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[Fiction] Surfer’s End

by Kevin B

Near the rock where tourists posed for photos, there was a spot where no one was meant to sit. Constance scaled the rock under the Buck Moon and sat down right at the tip. The spot where you weren’t supposed to sit. She had a small, white paper bag with her and a copy of People magazine from three weeks ago. The deal was to bring the most recent issue, but she hadn’t had time to stop at the drugstore and grab the new one, so three weeks old would have to do. Although there were rules, whoever was in charge of the bargain seemed to enjoy bending the rules for her provided she didn’t push her luck. Still, she sat where she wasn’t supposed to, and she glanced at some starlet on the cover of People in a wedding dress who was already filing for divorce.

Constance would be turning seventy-four in two weeks, and she still couldn’t bear to follow directions. This was why she could never successfully bake anything.

In her peripheral vision, she could see a wave forming on her left. The crest formed beautifully as it rolled toward the rock. This place was called Surfer’s End even though, as far as she knew, only one surfer had ever met their end here. From deep in the trough, a leg appeared. Constance could never figure out why the leg always appeared first, but it did. First the leg, then an arm, then part of the head, but not the whole head, and then the board. Once the board materialized, the rest of the surfer came together rather fast. The wave picked up speed and crashed just as the moon shuddered a bit. That was a reminder that all of this was outside of understanding. It was not real. It was not happening. An observer would look at Constance as nothing more than a delusional woman with a bag full of croissants. She was cold, and she’d forgotten to bring a sweater. It seemed unfair to her that just because she was living, she was expected to do all the work.

All Snaps had to do was show up.

She didn’t turn to see her climbing up the rock, assuming she even did. Constance wasn’t sure what the movement arrangement was once you were dead. Could you teleport to any place you wanted to go? Or did you still have to traverse there the way the living did? Even then, it wouldn’t be so bad. You had all the time in the world. Why not go for a little walk? Constance decided then and there that, when she died, she would walk to Kuala Lumpur. She wasn’t sure what she’d do about crossing the ocean, but it was nice to leave some things up in the air so that you could surprise yourself with your own ingenuity.

“Who’s the girl on the cover?”

Snaps wasted no time. It always threw Constance a bit when she saw her sister again for the first time in a year and nothing had changed. In fact, nothing had changed in the last sixty years. When Snaps had gone after her last wave, she was three years older than Constance. Now her big sister looked more like her granddaughter. Despite the difference in their appearances, Snaps still spoke to Constance like a big sister. Her attitude never moved beyond that of a seventeen-year-old’s. She shook ocean water out of her ear. Then she ripped open the white paper bag and began ingesting croissants as though they were manna from heaven.

“Where are these from?” Snaps asked, trying and failing to frown since her mouth was full of pastry. “These aren’t from Petey’s.”

“Petey’s closed,” Constance said. “I had to go to a new place.”

“What do you mean it’s closed?”

“I mean it closed. Places close. The owner died, and his son didn’t want to run the place.”

“That bakery has been in their family for generations.”

“And now it’ll be a car wash,” Constance said. “A croissant is a croissant. Don’t make such a big deal out of it. You’re so dramatic.”

Constance had been dramatic, too, when she was the age Snaps will be forever. Now life didn’t seem to have such high stakes. You woke up. You went to the market. You swore to the cashier that apples didn’t taste the way they did when you were young. You took a walk to the Tennis Hall of Fame and back. You picked up some croissants for your dead sister, and then you went home to take a quick nap so you wouldn’t sleep through your reunion like you had seven years ago, because she’d never let you forget it.

“Hey, daydreamer,” Snaps said, waving her hand in front of Constance's face. “Want to clock back in and spend some time with your sister before she evaporates into the ether for another twelve months?”

“Maybe you’ll see me sooner than that,” Constance said. She made it sound halfway like a solemn promise and halfway like a threat.

“You don’t die this year.”

“How do you know when I die?”

“I’m a ghost. I know things. I know who wins the World Series next year.”

“When am I going to die?”

