The Ocean - Richard Leise
Content warning: drug use, death
Simon frees his wallet from their beach bag and unzips a pouch, removes the mescaline. He hands Lucy half of a small, orange pill, and he swallows the other with a sip from a screwdriver kept cold in a thin, metal canister. They had split another pill upon waking. He says, Buckled up?
Lucy laughs. She says, Not really.
Things had been strange since the end of the semester. They had seen each other at the funeral, and they had been happy to see each other, but circumstances had been way too weird. Lucy didn’t want to be there, but neither did Simon, so it wasn’t as though he could blame her. The weather had been terrible, and, following the service, her flight had been delayed. Simon drove her to the airport. Lucy returned to Daytona.
That was no way, even if only for a few months, to say goodbye.
Blue skies and beach-blond dunes. Horizontal, the world absent definition, the road needs no name and runs straight, its minerals glittering, the sun-bled asphalt cutting through what was a coastal forest, scrub and pines dotting this ancient landscape like dolmens, trees anthropomorphic, their roots bent and misshapen, like the petrified bones of escaped slaves made tiny by imagination. See how they mark nothing.
It’s so pretty, Lucy says, drugs dulling her ego.
Every so often ghostly intersections and man-made swale. Single-signal traffic lights blink abjectly, blood red, regulating nothing. And then the world itself. At first just shapes in the distance, a feeling of place not so much boundless as free of borders, definitions. Greater dunes now rising wild as ancient limestone hills, access roads, meaningless turn-offs, plateaus treeless, all of it threatening and all of it beautiful.
Through Simon’s window the ocean is so vast and so blue as to become something to doubt. Upon a distant shore a string of small shacks, echoes of color. In the immediate distance a saltwater pond. Cattails. Wind. Sea spray. Surprisingly, the road dips, but this as if only to rise, and then before them a great empty parking lot. It is early, they are alone. It is warm, heat radiates from the asphalt, a watery illusion. Simon parks. Lucy opens her door. They taste the humidity.
It’s early. The sun in its rising casting, with its color, surprisingly warm air. Seagulls, like fixed kites, are tethered points high in the bright sky. There are no clouds. Wind rising from the water erases all noise, a cessation of all but the sound of the self-erasing wind. There is a light chop, enough bluster disturbs the water’s surface and creates fierce, jagged points of light. Around the lot tall grasses flattening, shapeshifting. Marshes extending. In the distance a light house.
That must be huge, Simon says, standing beside the car and noting the structure’s size to scale.
It is huge, Lucy says. You’re right.
More immediate is that scope of those light posts erected purposefully on the lot, their solar panels, like pork pie hats, set at angles both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Beneath each panel huge wooden nests, homes to the shore’s birds of prey. Lucy, with a towel over her shoulder, makes for a path between two dunes. Look. It is hard not to. She is incredibly beautiful. Her long red hair and her pale white skin, her red bikini bright and tight, a second skin. Simon follows with the bag and their umbrella. He watches the muscles operate her legs, her back. Like organisms. They stop to kick off their sandals.
Leaning forward they walk to crest a rise, the fence off to their side collapsed and weather stained. A strange sort of atmosphere. They push up the path, the sand already hot and spiraling behind their heels, and then, before them, waves. Simon holds a hand to his brow. He looks in many different directions and it’s amazing, the waves, water unfolding like creases upon a crumpled sheet of paper, how static, how wildly inert these waves, charged as those waves rendered flitting spaces black and white between television’s programmed channels.
You know, Simon, Lucy says.
She remembers feelings, but not what to say. The wind lifts her hair and she feels her skin, the sand whispering against the seagrass.
She says, You know what I always thought was weird?
Straight ahead the erasure of choice, the sea and sky, like a painted line, a seamless littoral inseparable. The pattern pelagic and richly textured, unvarying, a horizon made wholly true, a divided sky halved into categories visible. Simon leans forward farther still. The offing approaches, as opposed to draining away, and how the sky seems to rise only to collapse in upon itself and they are closer to the water now and the endless approaching fold of the ocean’s cresting waves and how all of this, so gentle and calm, yet wild and absent restraint, seems patterned, prearranged. Like the intent behind a wounded look.
No, Simon says. He sees his response as a sensation, sort of.
Lucy says, That your dad cremated your mom, but then had, like, her ashes buried, in a cemetery. I mean, I don’t mean that it’s weird, weird, it’s just that I’ve never heard of it. People usually keep the, like, urn, or whatever.
Walking now to where the waves rise and fall, rise and then fall so regularly but off just a beat so that following the sound is a bit like tripping up the stairs, like seeing something that is not quite there, before them so much motion that even silence yields to the boom-sucking surf.
Simon hasn’t thought about his mom in a while. For some time following her death he’d wake up, early in the morning, or the middle of the night, and remember having been dreaming about her. His heart wasn’t racing, exactly, but he was uncomfortable, like his heart might have been racing. He felt guilty, that he had done something wrong. What then came to mind was her last hour or so alive, and what she looked like, dying. But he realized that wasn’t quite right. That—what she looked like—is what he had been dreaming of. Awake, alone, in bed, he saw only the darkness between the spaces of the concrete objects placed within his room.
He said, Why did you bring— He looked around for a clue. Finding nothing, he continued, What made you think of that?
Dunno, Lucy said. I guess all of this crazy sand.
Dunno, Lucy said.
And Simon smiled. He couldn’t remember the last time Lucy looked concerned, let alone sad.
Richard recently accepted The Perry Morgan Fellowship in Creative Writing and the David Scott Sutelan Memorial Scholarship from Old Dominion University. While completing a MFA, he has a novel out on submission, and is finishing a collection of short stories. His fiction and poetry may be found in numerous publications, and was recently awarded Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions nominations.