The line on the horizon seems drawn with a light pen. It’s one mile distant 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, an imaginary line that grows tauter, its span shortening, as the space between dusk and dark lessens.
A parallel and low-hovering brief of pelicans returns from somewhere north simultaneous with the sundown. 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 and permeate into dark moods. Moods, moods. Moody-mood moods.
There is numbness, then fits of suddenness, moments that precipitate into needless urgency. These are moments where you at once snap to, finding yourself staring at insignificant things like pillow seams or clock faces, else dumbly scrolling on capacitive screens; Moments where you are lost in the nothing-spots that exist up and to the left of vision, the 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 with a concrete tower that shepherds its fishery. The lagoon is criss-crossed with barnacled dikes that hem in scads of young fish, fry and fingerlings separated. Agua Hedionda 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 return it to white. From the shore, I can see the gaps in his smile, 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 want 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 anything is the worst.
For the record ‘53×47’ is 2491, and light works whenever you flip a switch, 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. On any given day, though laws can be reversed as with a magnetic shift. Empty can easily be something heavy instead).
The pelicans fly past, their wings irregularly shaped, irregularity being the science behind lift. The leading edge of the wing is thicker than the trailing end creating an airfoil,. Upward and forward net forces with overcome the diminutive downward and there is lift.
This is how you fly.
The last pelican is gone but the sound of Cayden’s laughter remains. Cayde’s skimming the surf on a body board and he’s 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 too laughs his jagged laugh, eyes squinted to commas in the manner his diagnosis dictates. He’s laughing, with his legs pumping, his orange hair salted into ropelets of strawberry and blonde. Finn signs ‘more’, else just claps or flaps his hands in a sign that needs no meaning outside of excitement. He’s three and the waves are fun in and of themselves, never stopping, as they churn 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 root. Sea urchins, brittle stars, evacuated worm tubes, stalk-eyed shrimp. There was foreign alga intertwined with the kelp roots, feathery, and 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 this small.
I surfed in the morning with my friend Larry, when the ocean was an early morning half-color. I 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 frayed primaries, and me not catching waves at all.
Suddenly the water rose in the correct place. There was the proper surge, the right push; there’s this lift when you ride a wave properly, this liquid push from below inviting you to stand atop 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 in simultaneous play, all there at once, all there at once with you atop it all. It could be you standing, it could be you standing or kneeling, but there is lift regardless. Lift and lift. There is always lift and also up.