Fat raindrops slapped against bare windows. Joey shot up and scooted back, expecting a headboard like he had at home. Without a wall to stop him, he fell back. But he grabbed the heavy quilt made by love ones of AIDS victims that his mother last spring won at auction for the “GAYS FOR SURFERS” memorial fund. He yanked himself up and glanced around furtively.
Sunshine skipped across old crusty surfboards lined up across from him. Dry, stringy kelp hung from a skeg, the back of a black crab was stamped into a board, chunks on edges were bitten off as if by sharks. Joey wanted to leap out and run to his grandmother. But he had no idea how to find her in this strange house his grandfather Sutter had recently built out of recycled materials.
He wondered if she drank coffee next to the fireplace constructed out of lime green adobe bricks Sutter had salvaged from La Familia Restaurant in Los Angeles after a Vietnamese truck driver had smashed into it. Or whether she was already scrubbing off the mold from the yellow and pink daisies painted onto the wood shingle siding from the shop, Flowers By Suzy, which Sutter had begrudgingly bought. Or did she toss and turn over why Sutter sawed up pilings from the pier around Pacific Ocean Park and only buried them in four feet of cement for the foundation? But mostly, Joey wanted her here to explain why Sutter had hammered down various colors and shapes of composition shingles to replicate a mythical bird he called a phoenix.
Sunlight blared against skateboard decals from the Dogtown and the Z boys plastered all over the windows Sutter had rescued from a ranch house near Santa Monica pier. One decal showed up its design on Joey’s bare chest. Cautiously, he traced a Z from the word Zephyr. Above that beamed an outline resembling a house.
Like a thundercloud, Sutter, in a black rain slicker, drifted by the window and blocked the light.
The house turned into a jellyfish floating up to his throat. He grabbed the pillow behind him and whipped around it against his chest. A large brown spider, shriveled by the dryer, clung to the white pillowcase. It fell off and glanced off his hand. Joey gritted his teeth. He was only six, but he would never be frightened by a dead spider or an imaginary jellyfish.
Sutter opened the door and set down his large white mug of coffee next to his Mexican sandal. He scooted it away and smiled. He was a tall, blustery man with a scarred, dogged face like a convict, who could be as soulful and gentle as the songs of Lead Belly. Being his favorite grandson, Sutter always approached Joey as if he were the strings of Lead Belly’s legendary guitar.
“Joey,” he said. “My boy, Joey.”
Joey edged his chin above the pillow.
“You back for good?” Joey asked.
From the front pocket of his baggy carpenter jean shorts streaked with roof tar, Sutter took out a long rusty nail. He scraped out the resin from under his thumbnail. Because he was the main shaper for Jake’s Surfboards, he usually had this or foam board dust there. Jake Beastly, his partner, always did the finish work.
“I like your house,” Joey said.
“I wanted you to know those boys,” Sutter said.
Much too sadly, Joey thought.
“That’s why I left those decals on there. Those boys knew how to survive. How to make the best of life.”
Joey grinned. This was the first time Sutter had ever talked about those Dogtown skateboarders. More often, he talked about the adventures of Luther, also called Still Water, who was a Cherokee Indian and big wave surfer. Jake’s Surfboards sponsored him.
“They really skated, Joey. They took risks, weren’t afraid of anything, and they all did well. Like me and your Uncle Jake. Except one, he got in trouble with drugs, and he’s in jail. But me and Jake go there when we can.”
“Then he’ll be okay too,” Joey said.
Sutter nodded and walked around the bed. He sat down on the old mattress. It sank, and Joey tumbled into him. He took Sutter’s hand. To Joey, it usually felt like a baked starfish, but today, it was limp as if soggy.
Sutter glanced over.
“I’m sorry, Joey, but I can’t take you out surfing today.”
Joey frowned. “The thunderstorms.”
Sutter laughed shortly. “Never stopped us before.”
