Jay Lake, author and fellow frequent visitor to the halls of medicine, posted a lovely picture on his blog and encouraged his readers to submit a flash fiction piece of no more than 500 words based on that picture. I showed it to my wife and we both agreed that we would both write our stories and contrast the two to see how different our perspectives were of the same photo.
And, so, here’s mine:
We told Grandpa not to do it. Surfing, we said, is a sport for younger men. Not octogenarians. Not men looking to make up years lost to work and children and two dead wives. Not men with liver spots, bifocals, and a pacemaker. The closest he should go to the ocean, we joked, was applying Sea-Bond to his dentures.
But Grandpa had fought the Germans. He had fought the Koreans. He had fought heart disease and cancer—twice—and was not afraid of a little water.
We watched him as he stood at the edge of the water, the board tucked between his too-thin arm and the puffy pink swim trunks, staring out at the Pacific from beneath his blue fedora like some character from a Neil Gaiman novel. Then, he turned and waved at us before striding out into the tide and laying the board out before him with gentle reverence. He wobbled as he mounted it like an awkward teenage lover, raising his hand to us again as he steadied himself, acknowledging that he had it all under control. As he paddled out, the sun fell beyond him as though to meet him at the horizon.
For some time after that, we only saw him in glimpses. The blue fedora would vanish for a while, long enough for us to exchange concerned glances, then it would appear again, farther out than before, cresting a wave as Granpa’s arms spun through the water like opposing windmills. None of us grandchildren could remember seeing him so full of vigor, as alive as the sea he commanded. Our chagrin, ever so slowly, was beginning to turn as we considered the possibility, for the first time without prefix, that he might succeed in his fool’s quest.
Then he was facing us. He rose atop the board, his white picket legs spry and sure, the blue fedora defying the wind and waves to cling to his head. As the surf rose up behind him, we saw his face clearly against the dying day, a beatific smile stretching his thin lips as though his dentures might spring out of his mouth from pure excitement. It was a moment, perhaps the first moment of his long life, of pure ecstasy. In those few seconds, Grandpa was transformed from a dying old man to a mythological being, Poseidon on fiberglass, driving toward the shore.
The wave rose up behind and beneath him like a clutching hand, the white, foamy fingers blocking out the light as they closed about him. The blue fedora and the smile vanished beneath the gaping maw of water as the ocean crashed down upon him, exacting vengeance upon this mock deity. The board shot upward, spit out like gristle, but Grandpa was gone, all his memories and laughter and defiance washed away.
I alone was left when the blue fedora reached the shore. I placed it, a dripping tribute, atop my head and walked back up the beach.