Carlos

Cayde was well intended. He had done his research and had decided that Carlos should eat only flies since that’s what Carlos would otherwise eat in his natural environment. It was noble thinking on behalf of an ignoble but beautifully-finned fish and so today, Carlos,a Betta–a junk protein–which can otherwise live in oxygen deficient rice paddies, drainage ditches, and desktop bamboo vases—floated atop Cayde’s fishtank, thin in the sides, once splendorous tail accordion-folded like a shuttered fan.
“Did you feed him, Dude?”
“Well, kinduv. I gave him a fly yesterday.”
(And our house has been host to the usual Labor Day swarm of winged-things, buzzing stupid against the windowpanes; catching flies for Carlos has been a fun task for Cayden in some junior zookeeper fashion).
“Did you give him any of the flake food? Like I told you?” I’m not being accusatory.
Cayde starts to cry, simultaneously shaking his head ‘no’ while wiping tears on the thigh of my jeans. I’m holding a dripping fishnet and Carlos is brick-red now when he used to be a fairly handsome vermillion.
“I’m sorry, Monkey,” and Cayde cries jaggedly, and we make this into a lesson before Carlos—full name, Carlos Danger—swirls clockwise into the watery mausoleum that is the charge of the San Diego Water Authority. There are no words, no attendant priests.
Later at lunch, Cayde and I share a bowl of ramen, in which case we’re fighting over the oxtail dumplings and it’s explicitly communicated to the front of the house that we need TWO eggs lest the meal be somehow unequal. Finn’s not too enthused about his bao buns and Cayde nearly jabs me in the eye with his chopsticks while we lean over the bowl.
“Ramen!” Cayde noms. He asks, once the noodles are done, what is ramen exactly? And I’m kind by not mentioning how traditional broth is made with bonito flakes, the same stuff Carlos exactly wanted.
On the way home, we take the alleyway, which Cayde has expertly mapped over the past few months while spending further time outside the house: here is where the water puddles after a rain; here is where you can bunny-hop the broken concrete on your bike; here is the mini-ramp that loops around the row of apartment trash-cans and—incidentally—where there are discarded things, not exactly treasures, but chairs and faded couches left as offerings to whomever the taker.
Behind our house, a bougainvillea vine commingles with an overgrown ficus, just above the broken fence.
I flushed Carlos, and Cayden cried, but he turned off the aquarium light right away, also the filter, then he ran ahead in the alleyway and hoped that someone, one of his other friends, was perhaps home.

‘K’

The iPhone uses ‘capacitive’ technology, I’ve read, which means it’s touch-sensitive and altogether too easy to use. It’s not necessarily easy on the eyes, I discover, when Finn–spying me in deep-squint on the phone, the tablet, etc.,–wrinkles his face comedically, reminding me I look silly with my glasses discarded and with me, seemingly mid-snarl and deceptively carnivorous in face, writing a letter all squinchy-eyed, else perusing the most recent Trump faux pas on-line with a furrowed brow and a mess of hair falling into my eyes. Trump’s stapled head, meanwhile, currently hosts a dead vole, a domestic thin-haired one, I think. It’s unnaturally orange at least.

There’s ‘capacitive’, but also ‘capacity’–potential–which days innately contain. The trick is tapping into it, like figuring out the ‘K’ coefficient in a physics equation, like: how will momentum exist today?

At Speech, Finn counts ‘one-two–threee’ and slides down slides and throws himself onto mats. He taps his lower lip and sounds out sounds, cueing himself. Forwards, certainly, but Rady’s Hospital is sometimes a drag-some place even with all the forwards momentum, I won’t lie. Where’s the ‘K’ for the day?

(Incidentally, the bahn mi joint down the hill burnt down this week: it was named ‘K Sandwiches’, because irony).

Also, and considering Rady’s has its share of institutional bulbs and miles of linoleum, don’t we all just hate fluorescent? Like a basic human fact? Like that last time you tried on a shirt in a changing room, and your skin was green in pallor, but also weirdly pink and you really hated whatever mall gods made you defeatedly sag your shoulders in the mirror? Rady’s is very fluorescent.

We get home, and Finn is appropriately zombie. Jenn’s home, too, and it’s an afternoon where the sky is clearing blue. Because Finn is due for a nap, I sling on my knapsack and take a walk, the five-block exercise in the sun being that small convalescence, fluorescence winked out, and where I fold a paperback against its spine and try not to get hit by cars in the alleyways while reading.