Sutter began to stand, but fell forward. He brushed off the fine white powder from the hairs on the legs. He sneezed and drew back. Joey waited for him to bring out his inhaler for asthma.
“Adriana, well, she’s in a bad mood, and we don’t want to upset her,” he said.
“That too,” Joey replied. “Then Grandma knows you’re back?”
Sutter grabbed the comforter and crushed it.
“Your mother shouldn’t have bought this for you. All that death,” he muttered.
“Yea,” Joey replied. “And it’s too hot.”
Joey flipped his feet out from under the comforter. His toes were sealed together since birth. Three on the left, and two on the right. He did not know until this year that his feet were strange. But after kindergarten, sleepovers, games at the beach, the kids got smarter.
Sutter wrapped his arm around Joey’s head and affectionately hugged him. He let go.
“Did I ever tell you about the time Still Water worked for us?”
Joey could not remember whether he did.
“He could be one crazy Indian,” Sutter said.
“Thought he was immune to the toxic dust,” Sutter added. “Wouldn’t wear a mask. Told us he must be blessed. The great spirits protected him from TB. But that cough of his. Then after his first big wave, he worked longer and coughed more. I helped finish one of his wild shapes and sent him to Hawaii to surf the big waves. Thank god, he never came back to work.”
“He became the best,” Joey said.
“He did,” Sutter reflected.
“Does he still ride his boards?”
Sutter hunched over and rubbed the small of his back.
“Is it a contagious?” Joey asked.
“Uncle Jake always stooped over. Has to use a baseball bat to get around.”
Sutter stared at Joey.
“Will you at least buy a cane?” Joey offered.
“No, boy, it’s just that Still Water called from Waimea and wanted us to make him two boards. Fed X them to him before the waves are gone. Jake’s back is bad, and I couldn’t stop.”
“But you got them done?”
“I had to,” Sutter said. “Those visions of his. If he did not have one of our boards, he told me how he saw himself like an old woman heading out into the snow for the last time.”
Joey wondered whether Sutter had noticed that he had changed out his ear piercing for his birthday. The earring he now wore was a gift from Still Water. It was of a small silver crab. To remind Joey, he said, to have many feet latched on his board whenever he surfed beyond what scared him.
Sutter grabbed his knee.
“But I was too late. Still Water went out with a borrowed board. They think he’s drowned. But no way. I got to look. I just wanted you to understand why I can’t be here. I’m sorry, Joey.”
“It’s okay. It’s Still Water.”
“Indians can’t drown. They float like clouds upon the sky.”
Sutter groaned and struggled up. From his back pocket, he took out a rolled-up navy baseball cap bleached by sweat and sun. On the brim were Chiquita banana stickers. He smoothed out the cap and put it on Joey’s head.
“I knew those boys, Joey,” he said. “I know the hat’s a little big, but it was one of theirs, and I want you to wear it. Someday, you will grow into it like the man I want you to be.”
The heaviness in his tone and the cap made Joey want to sink down into the soft mattress and disappear into sleep. He nodded.
Sutter stopped at the door and jiggled the loose door handle. In frustration, he jerked on it. Without turning around, he said. “Tell your grandma not to use that new stove. The kitchen’s already hot enough.”
Joey recalled seeing it last night in the dim light. He had asked Adriana why they needed such a huge stove just to heat his hot chocolate before he went to bed. She told him they got it for a steal. The stove was large gas grill finally auctioned off from Hamburger Hamlet burnt down during the Watts riots of 1965.
But I thought you’re a vegetarian, Joey had offered. Adriana had shuffled him off to bed.
“Can I go with you?” Joey called after Sutter.
He drifted into the hallway.
“Can I?” he shouted.
Joey sat cross-legged on a bumper car bought after Pacific Ocean Park closed. Adriana joined him on another car at the opposite end of the porch.
“Go on, Joey, eat,” she said. “It’s your favorite.”
