The Little Carrillo Camp Store has been out of marshmallows since your family arrived, so all week you’ve been using gummi bears in your breakfast s’mores instead. Your dad pitched the s’mores as a special treat, much better than, say, the bacon cheesy eggs he botched on day one of your trip. Every morning he watches as you thoughtfully impale the bears on your roasting fork and wait for their heads to bubble over the sputtering fire. You use your fingers to spread their Technicolor jelly across the graham crackers, no Hershey’s needed. The bear jelly never quite washes from under your nails. At night in the tent, you suck at it finger by finger. You kind of even like the grit of the beach sand it collects during the day, that crackle it gives the jelly when you grind it between your teeth. Every night of boys-only camping so far, you’ve faked sleep until Dad and your brother Quentin are snoring in their sleeping bags next to you, then sat up to savor that private cache of gelatinous sugar. This is how you’ve stumbled into Little Carrillo’s most secret hours—sugar-wired and dreamy, watching the headlights of the last surfers’ cars make their weird spectral flight across the nylon of the tent.
Last night while you tasted each finger, you swore you heard the breakers on the beach getting louder. The creeping Pacific was ripping away at the coast. You know from Science Wednesdays about how the tides work, or at least you remember something about the moon wanting to pull the water close, like it’s tired of its lonely free-float through space. But the moon has the wrong idea. The Pacific you can hear just across the highway is devouring, not hugging, and roped with snaky black kelp that reaches infinitely into its depths. That ocean is bottomless. That ocean is waiting to pull you under.
This morning, you can mostly hear gulls and Quentin banging through the pots and snapping sticks trying to get you up, but you are always half-listening for the growing tear of the ocean. If Mom were here you wouldn’t mind its sound, not to mention a breakfast of high fructose corn syrup and Red Lake #88. But all that communing with the wide and terrible ocean last night told you how vulnerable you are, how tenuously your family is held safe to the shore. Now you see s’mores for what they are—a desperate cover-up for parental inadequacy, a sorry excuse for a breakfast. Even the graham crackers aren’t the right kind, some off-brand with a lazy-eyed koala for a spokesanimal that Dad confusedly selected. Mom would never have made such an egregious error. You cinch the sleeping bag around your head so only your face sticks out.
“Slugman, come on!” calls Quentin from somewhere near the fire pit. “Dad has to leave soon. It’s family breakfast time.”
You open your bag just wide enough to let out a hand and run your pinky down the net of the tent. It catches in a hole the size of a nickel. This must be how the ants are getting in. Inside the tent feels like an incubator, with so much trapped sun heat and the shed cocoons of Quentin and Dad’s sleeping bags beside you. The safest times you can remember are here, nested between your mom and dad and idiot brother and all that down.
“Mom would’ve made pancakes. With blueberries,” you say, and then add experimentally, “No crappy gummi bears. I never want to see another gummi bear in my life.”
“Don’t say crappy, Slugman” says Quentin. “You’re too young. And anyway, this is a campground, not a trailer park.”
“Yeah, a crappy one,” you say. Quentin bangs the pots louder.
“I’ll make pancakes for you boys tomorrow, Dewey, I promise,” says Dad. But you see through the haze of the grey screen that even mentioning the pancakes is a bad idea. Mom used to make them shaped like sea turtles for your birthday. Dad pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes and goes inside the van.
The van is a dented, banana yellow VW, the same one where Quentin says you were probably conceived, just up the road from here. Mom always called the van the VW Library. It is just one of the many nests she built for you. She was a maker of pillow forts and Radio Flyer pioneer wagons, the mind behind the canopy of origami whales over your bunk bed. She trailed scarlet runner beans up a teepee in the back yard just for you, and even that wasn’t as good as the van. Mom nailed up shelves in the back for all Dad’s summer reading, those stacks of photocopied articles from the Stanford library that blew around the backseat like some kind of strange shorebird, and more shelves for Quentin’s history books. She built pull-out drawers under the seats for your shell collection. The curtains printed with tiny flowers on the windows were for her, even though she was a conchologist and a scholar, too. Since before you were born, your family spent a weekend every summer camping with the van at the real Leo Carrillo sixteen miles up the coast, a real state park with real rangers and real nature. There are quail here at Little Carillo, too, but they drink at night from the glowing blue swimming pool by the camp store. When you pointed this out to Dad and Quentin, Quentin said to give Dad a break.
Quentin yells for you again. “Dewey, I said he’s leaving. Don’t you care about our family anymore?”
