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Amidst the Wreckage

Zeke notes the exquisite form of the oncoming wave, turns his surfboard to face the shore, brings his legs up onto the board behind him, executes four powerful butterfly strokes to propel him forward, gracefully rises to his feet as the wave lifts him, shifts his weight to accommodate the vast momentum, and has a splendid ride across the face of the wave into the shallows.

And though that was the first wave he caught on this sunny day in April—the California sky almost too blue to be believed—he feels in every cell of his being that his surfing days are over.

*

Standing at his van in the beach parking lot, stripping off his wetsuit, Zeke thinks I’m becoming someone I’ve never been before. Who, I wonder?

“Mighty Zeke,” comes a familiar voice. “You done already? Just getting fine out there, or so it seemed from the outlook.”

Zeke grins at Toby, a burly guy half Zeke’s age. “Yeah, done already. My last ride too good to follow. Like the Stones couldn’t follow Ike and Tina.”

“The Stones follow who?” asks Toby, who Zeke has known since Toby was a bump on the front of pretty mama Sue. “You high? Thought you weren’t smoking anymore.”

“Haven’t had a puff in twenty-five years,” says Zeke, remembering the moment Universe said You ever smoke again, you’re dead.

“Are we talkin’ the Rolling Stones?” says Toby, eager to get in the water but wanting to honor the living legend of the local surfing scene. “Mick Jagger and those guys?”

“November 1969,” says Zeke, sitting on the tailgate of his van to get out of the legs of his wetsuit. “Rolling Stones’ big American tour. Ike and Tina Turner opened for them at Madison Square Garden and Mick refused to go on for three hours after Ike and Tina finished. Said no way he could top them, which was true. Masters and imitators.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Mighty,” says Toby, who listens exclusively to heavy metal, his favorite band Five Finger Death Punch. “Before my time.”

“Long before,” says Zeke, putting on his T-shirt. “Fifty-two years ago. I was seventeen.”

“You were there, Mighty,” says Toby, moving on. “Always epic talking to you.”

“May the surf be with you,” says Zeke, raising his hand in farewell.

*

Driving home on the coast highway, Zeke thinks Now what?

And simultaneously with that thought the car ahead of him suddenly slows and nearly stops, the passenger door swings open, a big cardboard box drops out onto the road, and the car speeds away.

Zeke comes to a complete stop—something in the cardboard box trying to get out. So Zeke turns on his blinkers, jumps out of his van, hurries to the box, opens the top, sees puppies, closes the top, puts the box in the back of his van, and drives on.

The puppies—Zeke thinks three or four—whine and whimper and scratch the walls of the box all the way to Zeke’s farm two miles inland from the sea.

*

There are three pups in the box, eight-weeks-old. As he lifts them out one-by-one and sets them on the kitchen floor, Zeke guesses they are progeny of a Siberian Husky and a Chocolate Lab.

“Why do have to be so darling?” he says, giving the ravenous pups milk in a big stainless steel bowl.

Now Fiona, Zeke’s partner for the last seven years, comes in from the studio where she gives massages and says, “Tell me you’re not keeping them.”

“I don’t know,” says Zeke, surprised by her uncharacteristic response to the darling pups. “Dropped in my lap from heaven. Well… from a car in front of me on the coast road.”

“Well I know,” says Fiona, nodding emphatically. “Either they go or I go.”

“What’s this about?” he asks quietly. “Fiona I know smooches these little guys whether we keep them or not.”

“I don’t want a dog,” she says, verging on hysteria. “Let alone three.”

“You knew I was getting a dog,” says Zeke, sensing something big about to happen. “Been a year since Tupelo died. I told you I was on the lookout. Thought you were, too.”

Fiona holds still for a long moment and says, “I met someone, Zeke. You and I haven’t been clicking for a while now, so…”

*

Fiona moves out.

*

Zeke keeps the pups and names them Ike and Tina and Mick.

*

Two years later, single as a monk since Fiona split, Zeke is walking his three big beautiful dogs on short leashes on the beach where he rode his last wave. His eyes are fixed on the messy breakers and the few die-hard surfers out there getting bashed around.