He cautiously bit into the Swiss cheese and sauerkraut sandwich on rye bread with globs of honey mustard. At any moment, he expected to bite into a big brown spider.
It was that kind of morning, Adriana had agreed with Joey earlier.
Far across the yard, raindrops plopped against sheets of old barn metal roofing Sutter had slid over his newly purchased antique New Holland tractor. He had picked out the longest ones to protect his cherished tractor.
With a utility knife, Adriana divided Iris tubers on her lap.
“These feathered Irises, Joey,” she said. “They look like a tropical bird. They came up behind Jake’s shop. Where Sutter once dumped all his shavings. I dug them up right after they bloomed.”
Joey lifted a slice and peeked under it. His strawberry lemonade in a glass slid against his thigh. A whole strawberry tumbled out and rolled under his leg. Well, Joey thought, at least now he could drink his lemonade without it bumping against his nose.
The clap of thunder died down.
“Joey, eat,” Adriana said.
Joey, nibbling at the crust, bit big into the sandwich. Sauerkraut slopped out onto his lap and into his glass. He looked over at Adriana and scrunched up his face. She smiled and tugged up her paisley scarf she always wore tight like a bandit around her messy black hair.
Adriana was a Filipino woman who often came across as gruff and eager to argue. But Joey already knew that it was all show. She got things done whenever love or persistence was needed like she did after she entered the States in 1967. Within months of her arrival, Sutter stole her away from Packard Pine Products where she worked with her two older sisters at a lathe shaping table legs. Sutter convinced her to shape boards for Jake’s. She agreed to marry Sutter only after Still Water quit as a shaper. Because the two constantly quarreled over whose experimental board would change the face of surfing. Years later, Still Water bowed to her after her short surfboard she had designed for short people like herself revolutionized surfing.
“Joey, come here, sit, I got chili inside. We’ll eat later.”
He scooted off, turned, and set down his drink and sandwich. He ambled over to Adriana and sat at her feet next to her fat, lazy, usually cross orange Tabby cat, Miss Alice. She crawled up into his lap and sniffed the scratch she had made on his nostril. Joey stiffened up. Tiny clods of dirt from off her Irises dribbled down his back.
Adriana chuckled good-naturedly.
“Well, you shouldn’t have sneezed last night. It scared her,” she said.
Thunder rattled Miss Alice. She jumped off his shoulder onto the bumper car. Joey sighed. He felt as if he had finally had some luck. She prowled around behind Adriana.
“It’s nice to be close to the ocean again. Huh, Grandma?” Joey asked.
For the second time, Adriana counted how many iris tubers she had.
“We’ll see. How this house does in all the rain coming.”
Joey fiddled with the button Adriana had replaced on his Hawaiian shirt. He wanted it to work. But the button was too big.
Miss Alice peered around her. She stared at the fat slug slithering out from underneath the glob of mud on Adriana’s coveralls.
“You think Grandad will be back soon?”
“That man. To spend all that money on a flight.”
“But it’s Still Water.”
“Hah, Still Water.”
Joey twisted himself around and brushed against the stubby hairs of her ankles. He scratched the feeling off.
Adriana plucked off the slug and tossed it.
“Why that Indian got to say he’s like an old medicine woman,” she griped. “Always all that dread in his heart. He’s talking about this vision and that voodoo and what might happen. What’d he tell you the last time he was here?”
Joey stared at a bee that crawled out between her knotted toes.
“I don’t remember.”
“He scare you? You afraid to tell me?”
Joey timidly shook his head.
“That tale about the chief who made a pack with the wicked witch with eyes of the moon. That one, Joey? That she taught him how to sculpt giant elks out of sand to fight his enemies. How the elks had no soul. They only knew how to kill. So they gored the chief’s own families.”
Joey had never heard that one. It made him shudder.
“Only funny tales,” Joey whispered.
“You fibbin’ me, Joey?”
He really shook his head.