You rip the hole in the tent mesh a little wider. Through the gray gauze of the screen, you watch as Dad gives Quentin money from his wallet, which hopefully means explorers’ two-way magnifying glasses and twiggy pieces of jerky that come individually wrapped from the camp store if Quentin is in a good mood. Maybe you can ask Quentin to get you a safety whistle, although he’ll probably argue that you’d abuse it. Dad’s blurry shape stops in front of the tent and you listen to the whir of the zippered door. When he sticks his head in, you can smell the ocean that’s soaked into his skin from his practices for the free dive contest tonight.
“Can I pick you a book from the van before I head out?” Dad says. “How about the Vishnu Purana? Remember when I read it to you, how Vishnu turns into a fish? Quentin can help you with it. Or how about your shell book, for collecting later? Or something else? Anything? Is there anything I can do for you? You gotta give a me a clue, Dewey.”
Secretly you want both books, but you lie back in your sleeping bag so you don’t have to look at him anymore. “All I want is pancakes,” you say. You hear the telltale whir of the zipper again, more banging around the campsite, and the sputter of Dad starting the van. When you’re sure he’s gone, you sit up. He’s left both books for you, leaning against the rock by the remains of the fire.
“Okay, that’s it. You’re getting up,” says Quentin. “I’m not letting you spend all day in there wallowing.”
Quentin is six years older than you and serious about everything, especially rock criticism and the life and legacy of John Lennon. When you still had Mom, he used to be a conchologist, too. Before her accident, you and she and Quentin spent that perfect vacation week every year in the back of the van with your samples, keying out bursidae and conidae. Now he seems awkward with his Little Golden Guide to Shells and keeps it stuffed in the back pocket of his jeans, a sort of vestigial limb he’s not sure how to use anymore.
Quentin unzips the tent door and throws himself on top of you. You squeal and try to worm away, but he’s got your feet and wrestles you out like toothpaste from the tube.
“God, Dewey, what happened to your legs?” says Quentin. You look down. Below your shorts, you’re dappled with fiery red welts that make the rest of your skin look even blotchier than normal.
“It’s the ants,” you say. “They got in my bag.”
“Does it itch?”
“I guess. A little.”
“Well, dude, it’s certainly disgusting,” says Quentin. “What did you do, rub yourself with sugar? We have to get you cleaned up.”
You’re still cowlicked and groggy when Quentin extracts you from the tent and you walk barefoot down the road to the bathrooms, your toes curled up to avoid the prickle of the asphalt. The canyon is gold and green and grey except for the scatterings of surf gear and the wild parrots that speckle the tops of the trees. Sun pours in from above the canyon, flecking the air with glowing particles of stirred beach dust. The same dust clings to the grass and to the leaves of the chaparral and scrub oak so they look as if they’re slightly faded, as if time stopped for them a year ago too—in coming here, even to this fake Leo Carrillo, you’ve stepped back into your own unsheddable past. In some ways, though, it hardly matters—there’s no place you could be that doesn’t bring you back to Mom.
It’s close to eleven, but the rest of the campground is quiet. Aside from one Asian family who you always see washing dozens of white socks in a salad spinner in the utility sink, the population of the campground is entirely other free divers who’ve come for the competition tonight, the 14th Annual Solromar Deep Dive. Most of divers head out before dawn in order to stake out the best waters, the places where the ocean runs warm but deep. A whole flotilla of cranberry-red buoys tug in the currents off the coast, each attached to a guide line that leads to the ocean floor. Some divers have been here for weeks already following those cords, throttling themselves towards the deep. Your dad’s out there now, too. He’s always practiced with terrifying single-mindedness in the days before Solromar, but this year he lets the ocean swallow up whole days. Every morning, he drives up the coast to find somewhere to dive. If it weren’t for you and your breakfast hang ups, he’d get a deep but warm spot.
Last night around the fire, over the snap of burning salvia branches and slow fizzle of melting plastic bottle caps you’d discretely tossed in, Quentin asked Dad what it feels like when he’s diving the Pacific. It’s a question he asks every year before the competition, a sort of talisman against the unspeakable fear you both have that the ocean might not return him to you.
