Surf Fiction: Jetties

Jetty. Photo by brooks sterling

By Jeff McElroy

He remembers the bloated, pale body of the dead swimmer in the jetty, surges of sea animating his limbs like a stringless puppet.

Crabs waltzed sideways. One crawled over his one open eye. The dead boy’s bespectacled mother scrambled over the rocks, toenails bleeding, one large breast flopped over her one-piece.

Jimmy! She screamed.

The fishermen in their rubber boots reached into the birdshit reek of the rocks and tugged at the boy’s arms. He remembers the firefighters sprinting on the jetty, one carrying a bright orange box. They did CPR right there on a flat rock, sharp with barnacles. When they zapped, he thought the boy was coming back because his chest heaved. Then blood spilled over his lips. He was gone. Jimmy.

He remembers this now as he sits on his surfboard a few yards past the jetty. He’d used the rip running along the jetty to paddle out faster, the same rip that caught that boy fifteen years ago. He’d been a boy himself, nine-years-old. The jetty was the first place where he felt eternity and oblivion, something about it like a finger pointing toward a rapture made of beer-brown waves and sepia sunsets, tattered sails of ghost ships on a sad horizon. The lowering of the buoy like some metronome trying to tame the wild slosh slosh, the errant knocks and thuds in the fractious rocks the drumbeats of some defected marching band of the damned. And always the mute fishermen with faces hidden in hooded sweatshirts regarding nothing, seeming neither bored nor alive, either catatonic as gargoyles or working quickly with knives and hooks whilst squatting over bloody paint buckets.

The aromas cemented in his psyche all he would ever be able to know of the sea, for the jetty is the keeper of the sea’s secrets and memories, and olfactory memory is the only memory worth remembering.

Down in the purple-dark rocks with crabs and plump stars, he inhaled diesel and tarred rope, live bait and dead fish, kelpy decay, slipstream cigarette smoke and dried bum urine. It smelled like pirate.

Even now he imagines Jimmy’s ghost misting betwixt the rocks, condemned to these piled stones by manacles of death, moaning pitch-perfect with the dismal buoy. Each dawn the promise of a jettison west, each noon the Sisyphean waltz on the rocks, pacing, pacing, then the heartbreak of sunset when couples migrate seaward with wine and sweaters to hold each other as if touch might stave off the inevitability of rejoining the cosmos, naked and decayed, the nitrogen cycle. Then the darkness of night, when the jetty sleeps, but not Jimmy.

A wave rears like a spooked horse, and he spins to rope it. He rides the wave past the jetty, sliding past a million eyes of crabs and the dead. And in that ride he forgets about Jimmy, thinks only of the wave, and, in that act, affirms life. He rides the wave past consciousness to that primal realm that has kept all of the human race hopeful despite death. It’s why the farmer plows, the weaver weaves, and the surfer surfs. To life.

Photo: Brooks Sterling // Surfer: Surfer: Eric Hoaglund III

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