June 21, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Daniel Johnson
He stood on the wide strand by himself, his little feet buried in the sand. The sun was nearly disappeared. He watched the light fade behind clouds whose size he couldn’t put into words. Just pictures. Broad as Oisín’s flank, blotchy with light too. The wind picked up off the sea and cut sharply through his jumper. Mid-September and the dregs of Summer swirling in Autumn’s drain. He wanted warm milk.
Stepping forward, he started walking towards the water, unsure of what made him move his feet. The crashing of the waves was a steady roar in his ear, and the sea’s fuming grew so loud that it became silence, like the wind across the fields.
Then he reached the swelling tongue of the water’s edge. He let the last bit of a dying wave wash over his feet. It was so cold. Not like Oisín’s warm tongue. Only the wind on his ear made Oisín’s spit cold. The Atlantic was opening in front of him. He was ankle deep in the tide.
There was a demented reversal about him. There was a blackness in his eyes. He knew this alright, even if it was just a vague seedling of a notion. The water’s chill held the same Atlantic night that inked his pupils. Why did the dogs in the village never fetch for him? Why did his Auntie wince when he looked at her? Why did his baby sister cry when he held her? Only Oisín was still and calm, with his deep brown eyes, when he came through the fields to the beach.
The burgeoning moon’s pull was increasing. He went further. Knees, groin, waist, navel, nipples. Then neck, and he was just a head above water like some berry washed away. He could hardly keep his feet touching the seabed, but he was unbothered by the anarchic sway of the currents. He swung back and forth with them.
Would it drag him out? Hadn’t his father told him a million times about the Ryan boy who had gone under last year and never come up? And the young fella was a powerful swimmer too – Jesus, Mary and Suffering Joseph.
But he didn’t mind. It would be an adventure.
Then a wave rose up before him. He saw it building, gathering its immensity. He leaned into it, kicking off the bottom, giving himself up to the water. It felt as easy as flipping a coin. It pulled him into itself. He was sucked up, then under and thrown about. The power was unbelievable, and it was uncaring. No one, not even his father, would have been able to resist the wave.
He was utterly calm. It didn’t matter if he wasn’t.
The will of God be done, like his Auntie said.
His mouth and nose filled with salt water. He lost all sense of up and down and it was euphoric.
He loved it, this letting go.
Then he collided with the seabed. The shattered corpses of seashells tore at his knees. He was thrown for one last somersault and the ocean spat him out like some cavitied incisor. He was smashed face-down on the shore.
Shivering and coughing seawater, he lay there and felt his bleeding.
It would hurt to kneel at mass tomorrow.
He lifted his head and the shade of the dunes stretched towards the sky. It was nearly full-night. He didn’t need to see the dunes to know how the grass was being bent in the wind. He didn’t need to see to know that beyond the bent grass was his father’s house.
Where hurt was.
He lay in the sand, letting the tide wash over him. The sun was gone. The wind and the water were what was left.
Then he remembered that Oisin was out there in the dark too. His hide was warm and his tongue would clean the salt from his face. He shook with remorse. He would never leave Oisín alone.
He was selfish.
The priest was right.
His Auntie was right.
Poor Oisín alone in the bent grass.
The boy rose off the shore and started walking.
Michael Burke was ten years old.
Daniel Johnson is a 24-year-old writer from Ringwood, New Jersey. He lives in Cork, Ireland where he is completing an MA in Creative Writing at UCC. His work has appeared in journals such as A New Ulster, The Onion River Review, Sonder Midwest, and the Honest Ulsterman, as well as the newspaper the Evening Echo. He tweets from @DanJohnsonWrit1.