Today's Story by Michael Strayer

You never knew when the ground was going to crumble beneath you.


A few days after he moved back from Virginia, Hair-Lip Tim gave me a call. He asked if I’d like to go surfing, slam a couple cold ones and—you know—catch up. I said sure, and an hour later we were sitting on the beach, nursing tepid Corona, and watching the waves. The day was cold and gray; it smelled of rain; the sand was cold and damp beneath our feet. The ocean was like dirty glass, rippled now and again by the shivering wind. Pelicans drifted in the distance, plunking silently into the sea beyond the break, hunting fish and other prey.

“So how ya been?” Tim asked. “Still writing?”

“Oh you know,” I said. “I can’t complain. And yeah, I write most days.”

“Anything come of it yet?”

I sipped my beer. “No, not yet. Mostly rejections. I get a contributor’s copy if I’m lucky.”

“Well that’s something, at least.”

Tim drank. He appeared to be looking far away, as if studying the seamless rim of the world.  In the dim, overcast light his scar was pale as the underbelly of a fish. I’d known Tim since second-grade, before the car accident, when he was still just Tim, not yet Hair-Lip.  Following high-school, Tim went off to college and I stayed behind, got a job, and decided I didn’t need professors to be a writer. Now, I worked as a barista, blending fruity drinks for successful people, and my writing was more a detriment to the rainforests than anything. But the waves were only ten minutes away. And I’d never really cared for jaguars or spider monkeys. So it wasn’t all bad, I suppose.

“How’s your chick?” I asked. “Beth? You guys doing alright?”

I knew of Beth because Tim and I had spoken on the phone before his graduation. I’d wanted to congratulate him—find out if college was everything it’s cracked up to be—but instead we’d spent the bulk of the conversation on his new girlfriend.

He bristled at the mention of her name. Squinting, he drained his beer and crushed the can.

“We’re not together anymore.”

“Oh shit buddy,” I said. “What happened?”

“She broke it off.” His eyes warbled indignantly. He grabbed up a handful of sand and squeezed. “She didn’t call. Did it through a damn letter. Says she doesn’t wanna speak anymore.”

“Ah that’s low,” I said. “Fuck, I didn’t mean to bring it up.”

Tim shrugged and told me it was fine. He glared at the ocean, as if today’s weather and his reintroduction into bachelorhood were somehow correlated. I finished my beer, cracked another and stared out across the sea, thinking, unsure of what to say. In high-school, Tim wasn’t exactly a lady’s man, and it had gladdened me to hear he’d met someone. I thought about my own girl, Maggie. Like Tim, I was smitten, and we were doing fine—for now—but until yesterday, Tim had been certain of his relationship, too. You never knew when the ground was going to crumble beneath you. We watched the waves roll across the beach, the gentle lapping like the tongue of a dog, slowly eroding the sand, dissolving the immovable boulders, shaping the borders of the
earth. We were silent, lost in thought. Mother Ocean held memories for us both—holds memories for us all, I’d venture—some pleasant, others painful. We drank. The dismal waves rolled and rolled. Gulls cawed in the bleak, gray sky, a lonely sound, like the tolling of a bell.

“Do you ever think about—’’ Tim said, suddenly.

“Yes,” I said, cutting him off.

We drank. The waves picked up, and beyond the waves pelicans went plunking into the water with metronomic regularity. The ocean was cold and green, thick with tangles of kelp and seaweed. I didn’t catch a single wave, barely tried, but Tim, Tim paddled out that day and was borne up by the sea, as if by unseen hands, and for the briefest of moments the sun emerged and shone upon his face, a lone mote of insipid light, and it seemed like he was flying.


Michael Strayer is from California.  His work as appeared in Edge  Literary Journal, Fantasy Short Stories, and the anthology of flash  fiction, Tahoe Blues.


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