The Weight of the Seagull

Jake leaves the house and goes down to the rocks next to the sea and takes a cigarette from his pocket but the lighter won’t light because of the wind, even though he shields it with his hand and shakes it. He puts the cigarette and the lighter away. Scratches his head. 

The rocks are wet as the edge of the ocean swallows itself and throws it all back up, the waves are like a tongue flicking the rocks and spraying spit everywhere. Jake brushes the sea spray from his forehead. His suit is wet. He wonders if the rental company will make him pay extra for the laundry and the dead fish salt smell. 

One of his relatives finds him — Samantha’s aunt, maybe? He never got his in-laws straight, Samantha had a lot of them, biggy happy family that was, cousins and little brats, his family had been small, only child, when they came out to Deer Isle each year it was just Mom Pop and him, that was fine, that was how he liked it, got to run around all day on the rocks. i

Fuck. The relative is saying something. He thinks she’s an aunt. Maybe her name was Laura or something. “Jake? Jake? Are you alright?”

“What?”

“Are you alright?”

“My lighter isn’t catching.”

“Do you want to come inside?”

“Sure, yeah.”

“Everybody’s worried about you.”

He shrugs. “I’m fine.”

“Come inside.”

He comes inside. The wind pushes against the windows and the house, it’s old, real old, been in his family since forever, more or less, it protests the wind with a noisy yowl. Somebody hands Jake a little sandwich the kind with the umbrella toothpick in the white bread with no crust and too much mayonnaise and then a hand pats his shoulder. 

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

Jake nods along with the litany. They had the service yesterday, it was nice, Jake said some words that he wrote down on a piece of paper, he wrote them while the minister read from the bible, had to borrow a pen from the person sitting next to him. 

They all thought it would be a good idea to come to Deer Isle one last time. Jake’s selling the house. Last hurrah sort of deal.

Celebration of life, they called it. The funeral, that is. They made sure not to call it a funeral, Sam had been specific about that. Jake swallows his sandwich and rubs the mayonnaise off of the stubble on his upper lip. Forgot a razor. That was stupid. Sam says he looks like shit with a beard. 

He’s on the couch with Laura and half cousin and third nephew. Third nephew is telling a funny story about Sam when she was in college. Jake’s heard it before. He wonders if he should be doing the same thing. Thinking about her, that is. He’s not, not really. 

One time he walked the Long Trail in Vermont. Whole of Vermont. Three hundred miles. When he finished he realized that after that whole month of walking he just remembered only little snippets of it. When he tried to wrap his head around how fucking large Vermont was and had walked across the whole thing, he couldn’t do it. Couldn’t hold the image all together. So he didn’t, he let the sense of how long he had walked just shatter apart, and left himself with only the snippets and not a sense of having done anything all that important. 

Samantha’s life is a bit like that, he thinks. He hasn’t even cried.

The house on Deer Isle has a large backyard with all the right things to keep a group of people entertained in it. A grill and a badminton net and a patio and all that stuff that Samantha bought. Jake presumes the relatives all have drinks in the backyard and talk about Samantha, he only presumes because he’s not there. He’s watching the sea. 

It’s almost night. The wind has died down a bit. Waves aren’t as fierce, and the tide’s low. Kelp clings to the rocks like hair. It’s slimy beneath his fingers. Jake’s lighter finally works. He smokes a bit. 

Best part about Deer’s Island is the stars. He tilts his neck a bit to see them and sucks down a lungful of rat poison and night air and happy chemicals. There’s Orion’s Belt. There’s the Big Dipper. There’s the North Star. He doesn’t know any more constellations. 

There’s a noise on the rocks. He looks away from the sky. Below him twenty feet, is a boy. 

The boy leaps from rock to rock. His feet are bare and they cling to the slippery kelp like they’re made of fucking superglue, or something. He’s wearing a swimsuit with a cartoon animal on it, Jake thinks he watched that show when he was young. The moonlight — moon’s on the horizon, waxing gibbous or something, bright enough to reflect on the water — touches the edges of the boys bare shoulders and limns them with soft white shine. 

A wave rears back, pushes against the rock, and cascades into the air. The shower rains down around the boy and his laughter is like a handful of rattling sea glass. He lifts his hands to either side of him and splutters with droplets in his mouth. 

The boy turns and sees Jake. Jake freezes. He feels like he shouldn’t be here. No, wait, real life kind of returns to him, the boy shouldn’t be here, no one else lives on the island.

The boys waves. 

Jake waves back. 

The boy climbs up the rocks and sits next to Jake. “Hi.”

“How’d you get here?”

The boy’s legs dangle off the edge of the rock and he kicks them. Sometimes the ocean spray gets daring and reaches an impish hand to tickle the underside of the boy’s feet before withdrawing quickly. 

“Can I tell you a story?”

“What?”

“Mom tells me stories when I’m sad.”

“I’m not sad.”

“Oh.”

“You can tell me a story.”

“Can I?”

Jake shrugs like, sure, I won’t stop you.

