Silhouettes

Not quite qualifying as super short fiction (which is actually a genre), this new story from Jeff McElroy is a tribute to all the people we meet along the waves. 

Silhouettes

By Jeff McElroy

In the dream, he is surfing towards me. It’s one of those infinite winter days in California when the sun is warm but the water is cold and the waves steam in from the northwest and wrap around the pointbreaks. The days when you lose count of days and waves and your eyes glow red from Santa Anas and salt and you burn off the burritos as if they were coal in your fire of stoke. He is surfing toward me from the north, way up at the top of the point, and he is silhouetted by the setting sun.

Only a silhouette, and yet, I know that it is my friend.

Because we know our friends by more than name. We know them by more than voice or hair or smile. We can know them in ways as subtle as the letters they trace in the sky. Or, for surfers, by the way they dance on a wave. I can think back on the dudes I grew up with in the water, remember their stories, their joys and hardships. I can see their faceless forms on the wave: There is Ryan “The Lurker” (he’s 6’4″, skinny as hell, and somehow manages to lurk the barrels with his back bent, long arms and longer fingers poised like Nosferatu). There is Brendan “The Businessman” (big, ripped, spine straight, slaying waves as if they were his business competitors). Martin “The Windmill” (he rotates his back arm to generate more speed on the wave), and Frazier “The Waiter” (sits like a Roman bust alongside his jetty, beard like Dionysus, patiently waiting for set waves).

These are my friends, and I love them all for the people they have been and will become. We all started out in the same soup, at the same breaks, with the same stinkbug silhouettes. And like bugs, we molted, discarded old styles, grew thicker skins. For a while, we tried to mimic the pros in magazines and videos, but we were all destined for our own styles, our own silhouettes.

In the dream, my friend is surfing toward me on that infinite winter afternoon, which is strange, because he died two years ago in Afghanistan. In the dream, he drags a hand through the bottom turn, tightens into a quick barrel, then shoots down the line in his archer’s pose. The archer, the discus thrower, the surfer—such is the substance of statues. The timeless poses make us immortal. And though there are a billion versions of heaven, I like this one the best: My buddy forever pumping down the line on a sepia winter afternoon in California, sending spray over the backs, then paddling back out to do it all over again.

*Photo by Josh Gill

See more of Jeff McElroy’s fiction on Korduroy

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