The water’s edge of the Pacific was glowing with light. Muk now understood why the air was thick with the smell of death and decay. Tonight featured a Red Tide. Algae were blooming, creating underwater havoc. The ocean was flat. The small rollers hit the shore and shot a bright run of neon green across the break line. If the surf were bigger, with some action and agitation, the beach would pop like Vegas. Line after line, of blue chartreuse, spit and slapped the shore. It was beautiful. It was a miracle, a freak of nature, an explosion of phosphorescent color.
Muk took a swig of vodka then tied his shoulder-length hair into a tight knot.
He wedged the palm-sized plastic bottle into his wetsuit against the nape of his neck. Zippered tight. He lazily bent down and picked up the board.
The world’s edge could still be seen, a faint line on a distant horizon, soon to vanish.
“I’ve been a solid sibling. I’ve done my parents well. As insane and wrenching as it was, I gently carried each one through the last leg of their journey.” Muk shook his head and silently laughed. His mother was a piece of work; she did not make it easy. His Dad did, a gentle soul. Muk dug his foot into the sand.
“The kids are set. The heroics of fatherhood are long over. I can’t advantage them anymore. Just burden.”
There was nothing else to do but hesitate and linger. No doubt came to mind. Arguments have been made. All opposition has been lost, long lost. There was no thought except for the sensation of warm water against his toes. Sand swirling. An oilrig far off the coast was lighting up like a Christmas tree. Then another. And another. The coast was lined with oil platforms.
“The first wife was a peach. I can’t really remember the second. I remember all too well the current. No love lost. Bitch-bound by the bonds of dwindling assets, ballooning liabilities and dull mutual acquaintances. We’re too tired and too broke to split. We can’t afford to live apart. We can’t afford to live together. Marriage of the moribund.”
One foot in front of the other. Faster out of old habit. Soon Muk McKaylee was skimming across the surface of the Pacific, his razor’s edge.
“Christ, I never thought I’d live this long anyway. All the crazy stuff. Derring-do. Mosh pits. Fave raves. Faster, pussycat, faster! No hesitation, just go! Let’s do it! Bull in a china shop. Take no shit. Never kiss the dull and uninteresting. Roll the dice. Loudly into the night. Life is a banquet and there are too many suckers starving to death!” Muk stopped paddling. “At the end of any Sunday, there is no free brunch.”
The swells were long and low. Muk looked back, floating gently above the surface. He could still see a few lights from the million dollar homes along the coast. He was exhausted. His forearms screamed. His shoulders were killing him. He crawled to sit upright. He reached back, flailing, to eventually dislodge the vodka bottle that had inched down his back under the wetsuit. His muscles were so tired that his coordination was shaky and mindless.
He took a long draw. “Fuck!” The burn in his throat felt good.
“Maybe I should have trained for this. Gotten in better shape.” The absurd notion made him chuckle. “Shouldn’t death be as violent as birth?”
Muk finished the half-pint. He capped it and started to toss the plastic bottle into the deep blue sea but caught himself. “In this human-ugly life, nature offers the only purity.” He stuffed the empty recyclable back into the neck of his wetsuit.
“My grandmother, the wild one, took me aside once, at a time when I was having way too much fun. She and I were drinking Dr. Pepper, looking out at the ocean. That filly, she was chomping at the bit till the cocktail hour. I could and always did tell her everything. Everything. And she loved it. Encouraged it. But this time, she took my hand. I’ve never seen her worried. Turns out she wasn’t long for this world and knew it. She said, “Muk, you’ve always been so busy” — she tried to find the polite word — “living, and things have always come so easy to you. I worry that life will some day present to you a bill, a marker that you will find hard to pay.” There wasn’t much to say to that. As a man of opportunity and the next Big Thing, I thought she was dithering. I get it now. I can’t pay the chit. I can’t afford the tab. I can no longer afford the lifestyle to which I have grown accustom.”
Muk was stretched out flat, paddling. His hands felt very heavy. Every stroke howled and burned. And in a way, it felt good and appropriate. He had found his cadence, like a galley slave on a Roman ship. “Die, Motherfucker!” Stroke. “Die, Motherfucker!” Stroke. It made him laugh.
“I see my future. I see the struggles I’ll have to surmount. The rebuilding I’ll have to chance. The Roger Dodger, Gung-Ho, mount-ups. The giddy two steps forward and the miserable four back. The dull humiliations. The fancy of fake friends. The three a.m. sweats, waking with a gasp and a shudder. Horror in the gut. Fire in the hold. There is no reflection at the bottom of an empty barrel, just wet wood.
“Life is pay to play. No tickee, no washee. No dough, no hope. Certainly no room service.
“Money is the sucker punch that ends every argument. It trumps good looks, a keen mind and a smart operator. Opportunity begins with money. Sweat is a fantasy.
“I’ve already done it, many times before and I don’t wanna do it again. Been there, done that. I’m tired. I am so tired… So tired.”
A fish, a fairly large fish, a yellowtail, broke the surface and the silence with a crescendo of water and spray. Just eighteen inches away, hit with cold water, Muk flinched bodily and audibly. His hands and feet hit the deck long before the fish slapped back into the sea. It took a few moments for the event to process, the alarm to quell and the quiet to return. Muk laughed as he wiped the salt water from his eyes. “Nature amazes.”
If Muk had been fading, he was clear and present now. The water felt colder. The stars were brighter, in greater colors, and there were more of them. Thankfully, the swells remained wide, long and gentle.
Muk lifted himself on shaky arms, and with much labor, brought his knees up and under him. It took more effort than he had imagined, more pain than he had bargained. He leaned forward and started to paddle. A stroke. Butt up, a stroke. Another followed another. But not for long. Paddling on your knees is too aggressive. No need for speed. Muk fell slowly forward and let his legs unfurl. The wax on the board stuck to his cheek. He spit salt water and realized that he was very, very thirsty.
Muk looked up. He was too tired to lift them, so he threw his hands forward. He grabbed water and heaved. The board shot forward. His arms soon rediscovered their groove, a tired and true rhythm.
“I’ll never forget a Hare Krishna festival at Venice Beach. In a tent they had a 3-D maquette of the Circle of Life. What a circle! The little baby that grows and stands powerful as a man only to reverse the process as the man becomes a childlike old drooler. Cradle to the grave. Gory little statues for every age. Nip that idea in the bud. The Hare Krishna spelled it out cold. The argument was all too clear. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Diapers to diapers.
“The will to survive is a very powerful notion. It is often blind and senseless. You see it with the decomposed seniors or a repeat cancer patient. How much indignity or painful radiation will you take, just to see another sunrise? How many diapers will you wear to hear a bee buzz once again? What’s the price of that ticket? I’d rather go out on my own two feet. Boots on.
“Time to get at the Grand Finale, while the body can still make a fine corpse, long, long before the waves of decrepitude erode and exhaust all beauty. Let’s get this fucker over with. Before the twinkle in my eye becomes a tiresome tear.”