Written by Johnathan Carr
Dave has changed since the war. He doesn’t sleep nights, has nightmarish flashbacks, and can predict precipitatory conditions well in advance of their happening. As a kid, he had always wanted to be in the army. So when he was eighteen he enlisted. Dave was a paratrooper in the Vietnam War when he was only nineteen. He fought in Vietnam for four months before he caught his red ticket home. He got shot in the right arm, and lost most of its use. The Army declared him “100% disabled” meaning that he couldn’t work, but that he would receive payment from the government. Some ten years later, Dave got married and had two sons, C.J. and Johnathan.
Dave rents a cottage on Cape Cod for a week every summer to enjoy the water with his family. It is has been a very dry July thus far and Dave’s son, Johnathan, is looking forward to a nice day at the beach with his dad. Ruth, Dave’s wife is in the kitchen making breakfast. Johnathan is in the living room with the sleeping baby C.J., when the weather report comes on TV.
“It looks like clear skies all week,” professes the TV man, “sunny and HOT!”
Dave never gets up in the morning; he doesn’t have to. He has not slept at night since before the war. He hardly ever gets up early, but when he does it is usually for his kids. Dave rouses from his slumber and rushes into the kitchen.
“We can’t go to the beach,” Dave alleges to his son.
“Why?” whines Johnathan.
“It is going to rain,” Dave confounds his family.
“But this is the best day all week! It got hotter today than ever!”
“I had a dream that it was raining. We were all stuck on an island and no one would help us.”
“You were probably flashing back to the war,” complains a tired Ruth, “getting trapped in the rain or something. Why do you always talk about the war? It is too early for that. I am making sandwiches and going back to sleep.”
“No. This was here. This was the Cape!” boasts a fearful Dave.
“Oh, Dave, you just don’t want to go ‘cause you don’t want to leave me here with the baby.” Ruth carries on with making her husband breakfast.
“But you promised!” sniffles Johnathan on the verge of tears.
“I can feel the rain… coming… in my arm.”
“How?” Johnathan bends a curious aspect at his father.
“Whenever the air gets heavy, I can feel it in my arm. And I know it is going to rain.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Ruth butts in, “Take him to the beach. You are probably thinking of next week’s weather. Today is sunny! Sunny, hot and clear!”
Dave is convinced to take his son, for even if he is right about the rain, they are staying in a cottage close enough to the beach to get home quickly if they need to. Finished with breakfast, Ruth makes sandwiches for the men’s lunch: turkey, lettuce and mayo for her elder son, mustard, cheese and ham for her child-of-a-man. Johnathan suits up in his black and orange, oversized, rough nylon trunks. He puts on sunscreen, and then skips to the door, yearning to get wet, cool off, and chill out.
“I’ll see you on the beach,” Dave watches his brave son go on ahead so he might get more time in the water before the “rain” comes.
To get to the beach, one must go down the road and to the top of the sand slope, which has built in to it a wooden staircase. These steps take about a minute or so to descend.
Johnathan has never beheld a living sea urchin, but knows to avoid the dry kind. A dead sea urchin to him has always appeared as a brown ball protruding spiky hooks, like a kiwi fruit that doesn’t want to be eaten. Though indigenous to salt water, the urchin somehow finds it’s final resting ground on the stairwell leading down to the beach from the road. There, one may collect an urchin for every day of the summer.
Johnathan’s favorite things about the Cape are the groins. They are long stretches of boulders and large rocks that extend out to the sea to prevent the erosion of the sand. Johnathan loves to run out to the end of these manmade rock formations and feel the waves crash against them.
After a mobilizing breakfast, Dave packs the essentials: towels, food, drink, and sunblock 30 (reminding him of his true age) and ambles down to the shore on a humid afternoon. He sets up camp in the middle of the sand, equidistant from the water and the staircase.
Dave sees his son in his orange trunks at the end of the rocky groin and starts toward him but a sudden tightening of the tendons in his arm seize his motion. He looks to his arm, when his shadow rapidly dissolves.
A low rumble creeps along the beach. Johnathan spins around looking to the horizon. Darkness is approaching. Johnathan runs up the rock wall hurdling the gaps between the stones. He sees his father who is walking into the water to meet partway. The light-footed Johnathan sprints down the last few feet, turns to dive off the rocks and steps onto a buttery patch of dark brown seaweed sending him skidding sideways against the rock. But it isn’t just any plain, polished old boulder you would see on the shores for it has inhabitants. Trifling, snail-like things called barnacles are so sharp the rock might as well have thumbtacks glued to its surface. The prickly barnacles shredding his leg like a block of cheddar.
“Dahh!!” he chokes on the way down.
Dave doesn’t want to offer his right arm, but it is the closest thing with which to grasp his falling son. “ERGH--!” Dave shoots through his teeth clamped down as though biting a quarter to muffle the display of pain, as he cushions the spill with a painful snap at his impaired elbow. He sees his son’s bloody leg.
“Soak in the water, the salt will kill the bacteria and close the cuts faster,” orders Dave.
The salt in the water blasts onto the wound with healing fury. It stings Johnathan’s leg like whiskey on Sunday morning, but only for a moment. Then it begins to feel bitterly soothing, like eating a whole lemon after a week of starvation.
A terrible cacophony erupts in the air and the beach population shakes in their sandals. Dave gives his son a towel and offers to carry him at least to the sand, but he has already darted for the stairs, along with a hundred other wet people.
With the agility of a cat, Johnathan maneuvers his way up the stairs to the front of the crowd. But his towel drags along the sandy steps, and one tricky urchin hitches a ride. With one good leg he hobbles up to the top and then down the road. One by one, the fleeing beach-goers leap off the top step onto the sandbank and scatter across the street in an exodus one normally would only see in a disaster film.
As the clouds swiftly digest that perfect day, Johnathan pauses to pull up his towel and look back to find his father. He lifts his foot to move forward and lays it down on top of a sea urchin. It had fallen out of his towel.
“Grahh!” his cry stabs the air as the living-dead pincushion transfixes his nerves. He falls to the ground and carefully extracts the thousand-thorn creature from his foot. The stress from running combined with the piercing rain break down the tiny scabs on his leg and he starts to ooze his life again.
Dave finally makes it to his son and scoops him up. They arrive at the cottage door. Ruth is in the kitchen, takes one look at her son in the doorway and soars into an anxious rage. Dave calms her down and assures her it is not too serious. Ruth gets Johnathan into the kitchen sink that is large enough to fit four days worth of dishes, or one bloody ten-year-old.
The wind beats about the place like the whole world is trying to break in. By the end of the rain and overwhelming wind, they emerge from the hut feeling they had been the beans in God’s rattle.
Dave and his son Johnathan, now war-torn buddies walk down to the beach later that day. The sky is neither as dark nor scary as it was this morning. The neutral shale hangs ominous like a smooth lead slab, heavy and without a face. The wind is still strong, though, and kicking up waves as high as three feet (rather high for the Cape).
Nothing is there except for Dave and Johnathan… and one boat. About three hundred yards north of them is a sailboat that had washed up on shore. White, with a blue trim, it is at least fifteen feet long and upright. They advance the boat and inspect damage. No sail is found, but besides that no other damage. They look around and see not a soul on this expansive shore.
Then Dave peeks around to the rear and reads the name of the shipwrecked vessel: