The Hungry Ocean

Three old fishing boats on the shore of a beach.

Fromr/promptoftheday

Image Credit: Unknown

I like the lapping sound the water makes as it swishes around the boats, stuck in the sand, paint crumbling like icing off a stale cake. I crouch next to it, put my ear close, listen.

Lap, lap, lap, like that. The sea is licking the boats clean. She’s hungry.

Lap, lap, lap.

“Brandon, where are you?”

I hear my name but don’t answer for a moment. I want to hear the hungry ocean.

Lap. Lap. Lap.

“Brandon?”

“Here, Papa,” I say, and stand so he can see me over the old wreckage. I wave. He smiles.

“How is the sea today?” he asks.

“Good,” I say.

“Is she hungry?”

“Only a little.”

“Well then, I’ll warn the fishermen.”

“She wants something old,” I say.

“Something old?”

“Yes. She doesn’t like this paint. It makes her upset.”

“Hm. Okay. Come with me, son.”

I grab his hand and we walk up the beach. My feet are bare and my toes sink into the sand and the foamy water finds them and tickles them and I smile at the ocean and wish I could tickle her back.

Papa says I can’t remember back when I was a baby, but I do. He says I’m making it up. He says I’ve heard the stories so many times I think I remember, that I was too little.

I wasn’t too little. I do remember. I remember the boat, and the sun, hot. I remember the water flashing, warm on top, and I remember touching it. I remember falling over the side, and I remember the water being colder underneath than it had felt with my hand, and I remember trying to breathe and I breathed deep and the water was cold in my lungs and I kept breathing. I remember being scared, but I wasn’t scared of dying because I didn’t even know I was alive. I was scared because I wanted my father and he was on the boat and I wasn’t anymore.

I remember it getting colder and colder and colder and darker and darker and darker until it was warm again. And I was wet and warm and it was bright and I was breathing. And the sea gave me a hug, and a kiss, and told me it had missed me but that I had to go now and it would see me again, later, much later. And then I was on a beach, and the sand was hot and I was crying and I was there for a long time before someone found me.

Papa says I’m making it up, but I hear him talking sometimes. Hear him talking about how I need a real mother. That she’s not one. That she gave me up when I was born and so it doesn’t count.

“Biscuit!” Papa calls to his old friend, a dark skinned, wrinkled old man with white hair and big, rough hands.

Biscuit nods. “Boy say anything today?”

Papa nods back, and gently pushes me forward. Biscuit kneels down and leans in close. He smells like fish and salt and I like it. It smells familiar, and safe.

“Well, ocean boy?” he says, nudging me and smiling.

“She’s only a little hungry,” I say. “She was licking the paint off the boats but she doesn’t like it. She wants something old.”

Biscuit nodded. “Alright,” he says, and goes back into the little shack where he pretends to sell trinkets he makes from the presents she leaves me on the beach, refuse, they call it.

I hear him pick up the phone and rotate the dial four times and wait a minute. “Send out an old wreck,” he says, and then nods again as if the person on the other end can see it, and hangs up.

“Thanks, little man,” he says, and tousles my hair.

We go back to the beach. I think I’ll go swimming later. I lay on my belly in the cool water and let it hug me.

After a few minutes I look up and a derelict little fishing boat full of scrap wood and metal scrapings from the foundry is pushed off from a pier and drifts listlessly out to sea. I sit up and put my hand over my eyes to shield the glare so I can watch the tide grab it, pull it out, push it back, pull it out, push it back. And I watch as it glides toward freedom in the ocean, as she reaches up with a massive wave, as it capsizes and is ripped apart and slowly, quietly, sinks into her.

She laps at my feet and splashes me on the knees to say Thanks.

“You’re welcome, Mama,” I whisper, and lay back down in her tide.


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