"Beneath the Ocean's Surface" by Fairiegoodmother.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
CHRIST'S SAD EYES
by Raymond Walker
The beach is accessible only by a rutted road, crumbling and boulder-strewn, gouged into the side of a precipitous cliff. For this reason it is often deserted, despite its bleached-white sand and shallow shore line. Further out and to the west, waves spray twenty feet into the air after thudding against a rock outcropping on which sea lions bask. An encircling old-growth forest blocks chilly Pacific Ocean breezes.
She arrives on a bicycle. Her bulky helmet looks too big for her small frame. She lingers, leaning against her bike in the parking lot, as if uncertain whether she should stay, and then removes her helmet.
Her dark hair is cut in a bob and her heavy straight bangs emphasize blue, wide-set eyes. Acne-blemishes on her cheeks are clumsily hidden by cover-up. She fumbles with the lock, chaining her bicycle to the “No Dogs on the Beach” sign.
Two obese women with bleached hair and identical black bathing suits sit reading on a large blanket close to the ocean. They are fat in the same way — dimpled thighs, bulging midriffs, double chins and jiggling flaps of skin under their arms. They chat animatedly, often pointing to pictures of near-naked models in their glossy magazines. They frequently glance over at four shrieking children and a small dog playing in the surf.
There is someone else, too. He slouches on a stump in the shadows, higher up the beach where shriveled sea weed marks the edge of high tide. His eyes follow as the girl makes her way across the sand.
She stares out to ocean for a long time, arms wrapped around her legs, before removing t-shirt and sweat pants. She tugs at the top and bottom of her modest one-piece bathing suit before laying on her stomach. She takes a pen and loose-leaf paper from her backpack and, using a text book for a hard surface, begins writing.
I’m at Desolation Bay! It’s so wild here! Just me and some moms with their kids. Mom would kill me. Don’t go anywhere by yourself, she kept saying when I left. (Don’t you dare tell her! She’s got enough to worry about.) But you can’t go around being afraid all the time, can you? You could spend your life being careful and then get killed by a frozen chunk of sewage that falls out of an airplane and crashes through your living room ceiling. (That actually happened once, I think.) Besides, I haven’t made any real friends here yet. People think I’m a country bumpkin. But I don’t mind. I’m just excited to be here. I brought my math text. I might even do some studying. Ha, ha!! (No, seriously! I am going to study. I have to get my math mark up or I’ll lose my scholarship.)
“Hey there,” the man says. “Mind if I sit down?”
He doesn’t wait for an answer. He sits awkwardly, kicking sand onto her rainbow-coloured beach towel. She brushes it away without speaking.
“Nice day to get a tan. My name is Mark.”
It’s not fair! Can’t a girl just be alone? I’m not sure where he came from. From under a rock probably. Okay, that’s mean, but he’s old and gross and I didn’t ask him to come over. His belly is so pink. I’m ignoring him. Maybe he’ll just go away. But they never do, do they?
I’m getting used to the city, except yesterday a bus driver snapped at me because I could’t find my bus pass. There was a huge line-up and I could feel myself turning red. But a nice old man patted me on the shoulder and put the money in for me.
“Burn and peel, that’s all I do,” he says in a fake friendly voice like a waiter in a fancy chain restaurant. He plucks a strip of dead skin from his sunburned nose.
In the old days ships were often wrecked on the rocks out here. They say on stormy nights you can sometimes see a mom with a soaking dress and seaweed in her hair looking for her drowned baby. Remind me not to come here at night!
“Gonna be another nice day.” He pauses significantly for a reply that does not come. The sand is already hot enough to burn the soles of the feet and it made him run like a circus clown, quickly hopping, feet high, when he abandoned his stump. He stares at the children thrusting their small chests at the foaming surf.
“Look at those crazy little bastards. That water is cold!”
She doesn’t look.
“The waves just keep coming don’t they?”
Waves remind me of the prairies. You know how the wheat rises and falls with the wind? It makes me homesick. The forest is so dark and dense. It would swallow you up. They say girls have gone missing from this beach and never been found.
Great! Now, I’ve creeped myself out! Definitely don’t tell mom that. I’m sure no girls have gone missing. People like to tell scary stories.
Still, I’m glad for the moms and their kids! It makes me feel safer.
“Wow, you’re sure writing a lot! Is that a diary or something? Don’t do too much writing myself. Don’t read much neither. Comic books. Used to read them all the time. Batman. Superman. The Incredible Hulk. You come here by yourself?”