The light on the water becomes exquisite, so he drops the dogs’ leashes, raises his camera to his eye, and shoots picture after picture of the gorgeous chaos, remembering times he went out in such chop because being bashed around was better than nothing.

“And once upon a time,” he says, lowering his camera and speaking to the dogs, “a fantastic wave materialized amidst the wreckage, a colossal wall of gray blue glass, and I was in the right place at the right time and had the ride of my life.”

Tina always looks at Zeke when he speaks to them, Ike and Mick not so much.

*

Returning to his van, Zeke and the dogs encounter Toby looking blue.

“Monsieur Toby,” says Zeke, smiling at his former surfing buddy. “What’s up?”

“Not the surf,” says Toby, deeply bummed. “Been wrecked for weeks. If I didn’t have my fucking job, I’d head south. Pronto.”

“I hear you,” says Zeke, opening the back of the van.

The dogs wait for Zeke to nod before they jump in.

“You miss being out there?” asks Toby, sympathetically. “You must.”

“Actually I don’t,” says Zeke, ever amazed at how glad he feels not to be surfing anymore. “I like looking out there now without needing to go out. I see so many things I never saw when all I wanted to do was catch and ride.”

“Like what?” asks Toby, frowning.

“Complex interweavings of simultaneity,” says Zeke, laughing at his choice of words.

“Nothing complex out there today,” says Toby, shaking his head as he walks away. “Just a bunch of barfy crap.”

“I hear you,” says Zeke, raising his hand in farewell.

*

On the way home, Zeke stops at Feed & Grain to buy dog food and chicken feed. Jackie, a gal with short black hair going gray and a silver-dollar-sized yin yang tattoo above her left bicep waits on Zeke. He’s had a crush on Jackie forever and it’s no secret she likes him, too, but they’ve never been simultaneously single in all the years they’ve known each other.

Jackie seems hella sad so Zeke asks, “You okay?”

“None of your fucking business,” she snaps, ringing up his total. “Sixty-three forty.”

“Sorry,” he says, writing a check. “Just popped out. Sorry.”

*

Home, he lets the dogs out of the van and waves to Maria and two-year-old Rosa in the vegetable garden. Maria and Rosa live in the studio with Maria’s husband Carlos, a checker at the grocery store who learned to surf from Zeke, Rosa a bank teller.

Mick and Ike trot to the edge of the apple orchard where they sniff the air and drink from the creek before returning to the house and sprawling on the deck in the sun.

Tina follows Zeke into the house and drinks from her water bowl in the kitchen while Zeke has a glass of water.

When Zeke goes into his study, Tina follows him, and Zeke realizes she wants to be petted. So he sits in his chair and gives her a thorough massage from head to tailbone, and she is one happy dog.

Zeke stands up to listen to the three messages on his answering machine.

The first message is from Clive at the community theatre. “Hey Zeke. No set building this afternoon. Sorry about that. Aaron has to have a root canal and he changed the design yet again. I’ll keep you posted. Ciao.”

The second message is from Lorraine at the Fouquet Gallery saying she sold two more big prints of Zeke’s photo of a humongous wave crashing against an enormous rock bearing an uncanny resemblance to a bust of Beethoven, so she needs a few more of those, and she’s sold out again of Zeke’s photo of a line of seventeen pelicans gliding inches above the ocean’s surface in the trough of a glassy wave glimmering in the sunlight, the wave just starting to curl at the top.

And the third message is from Jackie at Feed & Grain. “Hey Zeke. Sorry I was so rude to you. I just… my husband split a few months ago and I just got served with the divorce papers so… forgive me. See you around.”

Zeke smiles at the complex interweavings of simultaneity, winks at Tina, and calls Feed & Grain.

Jackie picks up midway through the first ring. “Hi Zeke. I was hoping you’d call.”

“And I,” says Zeke, shifting his weight to accommodate the vast momentum of connecting with her, “was hoping you were hoping I would.”

fin

Mystery Pastiche

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