The Seaking

San Diego, CA.

The boy sat at the edge of the pool, his frail, finger-like toes grabbed and whipped up the serene, pearl-skinned surf into a series of choppy peaks. The sun glinted across the chlorine valleys under the boy’s jubilant stirring, reflected a marbled sunrise like a series of veins under the water that ran up the boys leg, fed his heart. It beat faster, harder. The boy smiled wide across his rosy cheeks; his teeth sparkled like a school of sturgeon. A late bloomer, he was finally going to learn to swim after managing to stay healthy the whole summer. Dad promised.

The parents watched their happy boy from their terra-cotta veranda, always near the water whenever he could be. This summer was a good one for them and Arthur. Diagnosed, or not, rather, with an unknown degenerative disease their boy had always been too sick for anything; home-schooled, weeks at a time hooked up to strange machines, and of course, unable to swim no matter how much it pained him.

Father stacked dirty porcelain plates from lunch into one arm and gathered the half-empty glasses of fruit punch in the other, he disappeared into the house, dumped the dishes into the sink and jogged toward his room at the rear of the sprawling estate to grab his trunks; overjoyed for his son’s big day.

Mother watched happily watched her boy frolicking at the edge of the water. She never understood why he loved the water, swimming so much. Maybe it was the way he was found. She didn’t care, the fact that he seemed healthy enough was an encouraging sign. The doctors gave the boy anywhere from two to four years to live, and the fact that his illness seemed to decline filled her with hope that she might even see him graduate high school. As she watched Arthur, hand cupped over her eyes, he glanced up at her. His rare smile was beautiful; the greatest thing she had ever seen.

She watched it twist, pervert, turn ugly; into a grimace. Fear burned into his eyes. The water under his feet went still, turned cerise with his blood. He lurched head first into the water.

Frothy wet sand gurgled and spat between the young boy’s toes. He picked a thumb full of the grainy, moist slop and held it out in his palm for the sun above to see. He smiled. He sat plainly in the middle of a vast sand-Atlantis of his own creation; the gossipy Malibu surf lapped at the fortified walls gently. Mother and Father–as always–watched over him carefully.

Mother was planted in a rainbow fold-out chair, the ones with the uncomfortable plastic ribs for cushions. She had on a simple white sun dress with a mismatch silk mantilla draped over the back of her neck. Big black bug-eyed shades covered all her face except her candy apple lips which munched sparingly at a banana. Opposite the diminishing fruit she held an LA rag-mag. Father was down on the edge of the beach; he wore nothing but solid magenta trunks with soggy noodle draw-strings and brick red cow-hide sandals full of soapy ocean and oatmeal-like sand. The sun reflected kindly over his exposed teak chest dotted with salt and pepper hair. He knocked bucket after bucket of fresh range balls into the water with his sand wedge; his short game needed help.

The spring retreat to Malibu wasn’t a vacation; their beach house was a hospice. The child got worse, much worse. At age thirteen, six years after he realized he would never swim, the doctors said the boy had lived as full a life as he could.

They couldn’t bring themselves to tell him; selfish, maybe, but it hurt too much. It would only become fact, eternalize, by telling Arthur. Instead, they brought him here, his favorite place in the tiny, small world his short life had showed him. They even promised to stay outside on the beach for as long as he we wanted, no ifs, ands, or buts. The smile on his face was wider than the equator and brighter than the sun.

“Hi there, Mr. Starfish.” Arthur crawled outside the safety of Atlantis’ walls toward the ocean until the incoming waves swept up to his thighs. he reached into the tide pool and ran his finger down the steely pink spine of Mr. Starfish. Arthur giggled, pleased, as the passive creature seemed to warm under the boy’s touch.

“Hee, Hee, I like you Mister Starfish. And what’s this? You have a friend, Mister Crab?” Arthur rolled in delight as Mister Crab skipped across Mister Starfish’s back and perched himself on his finger.

