Home > The Serial Box > Day One Hundred and Three: The Ocean’s Claim

Day One Hundred and Three: The Ocean’s Claim

I was on the beach after my father’s funeral. The man had been a surfer his whole life. He never had a job that I could remember, yet we never went without. He fed us and clothed us with the kindness and charity of his friends and neighbors, for whom he would do what kindnesses and favors he could in return. Everyone knew my father. He would stride into restaurants and be greeted with a chorus of voices. He would make his presence known in a grocery store or a surf shop or a drugstore and we wouldn’t see him until he had drawn the latest conversation and gossip out of everyone he knew. Then he would surf with the men he grew up with, spend long hours battling the waves and come home smelling of seawater and marijuana.

He died surfing, as he always knew he would. He hit a wave wrong, his board flipped and the fin sliced him open along the side. Big Ed Couto, after a few beers at the wake, told me it looked like the board had filleted him. He was led away by my father’s friends with tears in his eyes.

My father’s ashes were, of course, spread out into the ocean, his true home. It was an awkward ceremony on a small sightseeing boat under a bright blue sky that was being overtaken by clouds. We dumped the ashes in the water, and then I told the captain to turn around. I felt sick. Not seasick – that was something my father would never had tolerated in his oldest son. My head was pounding and my joints were tight. Every time the small boat bumped up against the waves, my teeth would clack together until I tasted blood. My eyes were closed. I didn’t want to look out, to see the ocean that had claimed my father. I stood by the gangplank all the way back to the marina, and waited for the maddeningly slow process of docking the boat, with my eyes itching and my fingers gripping the railing so hard that I felt bones crack. I wouldn’t even begin to feel normal again until I was on land.

But the easing of my illness – or whatever it was – was not enough to get me off the beach. I was offered a ride by everyone who had a car, but I waved them off. Said I wold rather walk home, which was not a lie. When they had gone, with the clouds coming in, I went to a fallen piece of driftwood above the high tide line and sat down. The ocean was a dull grey. It moved sluggishly, barely mustering the energy to crawl up the sand to meet me. I took off my shoe and set my toes right up to the furthest edge the water could reach and smiled as it tried, futilely, to touch me. It was the ocean that had claimed my father, the waves that took him and killed him and tore him apart. The would love to get me too, I was sure of it. I moved my toes back just a hair, and the wave seemed to stretch itself just a little more.

The sun was hidden high above the clouds, its light weak and diffuse. The sand was cold under my toes and the constant breeze was tangled in my hair. I listened to the ocean for a while, waves coming in and out like breaths of a great beast. If I closed my eyes, I could hear it inhale, exhale, over and over again. Never stopping for a minute. I breathed with it, the cold salty air clinging to my lungs until I let it go and took another breath. I breathed and I sat, and that was all I did, there on the beach.

I flinched when the water touched my feet.

I opened my eyes when it didn’t let go.

The water was pooled around my feet, one bare and the other still in a shoe that would be acceptable for a funeral. I tried to pull my bare foot away and the water clung to it, like a thick jelly. Even when I stood up and put my weight behind it, the water clung to me, stretching but not snapping. I wanted to yell for help, but the beach was deserted. I hopped on one foot and kept pulling.

That was when the ocean adjusted its grip… and pulled back.

I went flat on my back and felt sand grinding its way into my clothes as the water dragged me down the beach. I scrabbled at the sand and the rocks, finally starting to yell, but I couldn’t slow myself down. The water was up to my thighs now, pulling me faster towards the dull, leaden water. I opened my mouth for one more great shout, and that was when I was pulled beneath the waves, dragged feet-first into the dull and murky waters. I flailed, trying to swim up to the surface, but the ocean had me in a full-body grip. My clothes were soaked and dragging me down, and I could feel the heat leaving my body, sucked out by the greedy water. My heartbeat pounded in my ears, far faster than it had been just moments ago. The water stung my eyes, and I sank in the cold darkness, trying to hold on to the last scraps of breath in my lungs.

Then the ocean said my name.


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