise.
At sunset, the beach comes to life. Elderly couples stroll hand in hand along the shore. A man in a fleece sweater and shorts walks his dog. Teenagers wrap their arms tight around themselves, refusing to admit they didn't dress warmly enough.
The sky, the air itself, begins to glow like the world has been placed inside an oven. The bellies of the gulls gleam gold as they glide overhead. Everyone is excited for the greatest show in town.
Some people regard my clicking camera suspiciously. Most don't notice or care. My favorites ask to be photographed. A boy from Rhode Island approaches me, and I step back.
"I'm gonna keep my distance if you don't mind."
"Oh, right, right. Covid, yeah."
With my 200mm lens, I can touch their faces from twenty feet away.
On the night of the inauguration someone sets off fireworks on the beach, and I watch from my twelfth floor balcony. In between explosions I hear the vast sound of the ocean, but I can't see beyond the foamy white crests at the shore. The fuse ignites. Someone in the next building whoops as the sparkles light up the black sky.