Dad says that from the moment your face meets the cold of the ocean, your heart knows what to do. Even as you reel to orient yourself in the directionless blue, even as your lungs crave breath, your heart is adjusting to the strange suspended time of life underwater. Its faithful lub-dub winds down until it matches the secret pulse of the ocean. Dad calls this the mammalian diving reflex—this slowing that keeps you going, keeps you breathing, when there is seemingly nothing to sustain you. The deeper you dive and the colder the water gets, the harder your body works for you. The fragile webs of your capillaries seal themselves off until your feet and fingers go numb. Blood vessels constrict in your arms and legs and send their warmth inward. Your spleen bubbles with new blood cells that ferry air to your neediest limbs. If you dive deep enough, under the downpress of so much sea, your insides will rebalance themselves to take on the pressure. All this to let you see what’s at the bottom of the ocean and return. All this to protect and keep beating your most vital organ—your heart.
You think of the mammalian diving reflex when Quentin turns on the spigot meant for filling canteens and tells you to wash off. The ice of the water you splash on your face pulls air into your lungs and runs goosebumps down your legs. Quentin makes you take off your shirt and wash your armpits, a ritual you both know is ridiculous since he’s the stinky one and anyway you only brought one tee-shirt, the one Mom bought you at Frog Town when you went for your birthday last year. It’s the only shirt you ever want to wear. You like to think of her washing it for you and leaving it folded on the edge of your bed. Quentin showed you how to do your own laundry since Dad never remembers, but it never comes out smelling right.
“Dad’s going to do great tonight, you know?” says Quentin. He hands you a towel without looking up from the book he’s reading, his fifty-millionth Lennon biography this month. “I think this year is his year.”
“I hate it when he dives,” you say, and you do. Yesterday at the camp store, you overheard a hippie-haired diver report seeing the dull silver tail of a shark darting into the kelp stand just off Solromar Beach. But that’s the least of your worries. You hate how fast you lose sight of your dad when he throws himself off the deep water buoys. You hate the thought of the absolute dark down there, dotted only with the light of the bioluminescent snares of its most demonic fish. But most of all, you hate the idea of that horrific suspension of time and breath.
“Don’t be a baby,” says Quentin. “You’re just scared of the ocean. You can’t even swim.”
“Am not,” you say. Anyway, you were going to learn to swim at the end of last summer. Mom was going to teach you, even though she said she understood that you’re really more of a shore person like her.
“Fine,” says Quentin. “I’m not arguing with you. I don’t want to spend vacation that way. Dad says if you don’t want any more gummi bears, I should get you something at the store. Okay? Dewey? You can even have that awful jerky.”
“And a camp whistle?”
“No way, Picklebreath. You’ll blow it all the time.”
“I will not. I’ll treat it with respect.”
“We’ll see,” says Quentin.
The camp store is guarded by two wild parrots that squawk and drop fruit pits on you from their perch in the wisteria that climbs over the door. Inside, the store’s no bigger than your bedroom at home, but it’s ringed with shelves offering all manner of strange and fantastic rations you’ve never encountered anywhere else—there’s practical stuff like shark repellants and cords of wood bound up with twine, but also pocket-sized kites and off-kilter yo-yos, six packs of grape juice in glass bottles shaped like rocket ships, compasses whose needles twirl as if eternally caught in magnetic storms. The bounty of the place, and the irritation of the parrots just outside, zing you out of the stupor of the rest of this trip, this year. You find some excuse for Quentin to bring you here every morning. Usually, you’re greeted by Stan, the owner of the campground who has a bead shaped like a sea turtle threaded into his hair and who offered you guys an extra night’s stay if Dad would let him borrow the van to meet up with some real chill guys up the coast later this week.
Instead, there’s a girl or maybe a woman—you’re not sure where the categories begin and end—by the counter today. When you come in, she’s balancing in arabesque on a plastic milk crate, reaching to hang a bag full of jacks back up on the display. You’ve caught her mid-motion, suspended for a moment in the tumult and glitter of the shop. You watch in silence as she stretches her arm forward, forward, shifting her weight with a cautious grace. When she safely snags the jacks on the hook, you let out a gasp. Only then do you realize you’ve been holding your breath.
“Who are you?” you ask. Quentin pretends to consider the postcards of Malibu at night and the Port Hueneme Artichoke Man, but looks through the twirling rack at the girl.
“I’m Desi,” she says. “Stan’s daughter? The guy who runs the campground?” She’s behind the counter now, where she has a little sandwich assembly line set up. She peels rounds of baloney from a plastic sleeve and uses them to make neat, all-American sandwiches that she tucks, one by one, into the cooler right next to the rocket ship juice. You can’t remember the last time you saw food so nutritious.
