“Tourists”

Coach unzips his blue tracksuit, zipper fizzling down the suede, as the wind carries the sound off the bluffs at the edge of the Pacific. The last paragliders land their exuberant wings on the gliderport. Sunburnt nudists climb, beach-stoned, ambling. He could hum the melodies of this parking lot at sunset, which he sometimes did as he trained the up-and-comers through gritted teeth, sparring at the gym. His wrists are weak, fists permanently curled from the gloves. He flexes them out of their arthritic mangle. Easing into the horizon, the sun makes him want to step into the hot tub later. He massages his forearm, squeezes his thighs, watches light dive down the porous cliffs.

“What’s everyone looking at?” a pale stranger asks, nose sunscreen-white and oily. Only a tourist would wear a trucker hat emblazoned with San Diego, Baby where the g was embossed like a sideways bikini. “Fireworks?”

As a rule, Coach never relays the legend of the Green Light, a rumored flash of verdant green on the dark horizon after sunset because it always resulted in receiving a tucked lip, eyes upturned like dead goldfish bullshit look. Having a tourist tell you bullshit is like saying you don’t believe in climate change since it was hotter on the golf course in Palm Springs in the summer of ‘96. Which is to say:

“Go fuck yourself,” Coach says.

“I thought Cali,” the tourist says, walking backward, “was supposed to be chill.”

Alone, again, Coach gazes at the sun, spilling now to the shore. Treading the spindly three-foot rock bridges above the drops in the bluffs, he tries counting the years he’s waited like this. Coach can’t remember, though it’s long enough to know each dusky face, the voices behind their hopeful silence and to whom he’s confessed his grief. Marilynne showed him Cassiopeia as he cried after his wife’s death; and there, right at the peak of these hills, Sergeant Jim’s old spot where they skipped their training unit stories into the ocean on stones. Pony-tailed Brian claims to have seen it right before he tries to sell his shrooms. Always a long, long time ago. Coach clears his throat from a small burning. Acid reflux. Maybe he shouldn’t have eaten those churros so fast. Does agua de Jamaica lower acidity? Or does he need more acidity? It doesn’t matter how many times a doctor relays the condition he’s in. He’s got questions he swallows with little blue pills, which he forgets about until the next one he needs. Shit. He left them on the passenger seat.

The burning sinks as Coach rubs his sternum, pressing out a tightness that he can’t locate. The sun, nearly gone, brings a dark blue quiet. He clears his throat again and reaches out for something to hold; he’s teetering above the drops. Digging his nails into his chest, he stumbles to all fours, looking down some fifty feet into the sea, white splashing upwards right out of the dark with memory, where thirty-two years earlier he had kayaked with his wife. She had begged him to see Seal Cove, another tourist trap where seals bask in darkness. A place she had studied in her undergrad. Living in San Diego wearied his sense of home, all these people moving and leaving, talking about the same four or five spots his whole life. In the cove, Brianne named the hanging icicle-looking things, which is what he said they were; stalactites, she corrected. They glimmered and he saw Brianne in the way of constellations, mythic—light years away—etched bright.

Coach gasps and pushes himself up, dragging air into his lungs. He knows what’s happening. It’s come. He pounds his chest with his tingling arm. Limbs icily ignorant. Where the glittering erupts are the spaces he will fall into; he steps on black-treading feet. He scrapes himself on dry thorny shrubs and his foot catches, uplifting a root. He slams his ribs. After high school, he trained at Camp Pendleton, in the blue-skied hellscape of the marine obstacle course. The lords there screamed him a goner but he’d slid his fingers into the open slats of the climbing wall and pulled himself into the chanting company. Coach kicks his leg, almost falling but not, clambering to the parking lot. He never made the marines.

All these headlights catch him as if committing a crime. He keeps pounding himself although he’s not sure there’s contact. The waves stop whispering. Coach’s ears are pressurized like when he flew off to California with his mother—his first flight ever—leaving their father behind for a new life, chewing gum she broke in half—a remedy, a covenant—on the beauty-school hope of hairdressing and quiet. He promised himself he’d stay here for a lifetime if the plane landed safely and the two of them would be alright. It hiccupped and skidded. His mother clapped at the end. Her lips, cotton candy pink. That pink smudge on her tooth.

Coach’s jacket slips off in the bright lights. A car door opens. What light, what light. He lies down as the tourist runs out: What’s your name? The tourist slides the trucker hat beneath his head on the gravel. His tongue, autumn-dry; he’s nameless. The tourist informs him that he’s a nurse, an ambulance is coming. The man’s interlocked fingers plunge into his chest as a siren arrives with bloodless red spurts. The pain is gone now, and Coach feels ecstatic, unknown to himself, in the dream one settles into when making love. Who kisses these lips? Whose electrocution is this? Who opens this mouth? Who gives up this air? Whose heart is it here that’s beating like this? And who inhales their life as if it were a question? Who gets another breath?

After the EMT shocks him back, Coach wonders why he saw nothing of the ring, years of bachelorhood, the buried dogs or his father. Hadn’t he lived more? Wasn’t there more to see? Years later, during his second heart attack in the middle of the night, he will see nothing at all—no, not even the black.

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About Kyle Dillon

Kyle Dillon lives in Brooklyn. He's currently at work on a novel.