THE SEA – Chris Benton
March 4, 2022
Emma calls to tell me my best friend Jon Taylor is dead.
“Yes, I’m here.”
“He drowned in his bathtub.”
“Was it a clawfoot tub?”
Jon I see you denuded, your body dipped in glowing moon death and you’re crouched on the back of a gigantic gator gliding down the Cape Fear River bound for the sea, you turn to me and your eyes are black diamonds and you smile an isn’t this awesome? smile and give me a hang ten sign.
“What the fuck are you babbling about, Chris?”
“Nothing, I’m babbling about nothing, choose your own abyss,” I say and begin laughing.
She hangs up without another word and I remember Jon Taylor, a fellow recovering addict, an alcoholic master of Jiu Jitzu, who broke our dope dealer Tod Horris’s arm during a drunken demonstration because Tod Horris was a warlock from the wastelands of Kinston County who claimed he had killed Jon Taylor in a previous life and was going to kill him again that night, as soon as he got out of Jon Taylor’s arm-lock. I would break a reincarnated wannabe homicidal warlock’s arm, wouldn’t you?
I reread the last text he sent me a week ago:
I know why the gulls can congregate in the vortex unscathed.
I pack my bag and take the first one way flight back to Wilmington, back to the sea.
Emma picks me up from the bustop and we say nothing on the way to the house, her house, and further silences are spoken in the storm ravaged home and I sleep on the couch a few hours and dream my old concussion dreams and I awake and flee from all the buried screams in the ancient walls and go outside to smoke a cigarette and Emma is standing there in a buttonup overlarge shirt, my shirt and nothing more, all powerful and she’s holding an unimaginable gun in her left hand.
“There was a burglar while you were sucking your dick in Seattle, which I know you were and can, I caught you tonguing your urethra one afternoon, six, maybe seven years back.”
“Were you harmed?”
“No I smashed my lamp on his head, but I’m ready now, I’ve been at the range for the past six months, you can be an intruder too if you’re willing.”
Before dawn I take a cab to Carolina Beach, to Fort Fisher, at the monument obelisk, and I crawl through the granite boulders to the bowl shore stretch and there’s nobody there because it’s late October and I peel my paint-stained artifacts off and carefully fold their coarse imposter memories and pull on a pair of blue swimming trunks I long ago bought at the now demolished Redix and ritually walk, then ritually run then ritually leap into the Atlantic who embraces me suddenly cold, then suddenly warm, the sea is so unruly this morning, no longer green, no longer blue, rich with hunger in the pull of its currents and all the unborn waves are angels of death and now chest deep I remember you Jon Taylor, remember the ruins of my life and wife and the sea begins to pull and my feet leaves the floor and I’m released from the life I’ve lived but not the memories, no, the memories are children of the sea, all memories are children of the sea as I’m finally pulled in, it’s either death or memory now, stay afloat, stay afloat for now, the floor of the earth finally miraculously gone, opening into another world, a floating world of immensity and death and precious breath and memory and above all time is finally lost in the sea, a blessed alchemy, a few years later I lift my head from my cruciform float and already the shore is a mile off, okay, cool, that’s cool, I whisper, that’s cool, and my whisper sounds like a prehistoric roar and the sun is finally upon me, the morning star, the light bringer and I remember praying to the light bringer when Emma was impossibly pregnant and the light bringer responded and I remember the night she gave me my first concussion three days after her miscarriage and I called Jon Taylor and Jon responded like a mythic hero on his Honda 250 he had rebuilt and we took off growling down the throat darkness of Dock Street and I’m bawling and bleeding into my best friends back, fucking up his Vitruvian Man t shirt he loved so much and he was was laughing like a maniac shouting shit I could never discern but in death shall forever translate, here comes another wave, should I flirt with her? Nope, let’s keep going out a little longer, Chris, fuck, dude, you really wanna die? I dunno, all I know is Jon’s childlike deviant grin and the invincible veins on Emma’s forearm as she swings the ten pound stainless steel Martha Stewart sauce pan she bought me for Christmas seven years before and the blow is remarkably aimed and would remain remarkably aimed for many more years, this perfect blow forever to the left side of my pre-frontal cortex feeling like the marriage we never properly had and Jon takes a detour on his dirtbike and rides a back