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.
“If you had a pet shark, what shark would you choose?”
“What’s 53 x 47?”
“How does light work?”
“What’s your favorite song?”
Unanswerable questions, but always the: ‘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.