I’m sure he doesn’t know how rude he is. I wonder if he knows how red he is?
She wriggles a depression for her hips. He leans, pretending to reach for a stick, and cranes his neck to peer into the shadow between her legs, staring hungrily as if he might see her sex through the thin cotton. His hand creeps forward on his thigh and then stops, fingers twitching. He leans the other way, searching her cleavage for exposed flesh. His darting eyes chronicle the slightest jiggle as she writes. They widen abruptly when he realizes she is staring.
“Uh, oh...just looking at that mutt,” he says, pointing at the bedraggled dog barking at the waves. She has already looked away though, arm pressed against her chest. The moms glare at him. He ignores them.
“Had a dog like that when I was growing up. It was yappy too.” Sand trickles through his fingers. “It had big brown eyes. Christ’s sad eyes, mom used to say. Deaf in the end. Didn’t hear the garbage truck backing up. Mom took it hard. Every garbage day she screamed at the driver, even though it wasn’t his fault. Sometimes it wasn’t even the same driver. She threw a rotten cabbage at him once. Drunk at nine a.m., in her muumuu and fluffy slippers! City said they were going to stop picking up her garbage if she didn’t quit harassing their...uh, oh. Something’s happened.”
The women are calf-deep in the sea. Screaming. Hands shielding their eyes, they search the waves. Then the children point the other way. One of the women runs into the forest calling out hysterically. The other runs to the girl’s blanket. She’s crying so hard she can barely talk.
“Did you see a little blonde boy? He has red shorts. Can you help us look? He's lost in the forest. He’s my nephew. He’s only five! Please, please, can you help?”
Bit of excitement here! A little boy went missing. Luckily, they found him right away. Playing with a crab shell behind a log. He’s crying like his little heart is going to break because now he has to sit with his mom. He has the blondest curliest hair! I want to give him a hug! Who knows what would have happened if he had gone into the woods! It’s so dark and spooky. Okay, there I go scaring myself again!
He’s ogling me when he thinks I’m not looking. Ugh, creepy!
“Teach the brat to wander off, eh? Oh well, those fatties need the exercise. Maybe they should run up and down the beach a few more times. Hey, we should go for a swim! But not in that friggin’ ocean. There’s this big heated pool at my hotel. Fancy deck chairs. They serve drinks. C’mon. Live a little. Whaddya say?” He nudges her shoulder.
“Je ne parle pas Anglais.” She shrinks from his touch.
“Hey, that’s French. I know what that means. You’re a Frenchie. You don’t speak English!” Then the significance of that sinks in. “Uh, not any?” he asks, shoulders sagging.
I’m so bad!!!
I pretended I was French. I did it without thinking. (I know. I know. I have a habit of doing that.) He didn't even notice I’m writing in English. He still hasn’t left. Just sitting there, staring at the sand. Je ne parlais pas de Anglais and J’ai oublie mon parapluie are the only bits of French I remember from Mrs. Tutte’s class. Remember her? The bad jokes? The frizzy hair? It’s so sad she has Alzheimer's.
The little boy has fallen asleep on the blanket, bum up in the air, face on his folded hands. His mom made a shade umbrella out of a blanket. I wish you could see him.
“Got the day off work, or did you just call in sick?” he says after a long silence. “Be a shame to be stuck in an office on a day like this. You work in an office? Oh yea. Frenchie doesn’t understand English.” There is sarcasm in his voice. She steals a quick glance. He is jabbing at sand fleas with a driftwood splinter. His stubby fingers are heavily calloused.
“First day of my holidays. Big deal. A month to forget the other eleven months of slavery.”
He flicks the splinter between two fingers, like a cigarette butt.
“Pretty girl like you shouldn’t come to the beach by herself. It’s not safe.”
Pretty girls shouldn’t come to the beach alone, he tells me. I guess it’s okay if you’re ugly.
I’m really having to work hard in math, even though it’s an easy course designed for art majors. My mind just doesn’t think that way. “Math is simple. Life is complicated,” our instructor told us. He says there is actually an algorithm for everlasting love. Wouldn’t that come in handy? He says it doesn’t work very well though.