“Wolves will turn into dolphins and return to the sea,” Joey said. “I laughed pretty hard. How can wolves be dolphins?”
Adriana stomped on the bee.
“Dang, not that one,” she moaned.
Joey suspected that the thunder made her toes twitch.
“All that craziness about the end of his wolf clan. Did he tell you when the wolves go extinct, his tribe dies?”
Joey nodded, even if he did not recall this.
“All those wolves becoming dolphins and disappearing into the ocean. Like their souls. That’s why so many Indians have diabetes and leukemia. But if there’s one wolf left. Ah, he just doesn’t get it.”
With one of Joey’s crayons, she wrote yellow on one of her small paper sacks. Then she carefully picked out three tubers and dropped them in the bag. She got another bag and scribbled blue. She put five or six in that one.
Joey stood up. He took her hand and stopped her from writing.
“They all look the same. How do you know what color?” he asked.
Adriana shrugged and grinned.
“I just do.”
“Like Still Water. How he knows when to surf.”
She sighed and sat back down.
“Like Sutter. Why he flew,” he added.
She reached under her butt and pulled out a turquoise wool blanket Joey had convinced Adriana last night to buy from three Peruvian brothers. They had parked their ’64 blue Fleetwood Cadillac across the street. They had stood up in the trunk, without a lid, and played music on a guitar, drum, and wooden flute. A girl napped on a mattress jammed into a large rack on the roof. Orange petals woven in her long black braid had withered. In her hand, hanging down, a cardboard sign read—MUSAC FOR COINE OR WORK. Like thunder occasionally getting louder, they played more fervently whenever anyone passed along the boardwalk.
Adriana stood up. She leaned over and draped the blanket over his shoulders. She patted him down much longer than needed.
“Still Water,” she said. “Doesn’t know how to come out of the cold.”
“Doesn’t have to. Like that music last night. If you feel it, you don’t feel cold,” Joey replied.
Adriana shook her head.
“Already too smart.”
“Yes, Joey, like Sutter.”
By his hand, she dragged Joey around the bumper car. He looked back. In the shifting of white into black, light into shadows, Joey imagined Still Water being chased by clouds shifting into wolves.
Joey smiled. They’d never catch him.
Around midnight, the downpour from the thunderstorm quit and hail blew against the window and splintered open a crack covered by a Dogtown decal. The closet door creaked open. Joey jumped out of bed and slammed his back against it.
He stood on an antique brass heating vent. He cursed any monstrous sea creatures that could be down there. He shuddered with courage. Let the shaking and rain scare them up. He would be ready if claws, beaks, or teeth scratched against his bare feet.
Joey spread his feet off the vent and bent over. He checked. It was too dark.
He wanted a flashlight. Lightning flashed. Light and shadows burst around the little room. Joey squatted. He clenched his hands into fists and glared at the vent.
“Sutter!” Adriana cried. “Damn you man!”
Joey struggled up. He leaped over the vent and rushed to the door. He slipped on a throw rug and slid the rest of the way. He found the door handle and paused.
Something scurried and scratched the wood floor beyond his door.
Hail lightly tapped against the far window.
“Stay in there!” she cried.
Joey’s hand trembled. The handle fell off. He edged back and dropped it.
“Damn!” Adriana cried.
She tumbled into the door. It swung open.
Joey, ready to fight, scrunched up his body.
Adriana stumbled and stopped. Joey smelled the menthol from the Tiger Balm she used on the back of her neck. For she could only sleep in a chair, and she always woke up with a crick.
“Joey! Grab something and help me!”
Adriana flung herself back out into the hallway. Her straw broom swatted and swept away twenty or so small orange crabs scrambling about.
Joey grabbed the throw rug and tugged it up.
With the tip of the handle, Adriana whacked a few crabs crawling up the wall. Plaster and crabs crumbled down.
She turned and glanced at his feet, then at the rug. She smiled.
