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Today's Story by Michael Strayer

She was with a man, and together they played, leaping and shouting, tan and lithe and exuberant and happy. I wondered if there was love there.

Where does it come from, where does it go?

“I thought the guy was dead.” She looked at me, expectantly. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Sounds intense,” I said.

“Yeah, it was. I really thought he was gone. A seizure! And when I’m on shift—of all times!”


The traffic inched along the I-5 like some weighty machine about to die, grinding to a halt, starting up again. Heat wriggled from the pavement and the hoods of cars and on occasion horns sounded and the squeal of brake pads. I worried about my surfboard. The sun would melt the wax. I glanced at the ceiling, as if to confirm my theory, and the traffic inched forward, like an aging factory belt.

“Dammit Mike, are you even listening?”

“I said it sounds intense.”

“You never listen to me.”


“You never listen.”

I stared impatiently out the windshield. A monoxide-heavy silence descended over us. The car ahead advanced for a yard or two, then stopped. I was beginning to hate the abrupt red glow of brake lights. I thought about my surfboard. It’ll be okay, I decided. Beyond the interstate the ocean extended for infinity, blending with the sky. In that vast blue void was all the promise of a perfect day.  Traffic grumbled onwards. Horns bellowed like mutant gulls.

“Look,” she said. “I thought I saw someone die. That’s what I’m trying to say. I’d appreciate some concern.”

“I understand.”

“Do you?”

I gazed at her. “I know I’ve been distant lately…”

“Well that’s because you’re…”

“But I’m working on it. Okay?”

“I’m telling you: If we’re gonna keep this going, you’re gonna have to start listening.”

“I understand. Honestly.”

“I hope so.”

The traffic abated. A few minutes later we reached our exit, and a few minutes after that we were parking at the beach. It was crowded. The sand sparkled in a long white strip and the boardwalk teemed with people.

“What about sharks?” she said, suddenly.

“What about them?”

“Well, isn’t it dangerous?”

“There aren’t any sharks.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.” I got out of the car. Maggie followed suit, and I untied my board. The wax had melted, as I’d feared.

“Damn,” I muttered.


“Nothing,” I said.

I thought about sharks.  Why’d she have to go and say that? I glared at her. Maggie watched the surf, grinning, her eyes wide and bright. She really can be cute, I thought, and for a moment everything was fine again. And then my stomach did that crazy dance and I looked away.

I hefted the board and we walked down the beach, picked out a spot, and set up our towels. Quickly, laying the board on the ground, I showed Maggie the basics—how to paddle; how to stand—and then I sent her into the sea.

“Give it a try,” I said.

“But what if I can’t?” She seemed afraid.

“You’ll be fine. I’m right here.”

She lingered. “Well…” She bit her lip.


“Can you come out with me?” Her voice had risen and her eyes warbled in their sockets.

“I wish I could,” I said. “But the sign says no swimmers. You’ll be fine.”

She turned and half-carried, half-dragged the board into the water. She sprawled down on top of it and began to paddle. Watching her, I felt a pang of remorse, and I was tempted to get up and join her. But the feeling faded. I remembered the good times; us swimming in Capitola; the late nights; the sweaty moans and tangled sheets. Once, we spent the evening in the back seat of her car on these cliffs in Santa Cruz and beneath us lay the span of the Pacific Ocean, gleaming in the moonlight. I recalled those days like I would an okay movie. There was a certain fondness, but nothing stirred.

Maggie had caught a wave and was trying to stand. I watched her. She lurched to her knees, then tumbled off the side of the board. The board bobbled on its nose, and Maggie surfaced, dripping and laughing, seaweed in her hair. She waved excitedly and then got back on the board and started paddling. I felt oddly proud. In that instant, it seemed impossible that our feelings had melted the way they had; surely, I thought, if the goodness existed once, it could exist again?

My stomach danced. I found myself focusing on Maggie less and less. Down the beach a tall girl was playing volleyball. She was with a man, and together they played, leaping and shouting, tan and lithe and exuberant and happy. I wondered if there was love there. Where does it come from? I wondered. Where does it go? I watched them for several minutes and when I turned, Maggie was standing before me, dripping, holding the board beneath her armpit like an old pro.

“Did you see?” she said.

“See what?” I said.

“The wave. I stood up on one. Weren’t you watching?”

“Of course I saw,” I said. “Good job.”

She beamed. “I like this surfing,” she said. “You gotta be patient, though, and you miss sometimes, and you fall, but when you get a good one it’s like you’re flying.”


She plopped down beside me. I searched for a bit of that pride I’d experienced—that momentary longing—but came up dry. Love is a lot like surfing, I reflected.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach. It was a pleasant day. We began the drive home after sunset, and Maggie was smiling, and I was smiling, and there was a tired contentment between the two of us, a cheerful draining brought about by the sun and the sea.

“That was nice,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “It was.”

Despair fell across her face. “Oh Mike,” she said. “What’re we gonna do? Ventura is awfully far from San Diego.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s not that far. We still have a month, maybe more. We’ll figure something out.”

“You think so?”

I put my hand on her knee and squeezed. I smiled reassuringly. Maggie smiled back. My stomach did its crazy dance. I concentrated on driving.

“I wonder if that guy’s okay,” she said, looking out the window. “I really thought he was gone. Scariest day ever. At least we made it to the beach.”

I said nothing. Maggie grabbed my hand. We faced forward, neither speaking. Now and again headlights would explode across the windshield. We drove home that way, in silence, and things were alright, for a while.


Michael Strayer lives in California, and most recently my work has appeared in eNoir Magazine, Askew Poetry Journal, and the forthcoming anthology, Bloody Knuckles.To learn more, visit www.fightwords.com.


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