Desi does not look like Stan. She’s got a thick braid of wavy, beachy hair, and wears an immaculately white bikini on top but rolled-up jeans on the bottom, like she’s part mermaid and part lighthouse keeper. From across the counter, you can smell the tang of her sunscreen. You remember Mom joking you into standing still while she put Coppertone on your cheeks with the softest brush of her fingers. Dad and Quentin never remember the sunscreen, and when they do, they do a lousy job rubbing it in.
You have to say something to her, anything. “Is there more Hershey’s yet?”
Desi scrunches her nose up and says no in a way that’s also a laugh.
“How about some gummi bears, then?” you say. “We have this system for melting them, so they get really gooey. It’s awesome. I could teach you if you want. I know how to pick the right part of the campfire for moltenization.”
“You just said you were sick of gummi bears,” says Quentin. “I thought you’d rather eat your own eyes.”
“That was then. This is now,” you say. You can’t understand why Quentin is glaring at you like you’re the one embarrassing him, when he’s the one making a scene in front of Desi and her beautiful, wholesome sandwiches. If he were closer you’d definitely kick him in the shin. Desi leafs through the bags of candy on the wall.
“How about this one? Good red bear to green bear ratio.”
“Right,” you say. You turn to Quentin. “Good eye. And some sandwiches? Do you want me to help you make them?”
An image flickers into your mind of you standing on the milk crate next to Desi, singing her sea shanties while she cuts off the crusts.
“That’s okay. Here you go,” she says. She stacks four baloneys-on-Wonder on the counter and you notice the pearly pink of her nails.
“I really like your fingers. The paint, I mean,” you say.
“You do?” says Desi. “Mainly I like the name of the color—Abalone Kisses.”
She knows about abalone? Then she’s a conchologist, too! “The abalone belongs to the genus haliotis, which means sea ear,” you say, testing.
“I wonder why,” says Desi. She does the nose wrinkle and presses her ears forward with her hands so they stick out in an absurd and unflattering way. The nose thing you know is totally gratuitous and has nothing to do with shells looking like ears, but is probably the funniest thing you’ve seen in your life, almost as good as when Mom did the chicken dance to cheer you up after Quentin beat you at Uncle Wiggly by cheating but wouldn’t admit it.
“Get a grip,” whispers Quentin. He puts Dad’s squashed twenty on the counter, not even waiting for change, and aims you towards the door. “Thanks very much. Dewey here loves baloney.”
“Wait!” calls Desi. “I didn’t see your legs before, over the counter. It’s the ants, right? There’s a trick for that.” She keeps looking at you while she rummages around with one hand behind the drinks cooler. “Blue Dutch Cleanser, on the house. Sprinkle it in a ring around your campsite to fortify the periphery. The little shits can’t stand it. Hold on, let me show you.”
Desi steps out from behind the counter and it feels like the divine materializing on earth. She takes your hand with the lightest of grips and leads you and Quentin out to the yard. You can tell a car has just passed down the road because the air is hazy with beach dust and one of the parrots is squawking again. Desi kneels down and runs her hands to part the grass, looking for ants. You lean in next to her, desperate to help.
“Okay,” says Desi when she’s got one. “Now remember, it only takes a teensy little bit to remind the ant that this is your beach and it’s time to get moving. Right?
“Right,” you say.
She gives the Blue Dutch Cleanser one quick shake and a faint azure cloud settles over the ant. The ant freezes. You freeze, too, stricken with the thought of its world made hostile and strange. You hold a little tighter to Desi’s hand.
“You’re all right,” says Desi to the ant. “Come on. Get.”
You reach down to poke it, but it’s already moving again. It makes an investigational charge forward, reconsiders, veers right. You lose track of it in the grass between your feet. The ant is gone. Why didn’t Quentin and Dad know this trick? Why don’t they know any of the best, secret ways to take care of you? You look up and you’re eye to eye with Desi.
“See?” she says. “That’s all it takes. He just needed a nudge to get him going. Problem solved.”
When Quentin wheels you away from the store, sandwiches under your arm, you don’t even care that you didn’t get the safety whistle. You can’t imagine why you’d ever need it. Desi is just down the road.
Once you start looking for your own ant to test the Blue Dutch Cleanser on, you realize they’re everywhere. Somehow their sheer number makes it all the more imperative that you pick the right one. You’ve been crouched over the same square of dirt beside your tent for at least three minutes when you spot one hauling a hunk of caterpillar. When you whack on the side of the cardboard tube, a powder of vivid turquoise snows out. The ant drops its treasure and runs in frenzied circles.
“Bingo! Like magic!” you cry.