“Move quickly,” she said.
“If they bite, stomp on them,” she added. Her broom scooted the crabs across the floor as she hustled towards the utility room.
A crab clung to the bottom of his heavy rug. He swung it. The crab slammed into the wall. Then the rug, then Joey flew into it. He bounced back and around as if recovering from a wipe out.
Adriana yanked open the back door and shoved the crabs out.
Two more crabs climbed higher. Joey flung it out over several more.
“That’s it, Joey,” Adriana said.
She jumped up and both feet smashed the crabs under the rug. The brocade upholstery fabric she had used to sew up her old UGGS tore loose.
“Come on, Joey.”
She dropped the broom and grabbed the edge of the rug. They dragged it. More crawled on. Out the back door, they scooted it across the porch and dumped out the crabs.
“Like cockroaches. These crabs. Snack on your toenails before your toes.”
She shoved the rug against his chest.
“Ready for more,” she asked.
“Oh, yea,” he replied reluctantly.
Joey yanked the rug from her and limped back into the hallway. Sometimes his toes curled up and froze. He flopped the rug over the crabs jostling against the corner. Adriana hobbled in and out of the UGGS and beside Joey. She swept the last two under the rug.
“Good job, Joey,” she said. “That’s all of them.”
“Where did they come from?”
She leaned the broom against his back.
“If I tell you, you can’t have a nightmare,” she said.
“I won’t. I promise.”
“Joey, not so smart yet.”
Adriana eased down a floorboard that had popped up.
“Now go to bed,” she said.
Joey headed for his room, but stopped. A picture had been jarred crooked. Jake and Sutter leaned over Still Water who had just got a tattoo at a parlor in Pacific Ocean Park. On his shoulder, Still Water proudly showed them the new design for their “Jake’s Surfboard’s” logo.
Joey adjusted the frame.
“Have you heard from Grandpa?” he asked.
“Yes, dear, very soon.”
Joey drifted into the bedroom. He did not bother to close the door. He knew from Still Water not to trap fear in any room. He sat on the edge of his bed.
He was about to whirl around and flop down on his back when thunder rattled a window. He looked that way. Steam rose from the tires on the New Holland tractor where the lightning had struck.
Joey wondered if Still Water had ever surfed during a thunderstorm. He imagined a lightning strike that pierced the curl right behind his ride.
“That would be way cool,” Joey mumbled as he lay back and quickly fell asleep.
Lightning flashed. Thunder erupted without sound. Light quickly vanished as did Joey from life into a dream and deeper under the sea under the floor of this strange house. Adobe bricks from the chimney shook loose by his screams slammed against its planks. A knot popped out. A hand wiggled through. Its fingers waved like kelp. Joey swam furiously up to them. They poked his head with the force of a monstrous wave. Joey sank, whirled as the sea churned, fought back, swam harder, got hurled farther and farther away, swam even harder—so vigorously, that he swam out of his skin. He rose onto the surface of the ocean as sunlight. A dolphin glided into his light and Joey became the dolphin. No more worry about his stupid toes was his first thought. He had fins. He could be as swift when he swam as the pelican that skimmed the waves above him. Joey drifted out of the sunlight. He sank because he did not know how to swim like a dolphin. He prayed to have his ugly toes back so he would not drown. He flopped onto the bottom of the sea that slammed out his legs and arms. But they were buried. He lunged out. He could not shake loose the sand that covered his limbs. The stronger he shook, the faster the grains turned into the fur of wolf. He became a wolf. He sprinted across the sand like the wind and outraced the sea, gracefully dodged coral, fish, eels, and sharks—an undersea tornado that whirled light wider and wide. Joey lost himself. A girl’s hand with warm slender fingers erupted out of the sand and grabbed his ankle. He felt saved. He turned out of the wolf to see himself rather than her.
