The ocean waters stalled a man named Seth, who was using his arms to push the Atlantic further east. He viewed the world from his perch of six feet, seven inches, in height, and was equally stalled by other things, standing in the solitude of Brighton Beach, which was deserted at dawn, waist-high in the sea, with his pants rolled from his calves to his knees. He wanted to relieve the hostility in his mind before removing his feet from the rising tide of Saturday morning. He was just a New Yorker today, not a disabled delivery man, or owner of a 53- foot, semi-tractor trailer. He scanned the shoreline for a “renewal,” a potential
religious experience, because he had thought about, and he decided he needed a renewal, and people he knew claimed these could be found easily before dawn at Brighton Beach, and, although he didn’t really believe it, his body refused to be denied the cold, dark field of the sea. He shunned the church for most of his thirty-nine years because, and having admitting it to no one, he could not sing. His father, a Kentucky Baptist man,and surely a wise man, told him everyone had to sing in church, or they’d go to Hell. He grew older, and searched for other vistas. His father said, more hypothetically, “the church is the halfway-house of basketball players,” dribbling in the driveway, and this was good, but suspect, as his father then pushed off, committing a clear, offensive foul. His father was rummaging his mind for any candor not yet revealed to his son, Seth, and bouncing the ball next to their late blue, ‘69 Ford truck; dribbling prevented Seth’s mother from hearing his father, and his views, which effectively would have ended their man-to-man. “Be a good engineer, that’s all,” his old man finally disclosed, with equanimity, pausing into a walking foul, which Seth called, as well. This was a Sunday morning, cultivating a review of the church, which was safely digested after pancakes; fantasy football was crowding Seth’s mind. “And love everybody,” his father divulged, like a tip for a three-pointer, and a short-cut to Sunday ham. His old man then pretended to wheeze, cradled the ball, and breezed by Seth for a lay-up, but he missed the square; the ball dropped to the pavement, and rolled out of play. They left the ball in a shrub.
Seth watched a mild, nearing breaker in the Atlantic, and stiff-armed it. His father meant “love your fellow man,” and it was a commandment in the New Testament. He called it “fly.” It became, “fly,” one of Seth’s young phrases; his father used it, and derived it for basketball. It was “fly,” Seth elaborated, when no opponent could pass in the paint. “That’s fly,” his father agreed. Seth nodded. “It could be fly.” His mother, savvy to all modernity, told his father at Sunday ham “fly” was merely “stylish.” Seth shook his head quietly; she was getting older. Life passed like a reel on ESPN, and its subjects, orderly scrawl at the bottom of a screen. Fly was too abstract for his parents. They’d never keep it. He had gained a scholarship at seventeen as a power forward for the Kentucky Blue, and the slot would pay for a degree in civil engineering. He married a Wildcat hurdler, Melody, who was co-captain of the track-and-field team, as a junior. They didn’t go to church, which raised the eyebrows of some of his Baptist friends, but she tried to sing once, too, at graduation, and she believed people glared at her, or gasped. The match was made in heaven. Seth told her his singing voice “scared cats.” They eschewed Sunday services together, except holidays, like everybody else, and then they arrived late, and made excuses about the poverty of the choir. Seth grimaced, and estimated the waves. New York life meant “quickness.” He told Melody he was quick, and he was “fly.” She smiled, gratefully, and he watched her to see if she understood “fly,” and he could tell she did understand, and perfectly, no flinch, whatsoever, just clear, knowing eyes. Melody was naturally attractive, really, beautiful, and smiled at him in the same way another time, after diapering their third child in a hot bedroom in the Bronx. Seth had quit engineering. He had to work. He remembered swishing the textbooks in a barrel from nine feet away; and flit sea water sideways with his palm in a flat of a calming sea.
Seth wasn’t dour. The commandment to “love one another” was a necessity for him in a hostile world; there was another team, another view, but it always gave him a slight edge, like having life insurance, or a small savings account, and it rooted him squarely in the Atlantic. Not everything was lost, but Seth felt nothing much remained, except three children, and a house worthy of a decent yard sale. He perused the score sheets of his life. He gazed at the cumulus clouds; craning his neck to view his shoes neatly-set in the sand, about a football field, a hundred yards away, he puzzled why he was here, here in the Atlantic on Sunday, and then he remembered. He came to Brighton Beach, well, to pray.
Flavin was a Coney Islander from back-in-the-day, and Flavin opined to Red, who reported to Gabriel, who maintained “Seth was just as much to blame as anyone else.” Flavin the Maven, Gabriel said. The lapsed drummer was unknown on the corner by any other name. He was Flavin the Maven. Red said this was stupid. Red was waiting on this bench for the delivery of singles of The Sunday Times. Flavin spent weekends on the bench to watch the “brunch bunch” on Ocean Avenue, usually with a friend, Nedly. Red said, “Nedly the Medley.” Nedly, and Flavin were famous in fifties in the borough for advanced percussion, and the blues, until Coney Islanders (“tourists”) who knew the blues claimed Nedly, and Flavin were not really very good. They protested years later by cuing, and pinging the aluminum trash barreltops in the octave of Ocean Avenue’s car alarms. Red shook a brown bag with two fresh pastrami, one for him, the other for Gabriel, and noted the sandwiches were intact. Nedly was saying the world was “on drugs,” his answer for any matter of circumstance. He thumbed his chin, thinking, and he said, “Oh yeah definitely. Seth was to blame.”
It piqued Flavin. Nedly knew it would. Flavin responded, “How can you say that?”
“How can I say that,” Nedly repeated.
