My niece says, “Let me get your picture in your rain hat.” Standing on the pier, bundled all in black, a classy warm look worn by aspiring New York production assistants, she’s holding out a tiny camera.
I look down at the waves, huge and green, powered by massive gray depths of frigid water and blunt sky, pushed through by cutting winds until they meet the long expanse of Huntington Beach. Churning up long walls of sand, then falling around huge, phantom cylinders, these roaring waves slide home in vast bands, then falling hard and foamy on the sand.
These mighty shifting swells jiggle the heavy piles of the pier under us, creating little earthquakes, and we suddenly feel a bit wobbly, grab the rail, you know? Like hang on and get our fricking sea legs, maybe wait a bit to eat dinner until our stomachs recover. I mean, we’re practically rolling around the pier, you know? Trying to get a photo or two of the dramatic greenish gray day as we imagine some smirking water demon shaking the whole wooden construction below our feet.
Good grief. It’s not like we’re big ocean aficionados. We come down here now and then, take the ferry, see the beach and pier with guests, you know, to make them happy, see the waves and snap some wind-blown group shots with hats flying off. But we’ll never be navies, you get my drift? Cruises and whale watches just aren’t for us. Too much water all around. Gets our laptops and magazines wet.
Another big shudder of the pier. Rain splats on glasses, coats, fat planks, city boots. A pack of wild pelicans swoops down and buzzes us. The meaty ones with tattoos, wheeling by on pelican motorbikes, cackling like crows and spitting streams of tobaccoey juice on our hats. Jeez. Rumbles from the underworld, criticism from overhead. The wind catches my hat brim in its waterproof magenta glory. I mash it on my head and banish the camera with my hand.
“No way,” I say to my photographer niece. “This hat is from my pink period.”
“But it’s cute,” she says.
Then something grabs my foot from between the chunky boards and shoves as the pier veers violently sideways. I scream, but too late. Quick as a sandwich, I’m toppled over the side rail of the pier to the roiling nose wart below. I hit the water with a cold clunk and am sucked into the beating cowboy boots. Over and over, I horseshoe into the churning, burning crush, whirling around like carrots and peas in the blender, ashtrays and sea shells and fish bones and wooden crosses and solid shoes all combining to make some kind of soup—and I’m the protein.
Pedestrian goulash, magenta hat, captain’s orders, fractured cheese in a bottle.
Shredded, split, battered, squashed, mashed, chipped, slathered and scoured, I’m still actually only mostly dead like that guy in The Princess Bride. Haven’t had time to get anywhere heavenly yet. Maybe.
Somewhere in my ground up, swished around, flushed down state, a part of me calls to the horrified onlookers on the pier, “Wait! I’m here!”
Somewhere from my clammiest recesses, I yell, “Don’t go.”
Somewhere from my left pinkie toenail, my life, stretched, distilled and waiting, hovers, ready for surgery and stitching and a complete re-roll of the dice.
A Coast Guard boat heads my way, the skipper lean and grim under his wide-brimmed hat and slicker in the pouring rain. But as he approaches, there’s this like buzzing all around me, or, you know, the pieces that used to be me. A nasty buzzing like from a thousand angry bees, except this buzzing’s getting like way loud, you know? Like not buzzing at all, but something totally deeper and growlier. Scratchy, crunchy, eerie, vibrating machine sounds bubble up from another world, which I realize with a sinking stomach that I’ve sort of, kind of, well, entered.
The Briny Deep. My life-long nemesis.
Most of me is descending slowly, down to where the eels and crabs will fight over my crumbs. After all the time I’ve spent worrying about it, never taking that cruise, never trusting those snorkel fins, never parasailing, kayaking, kite-boarding, or even swimming much in the uncertain California surf. Never giving Neptune an inch of my time. And now I’m getting sucked under, pulled away from shore and any hopes of rescue. “Help?”
But the boat is right there now. My head surfaces once more and I try to wink or wave, catch the Coast Guard guy’s eye, but my fingers are over there, my right eye has just been snatched by a grouper, and my hand is drifting down below. All my pieces are getting washed and churned further away from each other, further out, further down toward the deep, deep salty cold of the dark, dark sea. And I slide below the surface at last. It’s gruesome. I close my eyes, well, the one I have left, but it’s still gruesome, all those sharp teeth and big gullets, a fleet of them, a regular army of sharp-toothed big-finned clammy fish chomping down on my head, my arms, my legs, my stomach, my soul. Talk about frigid.
But they don’t finish me off. Instead, they ferry my gristly bits out past the shimmying wooden pier and the continental shelf. Out through the salty, heavy, roiling surf, buffeted by rocks and seaweed. Out to a giant, black tentacled maw, tucked down, down, down out of sight and scientists’ range, its mouth undulating, its claws trolling for cheap shock flung chunk prayer flotsam like me.
I’m a goner. I’m food for the fishes. I’m spread too thin. I’m toast. No, I’m jam on someone else’s toast. After all that worry, I’m finally paying my dues to the dread beast of Neptune, to the dark, bleak, hungry deep.
And up on the surface, floats only my unshredded, pristine, pink rain hat.