“Me and my friend Larry quit school in Grade Ten. I wanted a new truck. Got a job in a sheet metal shop. Had to glue fiberglass all over the insides of these tin vents. That stuff is itchy. It stuck to our hands, down our back, in our hair. Rode home on the bus after work and all’s I could do was scratch. I looked like a spaz. People wouldn't sit beside me.”
He pauses for a moment, the sand flies ignored.
“Maybe holidays aren't so good. Too much time to think.”
He’s not taking the hint! I'm stuck here. It’s my own fault. I should have told him right at the beginning to get lost. I’m going to get my feet wet. Hopefully, he’ll be gone when I get back.
“Going somewhere?” he asks, falling in at her side. She moves easily over the same sand that shifts so deceitfully under his weight. His legs are comically thin. His stomach droops over the brim of his too-long boarder shorts. His forearms are thick though and he has the large biceps and wide shoulders of someone accustomed to heavy lifting.
“Larry hated the job just as much as I did.” He leans so close his sweaty arm brushes hers. She recoils, frowning, and speeds up. He scurries to keep pace. “One day he sticks his hand in the press. Slices off three of his sonofabitchin’ fingers. Laying there in the scrap metal like puffy sausages, only with fingernails. Jesus, this sand is hot!” He hops awkwardly, skipping ahead a few steps to reach the damp sand that has been cooled by the surf. He walks backward so he can look at her while he talks.
“He said it was an accident, but I don’t know. Maybe it was a subconscious thing, you know? Deep down he wanted to do it. Like a fox gnawing its foot off to get out of a trap. Wrapped the fingers in a paper towel and took them to the hospital with us, but they couldn't sew them back on. Fuck! Shit! Stepped on a rock. Ouch! Ouch! That hurt.” He hops on one foot, massaging a toe. “That was ten years ago. Larry got a shit-load of money from that. Pissed it all away. And then he killed himself and his six-year-old kid in a car accident. Drunk as a skunk.” He shakes his head. “And I’m still working there. And I hate it now just as much as I did at the beginning.” He shakes his head again as if he can’t quite believe it. He limps as he walks beside her.
He follows her back to the blanket. Sits cross legged again. She lays on her stomach as far away from him as she can. He tosses a handful of sand toward the ocean. A gust of wind blows it back into his face and across her back.
Boo hoo. My plan didn’t work. He followed me to the beach blabbing his life story like we were best friends. I’ve only spoken to him once and that was in French. How can he not get the hint? How can a person be so oblivious? The aunt of the boy who got lost shook her head when she saw him following me down to the water. She seems nice.
“Woke up like usual at six this morning,” he says, wiping his eyes. “Tried to keep my eyes shut, but this voice in me was saying ‘Mark, you have to get up. You have to get up.’ That's what my wife always says. So I got dressed, laid on the bed and watched cartoons. Oh, there they go! Looks like the fat ladies have had enough. We’ve got the beach all to ourselves. We could go skinny dipping if the water wasn’t so friggin’ cold.”
The women pack up. The kids, out of the water now, drag them toward the parking lot. One of the women, the one who asked for help in finding the missing boy, detours to pass close by the blanket, even though two children, one at each elbow, try to guide her in the other direction. “Too bad a person can't be left alone when she comes to the beach,” she says. “Try to enjoy the rest of your afternoon, sweetie.”
“She don’t speak English. She’s a Frenchie,” says the man, who doesn’t notice or ignores the grimace aimed in his direction.
“Mom, we want two scoops. Chocolate and something else,” says a little girl, tugging at the woman’s beach bag.
“C’mon mom, can we go now?” urges the other little girl.
The mother allows herself to be pulled away, though it looks like she wants to say something else.
Uh, oh. Moms are gone. One of them practically ordered him to leave me alone. I think she would have to have a foot on his throat before he would listen. I should leave too, but it's soooo beautiful. The air is fresh, the sea and sky are blue and they stretch forever. I’d like to live on this beach. I wish you were here with me.
Just ten more minutes then I’ll go.
I’m pretty sure he’s harmless.
“My wife’s as big as those two. Sometimes when I look at her, I feel sad inside. Sagging boobs, fat ass. I feel like...I feel like I fucked up somehow. And she complains because I never want to touch her. Well, she used to complain. Not now. Christ, we don’t even look at each other anymore. We eat supper together. She watches her home designer shows on her TV. I watch sports on mine. We get undressed in the same damned bedroom without saying a word and then sleep side-by-side without even touching, not even by accident. It’s a fucking miracle how two people can be so close and so far away at the same time.”
