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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction

Our Secret Code

I was standing in the middle of the ocean.

It was a tenuous position to find myself in, I found myself looking towards the beach, upright on small yellow plastic raft. I had paddled out to the middle of the water with my brother John. From that perspective, there was nothing but water surrounding us. I leaned around to look around, and I felt like I was marooned here. We found ourselves what seemed like miles away from shore. I saw the lifeguard stands slowly receding from view as we waited to reach the edge of the shallow water and into the rougher inner surf. I saw huge gatherings of seagulls flying in patterns, converging in v-shaped patterns as they effortlessly glided over the waters. In the distance, I saw boats racing along the water, chopping through the waters in quick, mechanized motions. Looking around, I couldnít see anyone else nearby. We were just two small kids on our own, daring to explore at the heels of the oceanís edge. As we moved further out, the water gave off its distinctly salty smell, and green texture assuring me of its sanctity. Its choppy waves rolled slowly under my feet, rising and sinking, timing their movements in uneven yet predictable flows. I felt the sun over my head, bearing its full force downward, soaking through the water. Glistening from its reflection, the waves looked like they contained thousands of tiny stars. The skies stretched outward to the horizon, and the small whispery clouds paled alongside Its unchallenged light. Heat and water permeated the air, soaking everything in its bright light. Unrelentingly heating the air and ground, the heat gave everything a warm glow that made the day like it could stretch on into infinity.

Under the sunís watchful illumination, I stood up haltingly as our tiny raft was pushed and pulled from every direction by the choppy waves. Slowly, the tides subsided and we reached a calm spot, I balanced my feet and felt the water coming over sides of the small barriers provided by our little raft. I was a little bit mesmerized by the moment, until I heard my brother. He wanted me to jump in, but I hesitated. The water seemed really deep out here and we seemed to have pushed a little bit farther out than normal. Its currents were much stronger than what I was used to swimming and playing in. I had spent a long year the previous summer learning how to swim. It was a little frightening, especially since I was still afraid of putting my head underwater. It took awhile, but Iíd learned how to hold my breath. At first, it was difficult to get the timing right, and Iíd frequently find myself coughing up a mouthful of seawater. Gradually, I learned the rhythms of the currents and which made it became a less intimidating place. On this hot day in the middle of June, it seemed natural for us to play in the water. Most of my fears had subsided over the years, and as I gained confidence I felt more at home under the sun.

I was a little nervous but, having my brother nearby made me feel less apprehensive. We didnít really need to say anything to each other, just a quick look and we knew. I looked at him and he knew what to do instinctively. There wasnít much thought as to what would happen next. He grabbed my ankles to help my balance and increase my courage. I leaned down, jumped and took the leap and plunged into the water, causing a huge splash. I quickly sank under the waves before resurfacing, bobbing my head above water to breathe once again. I felt the cold water on my skin and it temporarily tempered the hot rays of the sun, bringing relief. My brother quickly followed suit and we were quickly swimming and splashing away. It seemed like we had the entire ocean all to ourselves, an endless liquid playground where the only thing interrupting our adventure was the occasional clump of knotty seaweed. We kicked our legs, splashed water at each other, swam laps and dived down to try and touch the bottom of the ocean. My brother and I found a natural home in the sea, under the warm protective glow of a benevolent sun. Out there riding on the waves, we were free, nearly a mile out of reach of the beach, we had only ourselves to rely on. This didnít bother us one bit, we didnít need anyone holding our hands. We had a few little games that we liked to play, like dunking each other or looking for treasures, like sea shells at the bottom the water. This was always our little thing and we didnít need much prompting to play, we set our own rules.

As the morning wore on and melted into afternoon, we swam onward as our sun grew in its power, saturating the day with its searing heat and relentless gamma rays. We decided not to risk sunburn happening to us again and began to paddle back to the beach. Instead of taking the path straight back, we used the incoming tidal flow to our advantage and swam leftward with them, moving horizontally with the currents, tugging our now deflated and flooded raft behind us. We kicked and swam our way back to the shallow water, reaching the point where we could stand again, where we faced another obstacle, The beach was rock-strewn and dodging the sharp edges and uneven footing was another game we played. The trick was to find a smooth spot in between the rocks and use that as a balance and look for another smooth section. This was hard at first, since the murky green water made it difficult to see where our feet would land. As we reached the shallower sections near the beach, the water grew clearer while the rocks got smaller, making it easier for us to skip them until we reached the smooth, granulated sand of the beach. Once the water receded, the sand was still saturated with water, making it clumpy and muddy. This mud accumulated on our feet until it created a protective layer that covered the bottom of our toes. This was messy, but also helpful since it protected our feet from the sands further up, which at this point in the day had become fiery embers that burned your feet if you touched them without sandals.

When we came into the beach, we ended up on the other side of the entrance, so we had to walk the full length back to the blankets where our shoes and things were. We took the sidewalk, which let the sand slowly fall off our feet, washing it away in the cold showers. Passing by the swing-sets and slides, we finally arrived at the blanket headquarters. We dried ourselves off, removing some of the salty residue and told mother that we were going to walk to the outer edge of the beach and go have some fun. She gave us some money and we put on our shoes and ran over the hot sands towards our goal. We had to go all the way over to the other side of the beach once again, and reached the roadway that divided the main beach from the other buildings. We were dodging the cars driving by on the inner roadways, oblivious to the dangers they posed. As we ran past the other kids, we probably looked a little bit odd to those who were walking by.  They didnít know that there was an irresistible calling coming from the other side of the street and there was no stopping us from getting there. We moved past the flanks of tall trees, over the blades of grass stopped at the edge of the sidewalk, where our tantalizing goal awaited now only feet away. After baking in the sun all morning, it was time to escape the sunís relentless assault.

It seemed like we were running with no direction, but we knew exactly where we were headed.

(go to part 2)

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