“The Tigers.”

“Be serious.”

“Okay, fine, they’re not going to win. But they’re definitely improving.”

“Do you really know?”

Snaps finished up her last bite of croissant, crumpled up the paper bag into a small ball, and threw it up in the air. As soon as she did, the moon seemed to gobble up the ball—crumbs and all. Snaps could do things like this. Constance wasn’t sure if all ghosts could, but her sister had always been determined to learn new things even when she was alive. She’d always known how to approach a wave. She taught every guy on the beach a new way of standing on a board that helped with balance. She always knew which stores would have a discount on suntan lotion even before the store managers did.

The one thing she hadn’t known was how to quit even when a wave was too big and everybody else was paddling back to shore.

“Do I have the date wrong?” Snaps asked, holding up the People magazine. “This is from a month ago.”

“Not a month,” Constance said. “Three weeks ago.”

“You know the bargain.”

“And what about your bargain?” Constance asked. She felt her cheeks flush despite the chilled breeze coming off the water. “What about the bargain of keeping yourself safe? Not running after every wave just so you’d have bragging rights? What about promising to stay alive so I could have a big sister instead of the ghost of one that needs visiting every year on some rock in a town I don’t even want to live in anymore?”

She hadn’t blown up like this at Snaps in decades. In a heartbeat or two, the anger was gone, and she felt depleted. It was as though she’d stood up and then sat back down too quickly. Snaps didn’t look at her, but Constance felt a warm energy surrounding her. Something that resembled an embrace. The People magazine split into a million pieces and became sand right in front of her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Snaps said. “I thought I was Gidget. Gidget never got hurt. Not seriously hurt anyway. Nothing all that bad ever happened to her. I thought I was going to become a famous surfer and then get married in Rome. Instead, I…”

She didn’t say it. It didn’t need to be said. A seagull flew up to the moon and became a dove. Then, deciding it didn’t like being a dove, it changed back into a seagull. The lights formed a pool on the surface of the water. Fish jumped out of the pool. An octopus looked up at the fish but did not join their frolic, because it was solving a puzzle. A starfish made a small dress out of seaweed. Impossible things were reversing back into the possible, but Constance did not have a big sister. That was a solid impossibility.

“You were supposed to teach me how to surf,” Constance said. She remembered her first board, remembered Snaps saying she would take her out into the water as soon as she’d conquered that first big wave of the day.

There had been a crowd that day. The wave was too big for so early in the morning. Although waves, like Constance, didn’t like to abide by rules. She watched Snaps swim out toward it when all the other experienced surfers were throwing in their chips like poker players with bad hands. Snaps kept paddling. When the break happened, Constance remembered the sound of a woman with something caught in her throat. A gasp. A scream. Who knew?

She never found out.

“I can still teach you how to surf,” Snaps said.

Constance was about to ask her not to do any weird ghost magic that would transform the rock into a surfboard, or the sand into the ocean, or the fish into fellow surfers with names like Comet Tail or Sea Grass. She didn’t want to be whisked back into time. She didn’t want to be a teenager again with a fragile heart and bad skin. She didn’t want to have a surreal moment when life had already been so surreal. When losing your sister wasn’t a nightmare, but a memory. She was about to say, “No, thank you,” when Snaps got behind her, put her hands underneath Constance’s arms, and lifted her up.

“What are you—”

Once Constance was standing, Snaps stood behind her and made a whooshing noise. She moved Constance—slightly—an inch here, an inch there. She whispered to her, “Careful, watch the way it’s breaking. There you go.” This was her surfing lesson. There was no magic to it, and because of that, it was ideal.

In front of them, the ocean pulled back and then came forward. Back and forward. Every time it got too close, it would recede. Eventually, it would swallow up the rock and the sand and the entire world.

But for now, it gave the two sisters a little more time.

Kevin B is a writer and poet from New England. They have been published in Esoterica, Molecule, New Plains Review, and Havik. They are the George Lila Award winner for Short Fiction and the Barely Seen Featured Poet of 2023.


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