I order albacore tataki at the neighborhood ramen joint: a white plate with a liberal ladling of ponzu, daikon sprouts, and scallions decorating neat tiles of tuna. The tuna is raw and seasoned with sichimi tagarashi. It’s all pretty and I dribble some sesame oil down the domino row of albacore. It’s an easy meal, fresh and clean.

The bar-back tells me to ‘Try this” and “Also this” while I scribble in a notebook, so I taste tasters while writing. Bar-back calls me ‘Brother’, which is guy talk.

The cashier next door—he calls me, ‘My dude.’

Gabe at Parkside: ‘Hello, my Friend.”

Mac at Thorn St.: ‘Hey, You.’

Glenn, Ripe Market: ‘Hi, Thom.’

Barista: ‘☺’

Cindy at the produce stand: ‘You doing a fly-by, or what?’

Me: ‘Getting some lemons?’

I scribble on the back-sheet of a paper that lives in my satchel—it’s a copy of an essay I read at a writers’ conference and I scrawl in scratchy blue pen while dredging a tile of tuna in ghost-chile relish.

I write about a tile of tuna in ghost-chile relish while writing with a scratchy blue pen.

This place is an al fresco space, and the myrtle trees outside the parklet are green, not gray, now that the marine layer is lifted. A natural light. And when I bus my tray: ‘Hey, brother! Good talk!’ The pourer tosses a chin. I check my phone, which is fractured and inexactly capacitive, but heading back home, and heading down the white alleyway, which Cayden always insists we walk, the day collects net, ‘K’ having done its thing and I’m full, near to capacity.

Lift

The line on the horizon seems drawn with a light pen, the line necessarily one mile out by nature of optics, and exactly where the sun is shining through a break in the clouds. The horizon sparkles in measured beads of gold, a line that grows tauter–its span shortening–as the space between dusk and dark lessens.

A parallel and low-hovering line of pelicans returns from somewhere, here, at the same time. The clouds take over and the pelicans are still flying left and southward. By count there are nine beaks, eighteen wings outstretched and cambered, all in silhouette.

(It’s summer. There have been three diagnoses in as many months, in as many people: Hodgkin’s lymphoma, adrenocortical carcinoma, papillary thyroid cancer. These are strings of malignant consonants, words that metastasize into moods. Moods. Moody-mood moods).

There are the numb places and also the sudden places. The sudden places where you all at once come to, finding yourself staring at insignificant things like pillow seams or clock faces; capacitive screens; else the nothing-spots that exist up and to the left of your vision,those intermediary spaces between you and the wall.

The beach, meanwhile, is nice. The water’s seventy degrees. To the north is the Agua Hedionda lagoon, a concrete tower shepherding its fishery. The lagoon hosts now-barnacled dikes and young fish, the fry and fingerlings separated. The lagoon is just up the shoreline. You can see the tower from the coast occasionally belching steam. It’s sentinel for the Encina Power Station and part of the coastal architecture. Not exactly postcard, but something of report at least.

Cayde plays in the water. His rash guard is so boy-stained, even the ocean can’t do the trick of returning it to white. From the shore, I can see the gaps in his smile—those square teeth and square non-teeth all jack o’ lantern—while he pushes a body-board about. I smile in return, wave.

“Hey, Daddy!” he shouts, which is how he starts most sentences.

“Hey, Daddy:

“If you had a pet shark, what shark would you choose?”

“Hey Daddy:

“What’s 53 x 47?”

“Hey, Daddy:

“How does light work?”

“What’s your favorite song?”

Unanswerable questions, but always the: ‘Hey Daddy.’

“Hey, Daddy:

“I love you.”

I should like to be ‘Hey Daddy’ for a while, at least forever I think. My sentences don’t begin with as near absoluteness because I’m not seven anymore, haven’t been since before I was seven. I try and answer every question, though, as Daddy, and since I’m asked. Being not-asked is the worst.

For the record ‘53×47’ is 2491, and light works whenever you flip a switch, or else when you tousle your kid’s hair and he smiles upon hearing ‘I love you’ said back.

(Sometimes there are low blood sugars and sometimes you find yourself slouching outside of yourself, once removed. This could be a Tuesday, or a Wednesday—any day an empty vessel is supposed to be lighter–but on any given day laws can be reversed as with a magnetic shift. Empty can easily be something heavy instead).

