The Ocean Will Eat Us All

The Ocean Will Eat Us All

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Intellectually, Harrison hates the oil platforms that sit off the California coast, but something about them is beautiful. Of course, he’d never admit to that driving up the 101 at night with his wife, Carol, now pregnant and showing. He finds the way their light is reflected and broken up by the waves kind of hypnotic.

It’s a funny thing. Ever since Harrison learned that he was going to become a father, he’s felt himself changing. He’s blissed out all of the time, and he wants to solve other people’s problems. He has absolutely no desire for alcohol, and he craves everything healthy for himself and especially for Carol. Maybe this acknowledgement of beauty is part of that change. He’s turning into a father, he supposes, having the kinds of thoughts fathers have in the ways that fathers have them.

“You know,” Harrison says. He points generally east. “James Dean flipped his car and died just about thirty miles that way.”
Carol nods vaguely, and yes, Harrison realizes that the comment isn’t exactly relevant, but it’s the kind of thing that fathers tell people, the education they give to their children, good fathers that is who seem to know everything there is to know from mechanics to art. He can feel himself transforming into the man who would do anything for anyone. He thinks about the bombing that happened yesterday in Oklahoma in the federal building, and he knows that if he were there, he’d be the guy who would have come out and helped to rescue people in any way he could.

“Don’t,” Carol says before he knows what she’s talking about. Then he sees it, a truck pulled over to the side of the road with someone sitting in the passenger seat and a couple of kids in the truck’s bed. “Jesus,” she says. “Who puts their kids in the back of their truck like that in this day and age?”

Harrison’s pulling over, giving in to the man that he’s becoming, the elder of the tribe, the man who can find beauty even in an oil island, and who would drive to the federal building to help out in any way he could.

“I said, ‘don’t.’” Carol’s voice rises into an indignant squeak.

Harrison smiles at her, trying to force calm reason to take over his face. “That could be us back there.” By the time he’s able to get to the right, he’s about a hundred yards ahead of the family, and he puts his truck into reverse.

“Stop,” she says, and he does. Behind him, the man has his hands on his hips and is staring at Harrison. “He could also be a killer.”
“A killer? He’s got his wife and kids with him.” It’s just that she wants to get to Santa Barbara. This pregnancy has her peeing every hour. Maybe it’s that.
“Or maybe he’s just got someone else’s wife and children.”

This has become a test, he realizes. Her will against his, but what she doesn’t understand is that it’s also a test of humanity, of manhood, of fatherhood. “It’s going to be fine,” Harrison says. “These poor people need our help.”

He starts to back up, the man waving at him in relief. “Harrison,” she says, and something tearful in Carol’s voice makes him stop. “You’re going to have to start thinking like a father now. It’s time to grow up.”

Harrison stares at this woman for a moment. He figures that both of them know she’s being unreasonable. She rests her hands on her belly and stares at him suggesting something they both understand without words.

The man jumping up and down waving at him as he drives away reminds Harrison of all those people in Oklahoma, all those problems that he could stop. He imagines those poor people seeing him driving away from the federal building and leaving them to die alone, so he pulls his eyes away from that figure and allows himself to watch the beautiful oil platform again, its lights sparkling the peaky ocean waves.

My work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, and I have had hundreds of poems and stories published in magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom. My newest poetry collection, The Green of Sunset, is from Moon Tide Press. I am the writer-in-residence at the dA Center for the Arts.

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