“Okay. Here’s the story. Yesterday on the rocks over there there were two seagulls. One of them had a piece of bread in its mouth and was walking around like she was the happiest seagull there ever was. And the other seagull didn’t have any bread. So he squawked, ducked his head, looked all pitiful. Finally the other seagull gave him a little piece of bread, and flew away.”

Jake chuckles. “That’s the story?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t know if that was a very good story.”

“What do you know about stories?”

“What happened next?”

“He dropped the bread on accident.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Yeah.”

“How’d you know it was a girl seagull?”

The boy smiles. “I don’t know. But it made the story better.”

Jake looks sideways at him. “Yeah?”

“I have to go. Bye mister.”

“Wait, are you going to be okay on the rocks? It’s slippery.”

The boy is already gone. He scampers down the side of the rocks and leaves Jake’s view. Jake stands up abruptly and runs after him. He keeps himself low, one hand hovering just above the rocks in case he slips. The wind snags in his hair and blows it in his eyes. He runs until he reaches the edge of the rocks, on little promontory overlooking the ocean, but he can’t see the boy anywhere. 

He tosses the cigarette into the waves and goes inside. 

“Who are you going to sell the house to?” someone asks. It’s the next morning. 

Jake looks over at the person. “Who are you?”

They fade away into the background. 

“I’m sorry for your loss.” Someone else touches his shoulder. 

That night Jake comes to the rocks again. He tells himself that the boy won’t be there again. He’s just out for a smoke. Getting away from the stuffy relatives. He tells himself all of this. But when the boy is there again playing on the rocks, Jake waves to him, calls out to him. 

The boy looks up. “Hello, mister!” He scampers over to Jake. 

“Hey, kid,” Jake says. “Pretty night.”

The boy turns to face the ocean and leans out over the edge of the rocky drop off. He lifts one hand to his forehead, like a lookout. The wind is sharp. The boy has moonlight in his eyes. “Sure is,” the boy says. 

“What did you do today?”

“I swam, and I played in the water, and I collected mussels and–” 

“Sounds like a good day.”

“Pretty good.”

“Who is taking care of you?”

“Can I tell you a story?”

“Another one?”

“It’s a sad one.”

“Okay.”

They stand next to each other and watch the tide come in. 

“I don’t have anyone to play with,” the boy says. 

They’re silent for a little. 

“Is that the story?” Jake asks. 

“Yeah.”

Jake sits down. He turns his head to the side. 

“Why are you crying?” the boy asks. 

“I don’t know,” Jake says. “It was a sad story.”

“I guess.”

“I don’t, either.”

“What?”

“Have anyone to play with.”

On the third night, the last night, the next day all the relatives will leave and Jake will sell the house, on the third night Jake comes down to the ocean. The boy is there again. Jake is about to call out to the boy when he stops himself, afraid, and draws closer. 

The boy stands in the ocean. The moon pools in the dips between waves. The boy reaches down and dips his finger in the moonlight. He turns, moves his hand like the flow of a condor’s wing, and to his finger the silver thread of moonlight clings, a sweet note from the throat of woman who doesn’t care that she doesn’t know how to sing, the image lingers in Jake’s eye, the boy brings his finger back to the water where he dips it beneath the surface, lifts it into the air, the water follows his hands in ribbons, a sapling fountain with the moonlight dancing woven all between. 

Water twists about the boy, holds him up, the boy’s laugh, there again. The boy rises up to the sky and the constellations converge about him, the sky folds inwards and down, like it was reaching a hand to match the boy’s, the two of them straining, spinning, each turn of their hands the first stroke in a painting, their desperate reaches on the verge of twinning, boy and sky becoming one.

But the boy merely tickles the sky and the stars shiver at his touch, he falls back down a thousand feet into the water where he stretches his arms to either side and turns round and round, as the boy churns the water Jake feels it churn inside him as well. 

For a moment all limitation holds suspended, unreal, Jake leans forward and now it is his turn to reach out a hand as the boy performs a miracle in the waves, it feels as though he is there, standing aside the boy, the water and the sky lapping at his heel, he moves his arm and the world wheels, but he’s not there, not really, he’s just watching, but what does it matter if he’s there or not if it feels like he is? 

And so Jake holds out his hand and he can see Vermont he can hold Samantha and and and

A wisp of green energy curls from his palm. A single blade of grass. It stretches up and at its tip it buds and flowers. A splash of water trickles up alongside it and plops down in rainbow droplets. Fire crinkles up the grass stalk and twines with the water in a looping spiral and dirt bubbles beneath the grass, little granules of rocks. The grass grows thicker, becomes a rose, the petals are tongues of fire, the stalk is an iridescent stream.

The rose grows in upon itself and then flares out into indistinct racing lines of light and shadow. The lines hide in each other’s shadows and curl about in playful darts. The waving lines bleed together in a tapestry and the tapestry spreads wings.

A seagull hops in his palm on one foot. It looks at him and tilts its head with curiosity and he tilts his as well just as curious. He brings the bird close to his face and it chirps and flutters. He lifts his hand up to the fading light and the bird raises away on whispered wings.

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