He woke up. Sunlight blared into his eyes. He squinted. An avocado limb had snapped off and smashed through the window. A dead tree rat hung by its teeth that had nibbled into an avocado. Glass sliced its neck. Blood dripped onto the pool beneath the sill.
Joey jumped off and rushed to the door. He worried his Grandma had been hurt, or she would be in his room.
An avocado plopped down onto the bed.
Joey stopped and whipped around. He feared Still Water sat on the edge of the bed as a ghost.
The empty bed made Joey even angrier at himself.
“No fear. Only what you see is real.”
He hustled down the hallway. Under an archway, and through a curtain strung with seashells and wooden beads, he stumbled into the living room. He gathered up his embarrassment and cursed his feet.
Adriana slumped down into her stuffed chair with a scalloped back. Her breath fluttered the fringe on a blanket throw tugged up around her chin. On both sides of the chair, her arms flopped over. In one hand, a beer bottle clung to her thumb. In the other, the telephone cord was tangled between fingers. The receiver bumped against a thermos recently spray painted fluorescent pink by Adriana so Sutter would not lose it.
Joey just knew. Grandpa was dead.
Joey stretched across the kitchen table at home and grabbed Sutter’s dinged thermos. In places, rust leaked through the pink fluorescent paint. He unscrewed the lid and sniffed the raspberry yogurt and peanut butter smoothie his mother had specially made for him for his fourteenth birthday. Rather than have it for breakfast, he was not hungry, Joey decided to save it for after lunch.
Joey wiggled his foot onto his skateboard. Absently, he scooted it out from underneath the table. He stopped.
“Oh, right,” Joey griped.
Trooper had sagged his fat, big head across it and dozed off. Joey would never startle Trooper after what happened late last night.
Trooper was petrified of lightning. When Joey switched on the light, Trooper lifted the table before Joey could retrieve his half-drunk Coke. Trooper slammed it into the refrigerator that knocked off the bowl of cherries that landed on Trooper. He looked as terrified as if the cherries were fat raindrops.
Joey no longer bugged his Dad about why he recently adopted Trooper. Cause Joey loved taking walks with Trooper. He was half Mastiff and half Dalmatian, had a long, chunky tail, pale tan spots, and annoyingly large, floppy ears and jowls, and always created a stir. Now it was Trooper who annoyed passersby and not Joey who rode his skateboard. Trooper shook his head at every bee, fly, jingling of change, light reflecting off side mirrors, bumpers, and sunglasses. Slobber slopped on legs, skirts, and an occasional kid’s face.
Joey prayed his board would not roll over Trooper’s jowl slung over its edge.
His Dad, the tallest of three brothers, broad-shouldered, but with knobby knees, flung his wetsuit onto the kitchen counter. One arm slapped a large brandy snifter and rocked it. A dead goldfish wavered at its lip.
Trooper slowly slapped his tail up and down. Miss Alice, much older and grumpier, prowled over. She stared at his tail as if it was an injured seagull.
“Has your Mom already left?” his Dad asked. With his crooked finger he checked to see if a rip went all the way through his wetsuit. Everyone believed the finger had been injured during one of his Dad’s outrageous big wave surfs. But Joey knew his Dad had been the only brother to have been a prisoner of war during the Viet Nam conflict.
Joey turned and leaned back over his chair.
“It’s late Dad,” Joey said just loud enough because his Dad was pretty deaf. He told everyone he had a busted ear drum from all the wipe outs when he was younger. But Sutter had explained to Joey that they were from the blows to the side of his head by the skinny Vietcong who everyday stood over his Dad and repeatedly asked. “Who’s the enemy? Who’s the enemy?”
His Dad gingerly scratched his wavy brown hair. A few orange blossoms fluttered out and joined the fish.
“Oh, it is, isn’t it?” his Dad replied.
He must have slept under the orange trees in the back yard. Cooler during the summer and sweet with the fragrance of the blossoms, Joey often curled around a trunk to be lulled asleep by the ocean whenever his Dad did not sleep there.
