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Her Breathing Sea
by Gregory Wilde  /  fiction  /  1 Sep 2007

In the clear blue water, deep and into the horizon, they sit and wait.  Their heads seem like ruby ant heads among other ruby ant heads, and their bodies sway over the constant rise and fall of the tide.  It is near one o'clock, and the sun hides behind a patch of Matisse clouds.  Minutes pass, and there is a hole in the artists' clouds where the sun parts through, allowing a slice of light into her breathing sea.

The surfers on the street are preparing their entrance into the water.  Some hold the surfboards against their sides when they walk on the sand.  They drop the boards into the sea and, slowly climbing in, paddle out until they reach the ruby ant heads.  When they are among the others, they sit in a haphazard circle.  They wait for a wave, and when one comes a surfer breaks down the blue body.  Then he rises to his feet and moves his hips, shifting his balance on the wave until the ride is over and the wave becomes a memory.

This sketch reminds me of the sea in Spain.  The waves were big that day, and the Spaniards would speak in exciting dialects.  I had a hard time understanding what they said, but when one yelled, "Mueva, esto es mi onda!" it wasn't difficult to understand.  I had never surfed alone in Spain before.  I was a lonely rider on the sea because my friend was sick and in bed.  She had a cold, and I was waiting for her to recover in the evening so we could jaunt through town, like the days when we met years ago.  My friend told me get out of town and to surf with the locals at a spot the tourists did not know of, and it would be okay as long as I didn't say much and didn't look too lost and too out of place. When I got to the beach, I walked to the shore and paddled into the tide.  I followed my friend's advice and did not talk to or look at the locals.  But before I had a chance to hide, a few tanned Spaniards swam behind me and asked who I was and how I knew of their beach.  "¿Quién es usted, por qué está usted aquí?" a young surfer asked.  "Visito a un amigo. Ella me dijo hacer surf en esta playa," I said to the surfer.  "Entiendo."  We talked for a few minutes; he seemed like a good kid and took me into his circle of friends.  I paddled with them to another break further out into the sea, beyond the reefs, where the sea breathed like a woman after making love.

My primera onda was a rush.  I rode the body of her into the shore, where some boys sitting on the sand smiled and waved.  I paddled back to my group and another wave formed, and a Spanish boy paddled over the cusp and cut through the wave and into the tube.  Then another wave joined us, and then another.  We must have caught fifteen waves before I had a chance to catch my breath.  It was the greatest set I've ever been a part of.  The Spaniards would ride their waves like a bullfighter guiding his bull to death and how a drunk pours his tequila into a shot glass.

When the waves grew larger, I was nervous.  We were much further out now.  The tides had taken us deeper into the sea, where the blue became dark sea-wine.  When I looked at the shore, the Spanish boys on the beach had turned into ruby ant heads.  Catching a wave would only bring me to the spot where we had originally begun.  The waves became larger and fuller, and the shoreline grew thinner and thinner.

Then the waves stopped.  We sat on our boards and I listened to the surfers talk in their native Spanish dialect.  When the sun hid behind a large cloud and when the sea was at its calmest, much like a resting woman, I saw a dorsal fin in the distance.  My face went numb, and my legs went heavy as lead.  I pointed and yelled, "shark!" but the Spaniards turned their heads and laughed.  One said, "Es todo bueno, usted debe relajarse!"  The Spaniards said more but my ears were blocked, my heart thumping its fears into my inner ear. The sun was at its bleakest, and the sea was pulling us further into the horizon.  I was drifting closer to the shark, and the Spaniards were laughing at my exhaustion.  I turned and paddled to the shore, but the currents kept pushing me further towards the shark.  I had to wonder then if it were better to paddle into the horizon than to paddle to the shore.  I couldn't hold a breath anymore, so I turned around to find the Spaniards, but they were so far gone with the currents that I had no choice but to follow.  I kept with the sea and she pulled me into her belly, and I could feel the shore rolling away.

The shark was hiding below, building the confidence to attack or to continue searching for a tastier meal.  I could not catch up with the Spaniards because they disappeared into the darkened horizon.  It was like they never existed.  I sat alone in the ocean, watching the sun fall into another continent.  I turned around to find the shoreline, but the houses were muted grays and reds and greens, and the people were brief reflections of light from some metal they were wearing on their wrists and necks.  I could have paddled back to the land, but the fear of the shark had taken away my spirit and energy.  The sounds were of the ocean, and when I talked, the voice I heard back was a whisper from the sea.

The sun was a crescent above the ocean when a fisherman found me and idled his engine.  He took out his binoculars and waved to me.  I waved both arms at him.  He gassed his motor and, seconds later, the motor was all I could hear.  The fisherman asked me why I was in the middle of the sea, and I told him, "He estado evitando los tiburones."  He smiled and pulled my surfboard into his boat, and I climbed on the deck.  The fisherman started his motor, and I watched our distance magnify to the shore.  The shark was gone, and the boys on the sand were gone too.

When we got to the beach, I thanked the fisherman and asked him if I could buy him a bottle of wine in town.  He laughed and told me that he did not drink wine while on the sea.  Then the fisherman started his motor and waved goodbye.  I watched his boat speed into the choppy sea, and for the first time in many years my mind went blank when the sunset flared green.

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