Mother laughed silently to herself, watching the boy beyond the top of her magazine. A teenager in years, Arthur was still naive, innocent and full of wonderment at everything, much like a small child. She loved that about him. Then to see him here, now, at the water’s edge where he always seemed so strong and full of life, like another child entirely; it was torture. A single cool tear crawled down her cheek.

The sun began to hide; the bright orange sky cooled, turned purple with only a hint of its former brilliance. The temperature dropped quickly and the whispered breeze became a gentle conversation across the beach. Father poked his club handle into the sand so that it stood like a flag and ran toward the house. He flicked on the deck lights; bathed their private beach in false, white ultraviolet and grabbed sweatshirts and a flashlight off the covered hot tub. He gave one to Arthur and Mother before pulling the olive polo over his own shoulders, a little tender from the sun.

Arthur pulled his navy and white horizontal stripped sweatshirt over his head; it sunk across his thin, small frame like an oven mitt on a spoon. “I love this! I’ve had so much fun with all the tiny sea animals; Starfish, Crab, Anemones…all kinds. Can we stay out all night?” His voice was so bright, a light through darkness. His dim irises wavered with a huge milky star; they pleaded for him.

Father shot Mother a knowing glance, she nodded. “You got it kiddo. You make the rules this weekend. Whatever you want, just like we promised. Now, why don’t you show me all those great friends you’ve made today?”

“Okay!” Arthur lit up and began to run for the beach’s end as fast as his little chicken legs could take him.

Father flashed Mother a knowing smile and clicked on the flashlight. He began to chuckle and chased after his enthusiastic boy.

Arthur stopped when the water reached his ankles, and glared into the water. Shortly the dance of light from Father’s flashlight caught up to him. Father put a hand on his boy’s sunken shoulders. “Okay, bud, where are they?”

“Dad…” his voice wavered.

“Yeah, guy?”

“I think I want to go inside now.”

“What? How come?” Father turned Arthur toward him. His smile painfully dissolved.

Even in the sunset the boy’s lips were an ugly scarlet. Large amounts of red ran down his small, nib-like chin, his sweatshirt was matted, the sand blotted. As the tide strolled out, so did the boy’s blood.

“Okay, bud, okay.” Father pulled his son tight, and embraced him, not wanting to let go. For Arthur’s sake he held it inside, but he had never cried so hard.

That night Arthur sat in bed in his father’s polo sweater and a pair of plaid pajamas. A smile still on his face. His dad cracked open the door. The irritating hall light joined the soft ambience from the fireplace in the boy’s room.

“How are you, King Arthur?” He strained to put a smile on his face; it hurt so bad.

“You haven’t called me that since I was six, dad.” The boy showed a small grin. Sharp fangs poked from the corners of his mouth.

“I know, buddy, I know.” Father sat on the edge of the bed, tight to the boy’s legs. He put a hand on his son’s freshly shampooed scalp. “It’s fitting, though, y’know? Your Mom and I love you more than anything. You’re the king of our world.”

“Dad…if I die, I want to be put out to sea. Or the ocean. even better. Like the Navy did for Grandpa. Like some kind of king, or hero.” The boy spoke matter-of-factly. He was unnerved, even in the face of death.

Father nodded; rustled his boy’s matted hair warmly. “Now, why don’t I read you a book before you go to bed?”

“Okay!”

“Which one this time?”

Moby Dick or The Old Man and the Sea!”

“How many times did we read those when you were younger?” Hemingway and Melville, not the traditional bed-time story, but if it had anything to do with the sea, Arthur loved it.

“Hundreds!” he exclaimed emphatically. “But this is my weekend, remember, and I want those!”

“Oh-kay,” Father sighed, but smiled just the same. He pushed off the bed and walked across the room to a small bookshelf beside the fireplace. He scanned a few seconds for the books Arthur wanted until he found a copy of Meliville behind a replica of the USS California. He gave his best Vanna White and fanned the cover for his son. Arthur smiled.

“Now, can you start for me?”

Arthur nodded happily. “Call me Ishmael.”

Leave a Reply