“Like Borax,” says Quentin. He’s lying on the bench of the picnic table, reading the chapter on Lennon’s assassination again. “They can’t stand that stuff. It sucks the water out of them.”
“No, it doesn’t, Turdbrain. That’s slugs,” you say, but now you’re watching the ant more carefully. The ant’s not dying, right? He’s just upset. He doesn’t want to be around the powder. Once you’ve convinced yourself the ant’s okay, you shuffle backwards in a ring around the tent while banging out the Blue Dutch Cleanser. Next you do a ring around the fire pit, then a van-sized patch of road where you’ll have to tell Dad to park, then the cooler and each camp chair. Quentin stops you when you try to do the picnic table.
“I just want things to be nice for us,” you say. “Desi would understand.”
“Dewey, give it here,” says Quentin. “Do you know what kinds of brain toxins are probably in that? Didn’t you read Silent Spring? C’mon, the tide’s out now. I’ll take you to the beach.”
Going to the beach seems like a good idea at first, just like it has every other day you’ve been at Leo Carrillo. Quentin scoops you up and perches you on the handlebars of the rusted white bicycle he brought along, the stacks of sandwiches and his books on Lennon and your books on shells and Vishnu on your lap. The beach is just down the road from the campsite, on the other side of the Pacific Coast Highway, but there’s something thrilling about making the ride there balanced precariously together. Quentin tells you when to lean to make the sharp turns and when to duck your head when you ride through the culvert that gives way to the beach. But each day, when Quentin dumps you from the bike and you run out over the dunes, you’re forced to confront the emptiness of the beach. Even when you can spot a fellow beachcomber somewhere farther down the coast skirting the breaking foam, you feel like you’re the last person on earth. You look for Dad on the buoys that dip and nod out beyond the strongest waves, but he’s never there.
Today, you pick your way along the shore for a while. Each time the water catches your toes you retreat up the beach, but you’re intent on finding shells for Desi. You try to pocket your first find, a scallop crusted in sticky green algae, but the bag of gummi bears is already shoved in your swim shorts. You pull out the bag, jam a handful of the bears into your mouth, and drop the rest like rubies into the waves. As you comb the wet sand, you imagine what it’d be like to have her sleeping in the tent with you and Dad and Quentin, in her very own bag in a practical but girl-okay color, like mint. You can see her undoing her braid before she goes to bed so she sleeps nestled in golden curls. In the morning, you two would get up and check the Blue Dutch perimeter together, refortifying where necessary. You wonder if she knows how to make pancakes. When Quentin calls you back, the sun is just hinting that it might set and your pockets are stuffed to bursting with shells.
You flip through both of your books. The Book of Shells is fat with sand that’s collected in its center margin. It’s a comfort to you, knowing that it’s there, that you hold in your hands some of Mom’s beach. You reach into your pocket for a shell to key, but you feel yourself seasick inside at the thought of doing it without her. Instead, Quentin lets you bury his feet in the sand while he reads to you about Yoko’s grief. You know what she looks like from a picture Quentin shows you on the back of the book, but it’s hard to connect feelings so big to that face, and it irritates you to try. Anyway, you’d rather think about Desi—the perfection of her rabbit nose and the tender way she zipped the sandwich bags. Quentin and you eat her baloney sandwiches together on top of one of the dunes. You watch the faceless forms of backlit divers emerge, one by one, from the surf until Quentin says it’s time to go.
Quentin makes you bang the sand off your feet before he’ll lift you up onto the bicycle. “Ready?” he says, and he reaches to pick you up by the waist. That’s when he sees your bulging pockets. “Fuck, Dewey, what do you have in there? Is that all shells?” he asks. “Empty them out. We don’t need all of those.”
“Yes we do,” you say. “I spent all afternoon.”
“No kidding,” he says. “I don’t think you left any on the beach. Come on, dump them out. We don’t need more of that crap.”
“No!” you say. “They’re for her!”
You don’t want to say. It’s too hard, and all your sounds are stuck in your chest. Quentin’s getting angry now, but he’s biting at his lip, too, the same way Dad does before he cries.
“For who? For Mom? Mom’s dead, Dewey.”
“I know that!” you scream, and kick the bicycle. “I know! You think I don’t know that? I hate you! I hate you and I wish we never came here!”