path to Dram Tree Park, down the hill towards the slab of concrete that was a perfect ramp launching us into the Cape Fear River and the shock of submersion into total darkness was a disastrous relief but it’s not dark anymore for I see the massacred dead within water seconds, these flowering, funneling schools of silver shadows and I try to follow them but Jon Taylor rips me back to the terrible surface by my scalp and he’s laughing and I’m weeping and I’m trying not to weep now because tears are salt and salt is essential for flotation and here’s another caravan of waves and another and another and I remember I taught myself how to swim when I was twenty, myself alone, first in a pool in a condo complex where an old money crackhead friend lived and finally graduating in the sea, where I learned the transformative secret of total surrender, total devotion to the nurturing violence of vastness and as wave after wave lifts me up I remember again the first time I met my wife at a superbowl party where nobody was watching the game but she was dancing, dancing with her Roy Batty hairdo and everybody was afraid of her save for me and I began dancing with her and she was ravaged with drugs and west coast madness and I knew she would be my bride that night and we were brides for decades and the shock of fidelity healed her and I in turn became another terrible west coast memory, oh fuck here’s Jon Taylor’s prophet, a gull dipping its beak into my satanic chest feeling like that exacto night all over again and I grab it by the neck and go under the sea, watching its air-eyes fly nowhere its talons clutching my wrists, its wings now worthless yet slow beating in the depths of my ashen lungs, taking us back to the surface again and Jon’s angel releases its grip, shivers in my arms flapping the depths from its wings, slapping my face repeatedly and flying into the clear Carolina Blue towards the sun and here’s another wave, lifting me up like an infant again and I realize I’m bleeding, fuck, I’m bleeding bright blood under the lone lunatic eye of God and another wave lifts me and my blood mushrooms and asks the question of maneaters and that’s cool, getting torn apart by a shark would be cool, pure savage all-natural death, which would be a fine death, finding my leg or arm washed upon the shore, suspenseful cinematic DNA analysis and monstrous speculative mystery and that sounds so fucking stupid for I’m terrified of being devoured by a reincarnated psycho yet more pressing now is the memory of the promise Jon Taylor made to me after my brother and mom died the same year that he would do anything for me, like a better best friend, more like a lover whose tearful dopefueled embrace was more than dopfueled, was faithful beyond blood sibling marital love which brings us back to Tod Horris, and the night he broke my sister’s nose when he did shitty lawn work and she called him out for the lazy junkie grifter he was and I call my 911 mythic hero Jon Taylor and ask him to come over and he drives a compact 88 navy blue Toyota truck and he’s smiling his unhinged playground smile and do you want to roll and swim with this wave now, do you want to live? Not yet, I want to remember, the night where we are parked a half a mile away beside the watermelon field and we get out and walk under the moon, which was full by my choice, walk down the dirt road called Cary, which means nothing, walk down the dirt road holding hands squeezing in occasional affirmation until we find the singlewide with his decaying jeep, hold on, oh shit, this is a huge one, tossing my ass over and I see the shore again, and we were walking hand in hand to the singlewide under a full moon and find his decaying jeep parked in front of the singlewide and our hands detached and Jon Taylor knocks on the door and Tod Horris answers and Jon waves three twenties at him and Tod smiles and his teeth contains the terrible transparency of all this country and when he sees me standing behind him the smile widens and Jon becomes a blur of reincarnated arms and Tod is on the floor beside his TV which is playing American Idol and we both straddle him and I break his legs and Jon breaks his arms and Tod Horris guttural groans and smiles as I begin to strangle him and he keeps smiling until Jon Taylor clamps his hand over his maw of endless gratitude and BOOM, I face plant on the shore, the slow dark crawl back into the light and there’s a hook in my back and the hook belongs to a line and the line belongs to a redneck who smiles and speaks words I cannot comprehend as he gently plucks his hook from my back and gives me a towel and tallboy of Bud and I smile a smile that makes him frown and leave him, leave the sea and begin walking back to her house, our house, our home…