by Mark Sadler
Mary was in the back room, swaddling the last of the surfboards in bubble wrap. I watered-down a tin of emulsion and whitewashed the shop windows. When I was done, it looked like a thousand breaking waves had been pressed flat against the glass, as if part of the building had been dressed in the skin of the sea. I took a few paces back and stared at it, the way that I sometimes stare at the ocean, searching in vain for a semblance of a pattern, a leading current.
Everything was frozen in time, like somebody had hit the pause button.
I called out to Mary:
“Anything we don't get in the van is staying here.”
We locked-up and drove to John Marven's place, to drop off the keys. Coy Heber, my business accountant, was waiting for us there. His new girlfriend, Joy Sclater, bounded over and hugged Mary through the passenger window.
“We thought we might miss you if we drove to the shop,” she said.
Her embrace tightened. She whispered in Mary's ear:
“I'm sorry it didn't work out.”
Coy opened the back of the van and perused what remained of our inventory.
“What you going to do with it?”
“Sell it online, maybe.”
“We should drive up to Whitaker Head right now and put those boards on the surf. I promise you'll feel better afterwards.”
While I signed some paperwork, Mary and Joy ran in their flip-flops, across four lanes of traffic, to the mart, and bought some food for a picnic. When they got back, we all piled into the van.
The cliff top at Whitaker Head is the best place in the state to spot waves. In the bay, 125 feet below, the Bell Wallet Spitway joins the Swirehole and creates weird pockets of surface turbulence. The water had been invaded by algae blooms the colour of eggplant; miniature Sargassoes imitating the shadows of absent thunderheads. The spreading inbound surf was like a white net, tearing itself apart against the smooth, brown incline of the beach.
Coy stood with his toes curled over the edge of the cliff, pointing to a chain of expanding rings of white-water:
“You get them wherever there are sharks periscoping. If you manage your approach, you can surf around the circumference. The tension holds the board on the outer rim as the rings enlarge, then you get a burst of acceleration as you're thrown-off orbit.”
Joy had linked her arm around his. Her head was tilted against a muscle group in his shoulder.
“I never know when you're kidding me,” she said.
We walked a quarter-mile to Ambrose Woods, stepping over faded strips of yellow police tape. When the mafia were using it as a graveyard, they planted thousands of callaroté lilies under the trees, to break down the bodies quickly. The white flower heads follow the transition of the sun. There are so many of them, they make an audible hiss as they turn. Mary said that it was freaking her out, so we went back and picked our way down the dusty trail in the cliff face, onto the wet crescent of the beach.
As Coy and I entered the breakers, I could feel the fading ebb of the June tow, as a ghost in the main current, pulling us towards open water. We streaked along the jet shins that boldly marked the surface like white aviation trails. I Indian-stitched an interlacing quill-work of short waves, sculpted by underlying rock; the bones of the surf. Coy started tossing out the home-made tinker mines he had stuffed down his trunks; the short electronic fuses detonating into fountains of water.
I was first to let the tide wash me back in. Coy returned to the sands breathless, mottled with red blotches. He tossed a melting nugget of peaty ice onto one of the beach towels:
“There's a shoal of Canadian brown ice moving through. I could feel it striking the board. Where the waves turn over, it's like somebody's hurling fistfuls of ice-cubes at you.”
He pulled on three layers of clothing at once, ignoring Joy's attempts at applying aftersun to his bruises.
While we were eating, a kite surfer rounded the head of the bay and was immediately pulled-in by the current. Somehow, he managed to avoid colliding with a protruding ridge of ingenious rock called Millard Ledge. He climbed, gingerly, onto the jagged reef, where he remained, marooned, clutching the balled-up kite against his body.
“I'm going out,” said Coy.
He launched himself into the waves. We didn't see him again until his arm broke the surf and he tentatively pulled himself onto the ledge. We watched the two men converse, both pointing in multiple directions. Together, they carefully launched the kite into the wind. A second later, the surfer was snatched from the rock and sent skimming towards the Atlantic.
Coy returned with rivulets of blood streaming from his footprints, rejoining the foaming saltwater.
“Honey, your feet are bleeding,” said Joy.
“I had to get up on the rocks with him. That was Michael Duval. He owns the Priboy Surf Shop.”
“The guy who put us out of business?” said Mary. “Jesus Christ, you should have left him there.”
“He made an offer for your boards. He says he'll buy them at retail prices.”
Mary glared back at me:
“We're not selling to him, Andrew.”
“It's the end of an era,” I said. “We'll leave them at the tideline.”
Up on the cliffs, Mary sulked in the van. Coy sat on the open tailgate while Joy washed his lacerated feet with distilled water. I peered down over the precipice. On the beach, the discarded surfboards resembled the petals of a white flower that was being slowly pulled apart and pawed away, piece by piece, by the encroaching waves.
© Mark Sadler, 2019
Mark Sadler lives in the town of Southend-on-Sea, England, with a chameleon named Frederic. His writing has been performed by Liars' Leagues in Hong Kong, London and New York City, and has also appeared in a number of online and print publications, that include The London Magazine, The Ghastling and Litbreak Magazine. He is working on a novel where old-world Paganism clashes with contemporary civil engineering.
A Divination was read by Jeff Wills on August 20th, 2019 as part of the 2019 Short & Sweet Flash Fiction edition.