I don’t want to hear about his sad life. Really, I don’t!! You should hear how he talks about his poor wife! I pity her. The more he talks, the madder he gets.
I should go.
“I looked at her one night at supper. A fat woman with a moustache, baggy sweat pants and the too-tight purple shirt with buttons looking like they are going to pop off at any second. I felt like asking her who the fuck she was and what the fuck was she doing at my dinner table. And then it was like I was standing outside my body looking down and wondering who was that bald guy sitting at the table with her and how the fuck did he get there? How fucked is that? How fucked is my life?”
Incoming waves smash into jutting rocks, booming and spraying into the air. Sea gulls circle lazily.
I remember a fight mom and dad had when you were just little. Dad stormed out of the house. He slammed the door so hard the glass almost broke. I had never seen him mad. Mom ran upstairs bawling. You were wailing because I told you they were going to get a divorce and we would be sent to different orphanages. Then Dad came back and went upstairs to the bedroom and a long time later they came back down and Mom started making supper like nothing ever happened. (I thought they were just talking up there!) Dad lay beside me when he took me to bed that night because I was so sad. Sometimes moms and dads just get mad at each other, he said. He was so wise. And he loved us so much! I wish you could remember him like I do.
“We were supposed to come on this holiday together — first time without kids - but at the last minute she changed her mind. Fine, I told her. I’ll come by myself. I'll tell you what though. If she doesn't want to come on a holiday with me, then she won't go on any holiday. She can stay at home and rot.”
He makes sand piles between his feet and pats them flat.
“We have been coming to this beach now for four years. The kids loved it here. She never complained, at least until now.”
“She’s gone on a diet, signed up for a belly dancing class. At her age. It’s ridiculous. Look at the size of those fucking waves! Sometimes, you know, you want a thing so bad you feel like exploding. I've never had a new truck. Wanted a new truck my whole fucking life. Fucking cow.” He punches the sand pile so hard it sprays into her face.
“Hey! Do you mind?” she exclaims, jumping to her feet. Too late, she covers her mouth, fingers from both hands touching her lips like a disobedient child who knows she has done something wrong.
“Sorry, sorry,” he says. Then he realizes. His jaw tightens. He flushes. He stands too. “But you said...”
“You speak English?”
“You understood me? Everything I said?”
She hesitates. “Yes.”
“I suppose you think you’re funny.” His fists are pressed against his hips. The muscles in his sunburned back are bunched.
“I’m sorry. I wanted to be left alone.” She steps back, wary.
He moves his right fist, just slightly, but enough for her to notice. Her eyes widen.
A crew cab truck with over-sized tires slews into the parking lot. Rap music blares from open windows. Two bare-chested youths hop from the front. They have the sinewy muscles of athletes, but the pudgy faces of boys not quite done with puberty. Three teenage girls giggle and tug self-consciously at their skimpy bikinis. From the back of the truck the boys grab a boom box and a large cooler.
She crams her stuff into the backpack and starts toward the parking lot. She’s a dozen feet away before he notices.
“So, anyways, don't worry,” he calls. “It's all good.”
She stops, hesitates and turns to face him. “You know, you’re getting quite red.”
“Oh well, always do. Just burn and peel. That’s me.” His voice lifts with a sudden hope. “So, you wanna go back to the hotel then?”
She stares at him as if she does not believe what he said.
“Doesn’t hurt to ask,” he says with a shrug. He flushes and turns away. He pretends he sees something out by the crashing waves. She continues to the parking lot where she stops to put on her sweatpants and shirt.
“Fuck you too,” he mutters when she has pedaled almost out of sight. ”Bitch.”
Shifting from one foot to the other, he stands with slumped shoulders, absently stroking his stomach. The brightness of the sun makes him squint, even with his sunglasses. Footprints and crumbling sandcastles have already been erased by the foaming tide. The boom box bellows, the boys, guzzling beers, lob a football and try to make one-handed catches. The girls apply suntan lotion to each other's backs. They notice him staring and collapse against each other, laughing.
Raymond Walker has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of British Columbia. He worked for a number of decades and won some awards as a reporter, photographer and editor for various newspapers in western Canada. He is now living in Vancouver and concentrating on writing fiction, which is what he really wanted to do before getting sidetracked by a journalism career. He has had short stories published in Descant and Spinetingler magazine as well as creative non-fiction in The Globe and Mail.