Gillian stared out at the swelling sea from the beach cottage she had rented, and wondered how long it would take for the water to cover her head and sweep her out with the tide. The tear-stained note lay unopened at her feet as she picked disgustedly at the fuzz balls on her new designer sweater set, which she now realized was a knockoff.

"Sears," Gillian hissed. "What was I thinking?"

A boat drifted by as Gillian lit yet another cigarette, and drank from the half-filled can of warm Bud that the pool boy had left on the faux-mahogany night stand late last night--before leaving her as well.

Tomorrow she would change her pathetic life.

Tomorrow she would swim with the whales . . .

Ah, the dog days. Everybody's either gone on vacation, or about to go. But there are still magazines to put out. So, to fill up the space, one of two things happen.

1. Some big-name novelist writes about baseball and the bonding experience of taking his kid to a baseball game--and halfway through you wish Albert Belle had charged into the stands and taken both of them out with a Louisville Slugger.

2. Some big-name novelist writes "summer fiction."

"Summer fiction" is just like real fiction--except . . . well, by the time you get halfway through you wish Albert Belle had charged into the writer's Manhattan study with a Louisville slugger.

"Summer fiction" has three indisposable ingredients: a body of water, cocktails and a dysfunctional family. One of the three triggers a response that sends the main character for a long walk down a short pier, and from then on it's just a race to to the finish line. (In some summer fiction the appearance of a Swedish babysitter with a sports bra is enough to get things moving.)

This stuff takes less time to write than it does to read. You know how they say that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time would eventually write "Hamlet"? Well, summer fiction is what the monkeys come up with after 45 minutes.

If it was any thinner, you could floss with it.

Gillian opened the screen door and flicked the cigarette onto the white sand that accumulated every night, borne there by the ocean breeze. The sand got into everything--the fresh fruit she kept near the sink, her calligraphy equipment, her monogrammed diaphragm set. Every time she entered the cottage she shook like a dog to shed the rough coating of sand.

"Why do I come here every year since Harvey died?" Gillian said to no one.

Died? Why had Gillian said "died"?

Harvey hadn't died, he was ironed, run over by the M-4 bus, squashed flatter than the grapes in Tuscany. Best darn dog she ever had, Harvey was.

And then she was crying again . . .

Summer fiction is sold on the big-shot byline of some literary lion who hasn't published anything readable in years and is running on vapors. Summer fiction is to good fiction what Tim Allen is to Woody Allen.

Didn't you ever wonder why summer fiction always ends so lamely, with something like: "She dangled her legs over the side of the bed, took a deep drag on her cigarette, and gazed into the burning sunset, listening to the lonely whistle of the train fading into the distance. She had never experienced anything so real before, and now she never would again." It ends in midair like that because the literary lion has just glanced at the clock and realized that it's 2 o'clock, and if he doesn't end this thing soon, he'll get stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway going out to the Hamptons for the weekend.

Am I bitter?

Moi?

My objection isn't that these lazy, indolent slobs are getting $10 a word for this slop. My objection is that I'm not. You've read my column before. I can write slop with the best of them. My middle name is "Hack." Heck, Hack should be my first name. Except Hack Irwin Kornheiser sounds ridiculous.

Gillian wondered what she ever saw in Federico. How could she have been so foolish as to think that being able to order in Italian was worth this price?

It had all been lies. Federico didn't direct films. The accent fooled her. What he really said was, "I collect films, signora." He worked at the Blockbuster return window.

And now there was no Federico. And no Leonard either. Whoever Leonard is.

Gillian was all alone. Her bosom heaved like the Exxon Valdez after going aground.

Gillian should never have placed the ad in the paper for a babysitter. But who knew they got the Sunday Times in Stockholm?

Gillian felt an itching in her loins, although it may have been the result of the detergent she'd been using lately. What good was coming to the shore when every foggy morning, every sea gull, every bit of medical waste she passed on the beach reminded her of the emptiness in her heart?

Gillian felt so hollow, so adrift, so really, really ferklempt. This place was costing her almost $2,300 a week. And she was getting an enormous zit right on the tip of her nose.

"The French," she hissed. "They put butter in everything."

She thought of Federico whispering "bolognese" and "asti spumante" in her ear.

She dangled her legs over the side of the bed, took a deep drag on her cigarette and gazed into the burning sunset, listening to the lonely whine of the train fading into the distance. She had never experienced anything so real before, and

Attention summer fiction readers: Tony Kornheiser just left for the beach. Finish the column among yourselves.