I find a dead shark on the rocks behind the house. Its mouth is full of blood and its eyes are bulging. You say it’s because it came from so deep, the pressure changes did strange things—grotesque things. I think it’s bloated because it’s dead. I can’t imagine its eyes were a normal shape under the immense weight of the ocean, as if it requires hundreds of fathoms of sea water just to keep them in its head. You say that’s not how it works.
The beach is strewn with dead things. Beachcombing, at its roots, involves scouring a graveyard for unburied corpses. That’s what you say. I try not to think that way. It’s more like treasure hunting for what the sea spit back. Like the shark. I poke it with a stick, hoping that if I poke it hard enough, things may spill out of its stomach, like gold bullion or a license plate or a coral reef. You ask me to stop. Let it rest. Leave it in peace. It has suffered enough. I can’t imagine an apex predator suffering. They are the inflictor not the receiver, I say. Everything feels pain, you say. Everything is suffering. Should’ve stayed in the ocean, dumb shark, I say. This is our world.
I find a crab shell stuck between two seaweed covered rocks. The markings on the back look like a decorated shield—an insignia of two claws reaching up towards a brushstroke of stars. Crabs never see their decorations. I wonder if there is an evolutionary benefit to ornament. I picture my body born into the world, tattooed with clan and cave paintings. I crack the crab shell in my hands and throw it back into the sea. When are we going to lose our shell? I ask. You are busy sticking your finger into a large, green sea anemone. You love that for some reason—being grasped by something so otherworldly. Little tentacles, I think. No thanks. I don’t like touching fish let alone an anemone. There is something unnerving about the slickness or the stickiness of many sea creatures. You think it’s like a portal, something alien, a connection we can’t find on land. But I don’t feel connected to anything out there in the sea. Quite the opposite. Like there is a reason they are keeping us out.
Later, I sit on a rock and drink a beer while you wade out into the sea. I start to believe our relationship is coming to an end. Every moment of the day has compounded to mean something more—all contradictions and mismatches. The lines between you and I, often times invisible or faint, are being filled in with permanent ink. The dividing line between the sea and the land mirror a schism between us. Join me, you say. The water’s fine. I say no and you know why. I start to believe you only asked so I would feel weak. When I was eight, a rip current pulled me out to sea. As it happened, I was convinced there was some divine power at work. Forces stronger than I could imagine were wrapping around my body and carrying me away from shore. Despite all the kicking and the thrashing of arms, it cared not. The sea was numb and apathetic. Neither malevolent nor benevolent. It planned to swallow me the same as if I were a piece of driftwood. As the land escaped, I understood my place. I’d felt foolish, like an astronaut who’d jumped just a little too high on the moon and found himself perpetually travelling into the chasm of space, realizing only then, that he was an intruder, a reckless trespasser, and the universe would not have it. A surfer came to my rescue. I remember the soft wax against my trembling body. Rescue—solitude.
I finish my beer and walk down the beach, overturning driftwood, sorting through dried seaweed, uncovering the dead washed up into my world. When I turn, you are swimming further out, testing your limits, trying to find the edge of where your world intersected.
SR Schulz heard that Cormac McCarthy thinks that kids should be put in a pit with wild dogs and that they should be set to puzzle out from their proper clues the one of the three doors that does not harbor wild lions and should be made to run naked in the desert. He (SR not Cormac) has been published in McSweeney’s, Maudlin House, Pidgeonholes, and Ghost Parachute. Avoid his twitter at @srschulzwriting at all costs.
image: M.M. Kaufman