He used to be an ocean man.
In Los Angeles the ocean is present but disembodied, which in these times feels apt. In these times, he remembers the way things feel more than he remembers what they are. Today, they sit him in the armchair by the garden window. With the sun on his skin, he smells for salt in the air, hoping it triggers a memory.
The feeling of floating on a wave comes to him though the name of the action doesn’t. So many things have are like that now— when memories are fluid they come by way of raised hairs on his arms, a quick jump of his calf muscles, or the momentary racing of his heart. They wash over him and ebb once more; the tease of tide, and he, he exists in a state of feeling.
The aide with curly hair and a childish smile approaches him, a banana in hand. “What do you want to do today, Mr. O?” she says.
He doesn’t know why some people grow old quickly, and some don’t. He knows the science of it, sure, but not the ethics. For a man like him, he’s always known there’s something beyond the science, something that moves lower. Any man who spends his life at sea can tell you that there are things we don’t have answers to; any man who spends his life at sea can tell you there is a depth that is deeper than the depths we know.
Once, he wasn’t just any man. But in these times he may as well be Adam— the reality of his life sits before him in the armchair by the garden, his body cradled by the cushions, while his mind is two feet out the window. In these times, he’s losing his grasp on the man he was. The body, he’s learned, is anonymous. If you found a body rolling in on the shore, you buried it nameless and unmarked in the sand. The bodies, his body; all are men spat out by the waves.
He can smell the salt more strongly than usual today. His mind drops into his body to soak up the scent and together, for the moment, he relishes in the presence of himself. He dives deep, he backflips, he threads the water between his fingers. He swims to the place where sound ends and silence begins, where the weight of water snuffs out the primal moan of living in favor of a rich, delicious quiet. He searches for the answers— why him? Why this way? Why the slow realization of dying?— but the water is as deceptive as ever. The truth always sinks lower than he can reach. When he breaks the surface his mind cleaves. He sits, running his hands along the wool of the chair and wiping the late summer sheen from his face. When the sun sets, they’ll feed him and tuck him into sleep again, and he’ll dream of displaced sensation.
When the time comes, he thinks, he wants to ride the water again, young, tanned, and thick-skinned. He wants to come rolling in toward the shore. He wants to feel the ocean under him one last time.
He knows she’ll say no. They always do. “I want to boogie board,” he says. “How about we go to the beach?” She laughs a tinker bell laugh. “I don’t think so, Mr. O,” she says. “But maybe we can arrange it for another time.”
Sara Schuster is a writer, currently hiding in Los Angeles. She loathes the heat, so it’s been a trying few years out west. She's learned to double up on deodorant. Her work has appeared in The Penn Gazette and Cleaver Magazine, as well as Philadelphia Magazine.