by Monica Hileman
The sound of the ocean drew him onto the balcony. The air and openness surround him. All his years in the city, he’s amazed each day he wakes and finds himself here. As far as he can see: shades of blue, feathery clouds. Out by the pier, patches of glare glitter like a fleet of broken mirrors.
In a choice current of air, the gulls flap and swoop. He watches how their wings shift, just slightly, as they hover close against the sky, then out again over the water, dipping and coasting. He smiles to hear these graceful creatures make such ungodly sounds.
Directly below, a pale gel rolls over the surface, dissolves, another rolls in. Up and down the beach, the waves loll and curl, softly breaking into tufts of foam that float and disappear. Under the shallow ebb, the rippled sand looks like alligator skin.
A man in blue trunks wades slowly out, shielding his eyes as he scans the horizon. Out where his knees disappear he turns this way and that, walking in tentative half-circles, his head bent, his hands hanging down by his sides as if he’d lost something. Or as if he himself were lost in all that surging water. If it would just stop, he’d remember what he’s doing there.
A girl and her little brother, all legs and arms, dash into the surf. They jump up to meet the cresting wave, screaming delight to be drenched in it. The next rush of water they hurl into holding hands, swinging their arms up as it crashes around them.
The boy catches a slap of spray in the face, shakes his head and breaks free, running back towards shore. His sister howls and follows behind him. In the shallows, they double over laughing. They run back out once they’ve caught their breath.
The man on the balcony settles into his chair. He might sit there all day, lulled by the unfailing sound of the ebb and flow, like his own breath, in and out.
This is his home now. It stretches forever. That line out there where it meets the sky–that’s not the end.
Note: First published by Concho River in 2002 (v. 16, no. 2.)
There is a story, one I’m embarrassed to tell. I had sent it to a friend who taught at a certain university and he passed it along to their review. The editor of the review called me saying they wanted to publish it. I was so surprised. I should have said yes, but–get this–I had sent it to The New Yorker and was waiting to hear from them. At the time the magazine was pretty quick (at least with me) giving a response. This time it took a while and when they finally said no thanks, the review had a new editor and my opportunity had passed. Lesson to be learned: don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Monica Hileman grew up in the Midwest, lived in the Pacific Northwest and settled in New England. Two years in Greensboro, North Carolina yielded an MFA from UNC-G. A one-time finalists for the Bakeless Prize, her stories have appeared in journals such as Georgetown Review, The Baffler, the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal and South Dakota Review, her nonfiction in The Boston Globe. Two others stories are available online at The Austin Review Spotlight and Flyway: Journal of Environment and Writing.
FF.Net Editor Commentary (Randall Brown)
This flash focuses on “the observer,” the outsider who isn’t necessarily involved in the action, but is drawn to it, inexplicably, as Nick was drawn to Gatsby. Maybe some of us weren’t meant for action–but instead to watch, to write it down. Flash might be the perfect container for such moments, such characters.