“You ever get those tiny ants up your nose?” Joey asked.
By its tail, his Dad carried the fish over to the sink. He reached for the garbage disposal switch.
“I wouldn’t,” Joey warned.
“She’ll never know.”
“Okay, okay,” he said and turned around stiffly. He squeezed the fish into the pocket of his polo shirt.
His lower lip was swollen. Last night Joey’s mother had told his Dad not to come back if went out and surfed by moonlight. She did not care that he could not sleep when the pitch of larger than normal waves signaled their shape and size. Joey overheard him say that he could read those waves like the tone of how much love was in his Mom’s whisper. A handshake, a hug, an embrace, a mournful good-bye, even sex, could be interpreted from the waves.
“I’ll bury it,” he said. “But it would be good for her kids to know about death.”
“Dad, they’re in kindergarten.”
“Yea, yea. But does she always have to make up a story?”
“It’s just her way.”
“She wants you to pick up another fish.”
Miss Alice rubbed against his ankle. His Dad leaned over and scooped up Miss Alice in one hand. Raising up, he grimaced. He walked back and set her down near the wetsuit. She sniffed it.
“Oh, a perfect match,” he said, approaching Trooper. “Goldfish went to the hospital and got well.”
His Dad’s toes massaged the top of Trooper’s head. He edged up and barked softly as if he was still in a dream. Miss Alice pulled her head out from inside the left leg of the wetsuit.
“How do you do that?” Joey asked, scooting his skateboard free.
His Dad stared at the thermos. “That was Sutter’s, wasn’t it?”
“Adriana said I could have it. I found it in the shed behind the shaping hut. The old lock had rusted loose. On top of a box with film, marked 1971, Waimea Bay. There was also a huge sea turtle shell.”
“Adriana suggested we sell the shell on eBay. Donate what we get to Greenpeace. In memory of Sutter.”
His Dad grabbed Joey’s shoulder and squeezed it.
“I remember that thermos,” he said. “I was about your age. Course it wasn’t painted. But Sutter always had it filled with hot coffee. For me when I came out that first winter.”
Trooper slopped his head over Joey’s lap.
His Dad reached into his jean short pocket and brought out a package of beef jerky that had been through the washer and dryer more than once. He peeled back the cellophane and the whole batch dropped out. Like a walrus, Trooper lunged and caught them and gulped.
“I thought you said Sutter was never there for you. That Still Water taught you how to surf,” Joey offered.
His Dad grabbed Trooper’s collar and dragged back.
“Sad how Sutter died,” he said. “You ever think about it? Every time I come in and I’m cold, I wonder. Try to make sense of it,” he said.
Trooper gnawed on his hand. Slobber dripped on a sea slug crusted to his Dad’s blackened toenail.
“You ever go to your English class?” he asked.
“Of course,” Joey lied. “Why?”
“Mrs. Fletcher gave you a book of stories by Stephen Crane, didn’t she?”
“You read any of it?”
“At first I thought I’d lost it. Then---“
“That short story of Crane’s. THE OPEN BOAT. All those men. The strongest drowning in two inches of water.”
“I’ve read that one.”
His Dad ambled over to the stove. Trooper lopped over next to him. From off a burner, he picked up a lopsided loaf of four seed peasant bread on a plate. He broke off a chunk and handed it out to Trooper who sniffed it and balked.
“Dad, Sutter’s inhaler dropped out of a hole in his back pocket.”
Joey turned back and stared at the thermos. He wished he had never found it. Sutter had not drowned like some stupid surfer in a half foot shore break. Unable to find his inhaler, Sutter had dashed about and just ran out of breath. On a beach he often frequented, where he filmed the best of the big wave surfers, he had died alone.
Joey stretched back and rolled his skateboard next to him.
“You taking Trooper to work?” he asked.
With difficulty, his Dad swallowed the bite of bread.