“Dewey,” Quentin says, and he reaches out for you again, “Look, I’m sorry—“
But you’re already running. You pound through the sand until you get to the culvert, where the sound of the wave gets caught in the tunnel and echoes. You look back at Quentin. He’s still trying to mount the bicycle in the sand. You’re almost through the tunnel when you trip on something hard. Your hands rip on the asphalt, your face smacks against the ground. All you’re aware of is the crunch of the shells. You feel Quentin’s arms around you as he picks you up and folds you onto the bicycle’s handlebar, but you could swear you’re out in the middle of the ocean.
You wake up and it’s completely dark outside except for the creeping blue glow of the pool by the store. You can hear rain against the tent. Dad still isn’t back from the free dive competition. After the beach, you and Quentin found him waiting for you at camp. His smile stopped the minute he saw you sobbing. He offered not to go to the dive and made you his special grilled cheese from his grad student days, the only thing he can cook. He held you on his lap and tried to read to you about Vishnu sleeping on the cosmic ocean, how between human ages, he floats there beyond all time and space until Brahma blooms forth from his navel and the world begins again. Dad showed you Vishnu’s picture in the book—deep blue skin, a conch shell in his hand. “See what he’s holding?” said Dad. “Just like you.” You refused to respond even to this. Finally, Quentin convinced Dad you just needed rest, and that he’d watch you while you slept. Now, you’re the one watching Quentin in the beam of your flashlight. You check the pocket of your shorts a last time for the one shell that survived your fall, a pea-sized heart cockle splattered with pink dots. Once you leave this shell for Desi, you are going to run away. If you can’t have Mom, you don’t want anyone.
You have to stretch your legs to their longest so your toes can flick at the pedals of Quentin’s bicycle, and even then your perch is so precarious you can’t look down for puddles collecting in the busted asphalt. Twice you plow straight through them, splattering yourself with long swaths of mud, which only makes you pedal harder, faster. There’s so much rain you feel the whole world around you going soft, pulled down with its weight. When you get to the store, you half-jump and half-tumble from the bike.
You tip-toe up to the camp store’s screened front door and pull, but a hook holds it back. You pull again as hard as you can. When the door snaps back against its frame, the clatter sends a quail darting out from the dark and in front of the turquoise of the pool. It’s then that you see her there, her arms skimming back and forth across the surface of the water to conjure the magic of floating.
“Hey there,” says Desi. “Whatcha up to?”
“Nothing,” you say. “I mean, just, I came to say hi.”
“Should you be up this late?”
“I’m waiting for my dad. He’s diving.”
“Mine too,” says Desi. “You didn’t want to go watch? Don’t you want to be a diver like him?”
“I can’t swim.”
“You’re kidding,” says Desi. “You’re from California and you can’t swim? Not even a doggy paddle? We’ve got to fix that. No time like the present, right? Those look like swim trunks you’re wearing. Come on in.”
“No,” you say. “I can’t. I’ll sink.”
Desi shakes her head. “Impossible,” she says.“I won’t let you.”
You finger the shell in your pocket, but you don’t get any closer to the water.
“Really, I swear you’ll be fine. The water’s warm. Here. Just come test it. Just one toe. That’s all I’m asking. One pinky toe.”
One pinky toe’s not so bad. You curl your foot ever so slightly around the cool, tile edge of the pool so the water just laps at it. You consider its tiny pinky toe reflection and look deeper into the water, its surface pulsing with the rain. On the bottom of the pool, just beyond the 12’ line, you swear you see your mother’s pearl earring, the one where the pearl dangles, the one she lost when you went bicycling outside Ventura by the strawberry fields. It moves slightly in the pull of the water like it’s alive, the tiniest glinting silver fish. You watch as the secret current of the bottom of the pool toys the earring through circling eddies. You have forgotten everything but its helpless suspension when you fall forward into the pool.
In the moment after the sound of the water slapping your skin, you feel yourself wanting to panic. But even as you reel to orient yourself in the directionless blue, even as your lungs crave breath, you are adjusting to the strange suspended time of life underwater. You can see Desi’s arms reaching out towards you, long and graceful, drawing you in. You realize the water is holding you already and without knowing how, you’re moving forward. Your lungs have pulled air from their most secret resources. All this to let you see what’s at the bottom of the ocean and return. All this to protect and keep beating your most vital organ—your heart.
Art by Kerri Augenstein
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky is a writer, illustrator, and editor who tells stories at the intersection of the human and the fantastic. Her writing appears in Tin House, Guernica, Conjunctions, Book Forum, and The Story Collider. With the support of a fellowship from the Elizabeth George Foundation, she is at work on a novel about quantum physics, family, and the Alps.