The pelicans fly past, their wings irregularly shaped, and irregularity being the science behind lift. The leading edge of the wing is thicker than the trailing end, there is an airfoil, also net forces with the upward and forward subtracting the diminutive downward.

This is how you fly.

The last pelican is gone and there is the sound of Cayden’s laughter. Cayde’s skimming the surf on a body board and he is laughing, pushed forwards by the curdling sea foam. I have Finn in the shallows, jumping the shoals; my hands hoist him by the armpits and he laughs his jagged laugh, eyes squinted to commas in the manner his diagnosis dictates, laughing, with his legs pumping and his orange hair salted already into ropelets of strawberry and blonde. He is signing ‘more’, else just clapping or flapping his hands in a sign that doesn’t have to have meaning outside of excitement. He is three and the waves are fun in and of themselves, never stopping, churning the beach sand. There’s quartz glitter between his toes. We’ve long ago ditched our sandals.

Earlier in the day, Jenn dredged a kelp holdfast from the surf, a root-like anchor unleashed from its undersea hold. She cut loose the stipe and brought back the root as trophy, depositing it on the sand. The kids and I parsed through it–other kids from the neighboring beach blanket, too–breaking the amber tendrils and occasionally unearthing sinuous arms of recessed creatures, hidden deep in the cellulose labyrinths. Sea urchins, brittle stars, evacuated worm tubes, stalk-eyed shrimp. There was foreign alga intertwined with the kelp roots, feathery, and there were occasional crab pincers a sixteenth of an inch long deep deep in the mass. We made a grave of broken kelp parts and saved all the living things inside a plastic bucket.

I showed Cayden a transparent crab on my thumbnail. There are things alive just this big.

I surfed in the morning with my buddy Larry, when the ocean was an early morning half-color. Fought every single wave, trying to remember how to surf the inside sets. The surfboard would yank my wrist and fly away from me, the thing that’s supposed to be my buoy dragging me instead. There were gulls catching light on the ragged undersides of their fraying primaries, and me not catching waves at all.

Suddenly the water rose, in the correct place. There was the proper surge and there’s this lifting when you ride a wave properly, this liquid push from below inviting you to stand on top of everything, which you do, obligingly, lifting as the grebes dive and the pelicans camber along, all the forces of rising and sinking and lifting all there, all there at once and with you on top. It could be you standing, it could be you standing or—in the alternate ending—you kneeling, but there is lift regardless. Lift and lift. There is always lift and also up.

The Perfect Exclamation Point

For a brief second, I see Jenn do a handstand at Kellogg Park where we’ve gone for the morning, ocean in view. Cayde’s agreed to do yoga with his mom at 9:30, the park (not to mention the parking lot) already full and populated with ruddy-faced morning-divers, their wetsuits peeled to the waist and eyes ringed with red lines, their masks having sealed correctly. The true surfers are already leaving and day-campers are setting up the hibachis and volleyball nets. I’m pushing Finn around in the stroller, up through the lawn-spaces, on the right-hand side of the coastline. The boardwalk is all young bodies and today is the day Jenn turns the age I still feel because I only turned the calendar page a month ago.
But Jenn is always younger. On the way to the jungle gym, I see Jenn and Cayde do ‘downward dog’ in tandem, on parallel mats. Cayde bounces some on his heels because there’s no way a boisterous seven-year old knows anything about chakras or breathing space. He resembles a pose whereas Jenn has her palms flat and her knees locked, textbook.
Finn climbs the playground ladders on his own and slides down, laughing. We swing, and have this game where I push him, then tickle him on the ascent and he throws out his arms and throws his head back smiling.
We circle around with the stroller, playground sand in our shoes, and park in the shade to watch the yoga group finish their poses. Jenn is upside down, and the instructor has her fingertips barely touching Jenn’s calves, steadying her; Jenn is upside-down with her hair touching the grass and with arms rigid in a handstand, a perfect exclamation point. Cayde is trying to do the same, tossing his legs akimbo over his head and looking all of seven, toppling ass over kettle more often than not.
It gets to the Shivasna portion of things and Cayden and Jenn hold hands, Cayde wanting to just get to that part where everyone says ‘Namaste’, which you do, appropriately, in virisana pose, virisana appropriately meaning ‘hero chief.’