Fiction

Mother Ocean Son

 

His mother wobbles ahead of him, eager to find a spot to sit. This won’t be hard to do, because it’s January and even though they’re in the Gulf it’s cold and not many people want to be at the beach. Job carries his mother’s towel and bag and shoes, along with his own, behind her. He can feel the sand underneath his toenails. It catches in the hair on his legs when the wind blows it up. He squints when it’s blown in his face, and he turns his head when the wind tosses his mother’s sundress around like a flag flapping upward, revealing the spider veins on her thighs.

Right here, she says, waiting for him to set down their things. She offers to help him with the beach towels, which doesn’t do much good, because she holds onto her hat with one hand. The wind blows the towels every which way, and Job can’t avoid getting sand on the upsides. The granules dig into his knees as he kneels to place shoes and other weights on the corners of the towels. His mother looks out at the ocean, rolling towards her with a prevailing freshness.

Watching her, he gets a lump in his throat, imagining what she sees is different than what’s before him. She looks out at something completely new and vast, never having been to the coast. Job has, and he becomes jealous of her, wanting to fall under the spell of the ocean, of its size and weight, of its proportions, or of anything at all. He thinks of impressionist painters and how radical their departure from realism was. How their work was bared from the salons. How genuinely new the visions of Cassatt and Renoir and Morisot were, but how dry and worn they seem to him now.

For a moment he is proud of himself for bringing his mother to the beach. And he is proud of her.

She turns around and pulls off her sundress. She’s done looking, ready to act. To move. Come on, she says, waving for him to join her. Lets get in! But he only smiles and says, Not right now. Maybe in a minute. She jokes that he’s no fun and jogs over to the water. Her bathing suit is even more ill-fitting now. He can see from the patchwork fabric where her breasts and stomach and bottom should be. But she’s lost weight since she’s been sick, and her skin hangs heavy on her shoulders.

She shrieks from the cold as her feet slap the shallow saltwater foam that billows in before receding with haste. But that doesn’t slow her down. She makes leaping strides over the water until it reaches her knees and then her waist. Her arms swing in the air as she hollers with excitement, and her weight shifts around her frame like a loose garment. She yells for her son to take her picture and to join her in the water. But he only nods with a put-on smile.

At a short distance, a young couple near Job’s age walks toward them. They’re bundled up in sweaters and are walking slowly because they have to stop every so often to kiss. He only watches them out of the corners of his eyes, because it would be embarrassing to be caught looking. As they get closer, Job can see that they are both beautiful, and he lets himself turn toward them more, slowly, degree by degree. Her boyfriend puts his hands on her bottom and her stomach, and she comes to a halt. Her feet dig into the sand as he catches her mid-step and turns her toward him to pull close. Job acknowledges that he should look away. Away from them, and toward his mother. But he lets the cold breeze sweep him up with the young couple instead, and stands vulnerable and ashamed, as if her were naked on the beach, for fear that someone might notice him.

Job! Honey, take my picture! He darts back toward his mother and the ocean, afraid that her call may have drawn the couple’s attention, that they may have seen him watching. He kneels to pull the Kodak out of her bag and is careful not to get sand on it while quickly rising and moving toward the water. His mother faces him with a smile, and laughs when a wave comes in from behind her to pick her up and place her forward. She plays in the water like a child, thrilled, and feels healthier than she has in a long time. Perhaps even more alive than she has since she was young. She is more active than she’ll be in the months to come. Weeks even. But Job is embarrassed because she’s being silly, and because he can see her nipples through the wet nylon clinging to her chest.

Smile, he calls out to her. He raises the camera to his face, and his back breaks into a sweat as the couple approaches and walks quietly past.

 

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