There isn’t anything we can do from here. They are too far out, mere dark dots on the bright brimming water, water as white, as gray and dark, as the clouds over it.
“Must be cold,” I say. Curt is watching them, holding himself, his chin on his knees. He says something, but the wind is fierce and it pulls the words out of his mouth and carries them away, unheard.
But we can hear them, that’s the weird part; we can hear them screaming.
“Where are we exactly,” I ask. “I mean, like, what town?” Sand salts my mouth and eyes. Curt shrugs. He’s cold.
And then they’re gone—first one, then the other– and there’s nothing but the sound the ocean and the wind make, loud and relentless. It doesn’t seem real; we’re both like, did that just happen?
Our jeans are soaked from sitting on the wet sand. We’ve been sitting here for a long time; there’s nowhere else to go.
Later, in that guy’s bedroom, we take off our sodden clothes and everything else, keeping our eyes on the floor. That’s when I notice Curt’s foot.
I haven’t known him very long, but long enough, I guess, for us to do what this guy wants us to do. And fifty bucks is fifty bucks, even split down the middle, fifty-fifty.
What I think about during all of what he has us do is those two people about to go under and their struggle to stay on top of the water and how quietly it ends out there when lungs go icy and breath turns to a sort of slush.
Twenty-five bucks in my pocket and a couple of beers later, it doesn’t seem so strange anymore, watching this guy’s TV with my feet propped on his coffee table, wearing his boxers because our clothes are in his dryer, while he makes us microwave popcorn, promising to drive us home—home?—whenever we are ready. Curt has officially nodded off, wrapped up in a blanket that smells like ham, and I sneak the beer out of his lap and drink it as the popcorn pops and the guy hums something in the kitchen.
“Oh, awesome,” he said, earlier, when he saw Curt’s foot. He grabbed it and pressed it to his lips, and I saw Curt squeeze his eyes shut. He looked like he wanted to squeeze his whole self up into nothing, and I remembered myself in the backseat of my mother’s car as she careened down side streets, driving with one eye, staying off the main roads on our way home because, she said, she had a busted headlight. I would hide in the foot-well and shut my eyes, thinking, what you don’t know won’t hurt you. We made it home in one piece every time, thanks to that sort of thinking.
The guy comes out with the popcorn and more beer.
“Your buddy’s out of it,” he says, handing me another cold can. The guy is drinking something else, something that could be water but probably isn’t.
“He had a long day,” I tell him.
“You guys could crash here,” he says. “So long as you don’t steal anything or try to kill me.” He laughs when he says this. Curt starts snoring softly. I haven’t known him very long at all, I am thinking, looking at his half-opened mouth. He has good teeth, boyish stubble; he’s better looking than me by far.
“Have some popcorn,” the guy says. He might have told us his name back when he called us over to his car, but I don’t think so. He’d been parked near the shore, beyond the dunes, behind us. He might have been watching us the whole time, I don’t know. We call guys like him “Larry.” We hang out at the park near the restrooms and one of them comes up to us and we’re like, here comes Larry.
This house smells like stuff, not garbage, but almost garbage, and reminds me of a cardboard box. There’s this room and the bedroom and the kitchen and the bathroom and it’s all in one small square. All the rooms are dark except the kitchen, which glares behind my head and feels like the sun.
“I’m all outta weed,” this Larry says.
“It’s cool,” I tell him.
“Man, he’s out cold,” he says. Curt’s head has turned away from me and I can see down into the blanket at his chest. Larry watches me.
I tell him what we saw today, those two kids—boys, girls; we couldn’t tell—coming out of the dunes up-shore and stepping out into the surf, hand in hand. It was like they were taking a stroll. They walked out until they couldn’t walk and then they started swimming. They were wearing winter coats, but they still managed to swim out pretty far.
“And then they must have changed their minds, I guess,” I tell him. “We could see them,” I say, “We could hear them yelling, but there wasn’t anything we could do.”
“Did you see them, too?” I ask him.
“Hell, no, dude,” he says back. “I only saw you two.” And then he sings I only had eyes for you.
“But that’s awful, man,” this Larry says, getting out of his chair. He sits on the arm of the sofa; he puts his arm around my shoulders. I can feel his breath on the top of my head, hotter than the kitchen’s fluorescent lights, hotter than any sun.
I figure it happens whether you want it to or not, everything, all of it.
“I’ll bet,” I tell him, “That if they’d stopped fighting it they could have just floated back to shore.”
“I like the way you think, man,” Larry says into my hair. I feel the movement of his lips, the way he shapes his words, their own special heat.
“Have some popcorn,” he whispers.
“I liked you best from the get-go,” he says softly so Curt won’t hear.
I knew that night I wasn’t going to see Curt again. I knew 25 dollars could get him where he really wanted to be, or at least 25 dollars closer to wherever that was.
Me, I had nowhere to get to, or not right away, anyway.
That night Larry said he wanted to see the foot again. One last time, he said. It’ll help, he said.
And I said yes, because I wanted to see it too, almost as much as this Larry seemed to need to see it. And the two of us together uncovered Curt’s foot, and he protested in his sleep with a little whimper and then stretched out his leg, offering up the end of it for us to lay bare, to kiss the contorted toes, the convoluted arch. And it was as comforting as the ocean’s suck and pull– that last icy breath when it comes to you all of a sudden (when it should have been pretty clear all along) that everything from here on in isn’t going to be so pretty.