He was a kind man. A surfer, tall and thin. He made the most of every atom. The type of guy who would show up with a six-pack of beer and a sandwich. Usually Old Style or Genesee Light. Three beers and half a sandwich for each of us. I liked these shared experiences. It would’ve been different if we’d picked out our own sandwiches and bought our own beers. Not as intimate as splitting something–half for him and half for me.
During our encounters, we would just talk. Neither of us had any particular expertise in any subject of interest, so the conversation was muted. Weather, sports, current events. Nothing of any depth. It was small talk. Most texture in life is on the surface of things anyway.
We’d walk over to his camper from the bench in the park where we’d meet, the complementary half of my sandwich sitting in his belly. His hand would brush against mine as they swung in time with our strides. In his camper, we’d sit side by side on his bed and drink our beers and talk.
He would pat my thigh every now and then. Playfully punch me in the arm or grip my shoulder. When he put his hand on me it made me feel safe. Embraced by a person I was envious of.
I’d say I had to go when I was three-quarters of the way through the third beer. We would both stand up and take our last sip. He would walk me the few steps out the door of the camper to say goodbye outside. We would shake hands and I’d return home, knowing that back in the trailer, in a beautiful man’s belly, were three beers and half a sandwich.
He offered to take me surfing. This time it was me who brought the six beers and a sandwich. I also added a bag of chips. We met at his camper and drove down a winding single-lane road that carved through the mountains. If I looked out of my window I’d be staring into a rock wall so instead, I looked out of his. I could see the foothills rolling for miles. The picturesque scene framed by the profile of my strong-jawed pilot.
He handed me a surfboard that was two or three feet taller than I was. I wondered how it could be so light. It was a substantial amount of matter without much mass. It made the most of every atom. I followed him past the last dry part of sand–the mark of the ocean’s best attempt to escape into the mountains—and into the roiling shallows. It was difficult paddling until we got past the break.
It took me six or seven tries before I stood up on a small bubbling wave. The ocean carried me back to shore. I would hop off and paddle back out over and over. Between each trip back to the shore, we would sit out beyond the surf and float on our boards. I originally tried to sit Indian style but found it unsteady, so I splayed my legs and dropped my feet and calves into the water for support–the way he was doing it. He would lean his torso back, grasping the edge of the board with his hands a few feet behind him, opening himself up to absorb the sun on a broader surface. He was like a leaf, soaking up the sun that kept him fed.
I reclined my torso all the way to the surface of the board until I was supine, feet still bobbing in the ocean. I closed my eyes and saw the orange glow through my lids. I felt at peace. Not a thought crossed my mind. When I almost dozed off to sleep, I forced myself to wake up. I sat up and saw his board floating next to me, but he was gone. I worriedly looked around but didn’t see him. I paddled myself in a circle and scanned the ocean. One hundred and eighty degrees through my scan something jumped from the water and flipped my surfboard. I tumbled in the water and let myself sink a few feet before I start swimming back upward. As I pierced the tense surface of the water, I blew from my nose and spat from my mouth to purge the saltiness. I shook my hair before opening my eyes. He was chest deep in the water, his elbows propped on the surfboard he had let me use, with a grin on his face. I spun my legs and pulled my arm through the water to swim toward him. I mirrored his position on the board, a few feet from the skyward-pointing triplet of fins on the back.
We floated across from each other with grins on our faces. We smiled at each other for a minute until they faded. I made a caricature of an angry face and he smiled again, then so did I. He drummed his fingers on the board to some tune I was not familiar with. The tendons on the back of his hand shifted like a puppeteer as they moved his fingers rhythmically. The combination of the light from the sun and the dark blue water made his eyes look nice.
Just before I let myself get sucked in, I released the tension in my shoulders and allowed myself to sink into the water. I looked up and appreciated the silhouette the sun cut around him.