Flavin hollered hoarsely, “The man was not even here. It was the dingbat in the Chrysler. Seth! He was no where near Alley 13.” It had happened at Alley 13, which was not a real place, but Alley 13 had became a fictional place of “magnitude” in this neighborhood, and everything of consequence happened in Alley 13. Thirteen was an unlucky number. A moment eluded him, and Flavin flailed his arms. “Nothing to do with it, Seth,” and double-thought about it, making sure he was still taking the right side.
Nedly said, “Not.”
“He’s reprehensible,” Flavin said, upgrading his view, but losing interest. “Nedly the Medley is reprehensible. A man is a man is a man.”
“Wow,” Nedly replied, nonplussed. “How? How am I reprehensible, w-what you said. Were you there?”
“Nooo,” Flavin said.
“Well neither was I!” Nedly said, a possible triumph.
The voices in the Coney Island night were surely a figment of his medication. He murmured the unexamined life may not be worth living, but there was a great deal to recommend it. He breathed at about three-thirty; recaptured was his sobriety and a little color, and temperament, edging away from a depression. Midlight is a familiar companion of heart failure, CHF, and other diseases, which attach quickly with social disorder. He mulled Near-Death Experiences; NDE, the acronym, like other acronyms, it imputed a matter was completely solved, and answered to a nickname. “NDE.” Midlight is NDE as a television series; if it was not primarily a daydream, he would be a visionary; everything became something new to view, particularly the notions of anything he hadn’t done in his life, and everything he needed to do before relinquishing possession of his mortal coil. The alternative was the volume of reports, and applications for medical and financial relief. It was far more comfortable in the murky niche between midlight, and NDE, and the invisible glass canoe of Sombrero; by contrast, to midlight, an NDE is an exhilarating dive from a beautiful cliff. He had read about it. He Googled it. His avatar now easily-traversed in a conscious state to a community of fellow travelers, times, to be evaluated, like meeting strange people on the subway. He was adept at discerning ghosts from apparitions from projections. Cool too was CHF permitted him to eliminate many theories, and propound, even alone, in the dark, how he, – yes, he – really knew; it was a discovery of how vast is the scope of what we do not know.
Perhaps his nether passage was not really an NDE. He could not recall any shining white light; these junkets in the plain of day were never illuminated by any welcoming glare, there were people, real people, pleasant, wagging-finger types, more of a train platform, or airport passenger area, than a dark tunnel. Keeping it to himself was decidedly best. He recalled how his students were usually stuck on such things; they needed to sort them out, solve the private Idahos in their universe, to find practical answers for life’s myriad riddles before pressing on to FHA loans, crabgrass or condos, or garden hoses; first Plato, then Dollar General. He was a seer with a short attention span. He began to adopt the implicit view of NDE, known as the “television tube” view, which claims the brain at the moment of death is becoming kaput. A person’s life isn’t illuminated at last call; that is, ghosts still need a flashlight. If there is a “bright, white light” at the end of life’s tunnel, it is light energy still dimming, the electro-magnetics of the brain converting to a, er, blank screen, to “no signal,” at best, in transporting to a grand elsewhere. The midlight was generous, and daydreamier. There were people in this midlight, in this dimension, and they weren’t just kindred disabled, or others with afflictions, such as Parkinson’s Disease. It was daytime; there were no baskervilles, or hounds; in this daze, a row of a partial, ischemic fancy, within the compering impulse of a severely-damaged heart, he could visit anywhere, in color or black-and-white, plainly awake, landscapes beyond the thin veils of life and death. The white-light people, with all due respect, need to press their SSID router buttons, or wirelessly find a gushing, departed aunt. Life intervened at daybreak, ending his private ruminations, as with it, Red, and son, Gabriel, his neighbors, and play-by-play analysts, knocked the door to order a “man’s breakfast,” – which was, evidently, waffles, – and also breathless to divulge the latest of yarns third-hand from the city of New York.
Seth prayed, I don’t hold a grudge against the guy, and was soused by the Atlantic. That isn’t it. That isn’t what this is about. I don’t know if You know anything about it, Lord. I have to make sure. He could be to blame. Listen, I went to every store in Brooklyn, and the Bronx. I talked to street gangs, we talked some trash. I asked the police officers, m-meter maids. I asked the garbage men. FedEx. One of the street sweeper guys. I need evidence. But You know everything. Tell me evidence. He stopped the prayer for a moment, as he was unsure whether it was God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit was on the line, and, as well, Which, or Who, was in charge of What. He didn’t know. “I’ll just tell you what happened,” he said.
“Go back,” Nedly said. “You lost me.”
Flavin beamed in disbelief. “What ain’t you got? Because I ain’t started. You always do that.”
Nedly said, “First is this lady, and she’s voluptuous.”
“Melody. Her name is Melody.”
Nedly continued, “A doctor from Kentucky.”
“No,” Flavin corrected. “They were the Bronx. They went to school in Kentucky.”
Nedly disagreed. “They were from Kentucky. They moved here.”
He shook his head. Flavin took over slowly, and told Red, “She was from the Bronx, I think. Anyway. She’s running the AA thing about heart attacks. There’s a dozen people in the building over there.”
Nedly interrupted, and embellished, “It was a seminar, it was about heart palpitations, they said. They’re called heart palpitations. Arithmetic-a?”
They ignored each other speaking together for a moment, and then Flavin won out again. Nedly shook his head. He told the last story, about a milk cow loose on 86th. Flavin said, “It takes about an hour. Melody comes out to take a smoke break. But she doesn’t smoke. She’s gabbing, looking all around.”
Seth decided to go with Jesus’s in-box. He reasoned Jesus was a fisherman, and probably nearby. You know his name already, I’m sure. I’m sure he’ll get detained some day. For a while, like that. If not, the guy’s name is Viktor. He’s from the Czech Republic. But…see…this goes back, about eleven years. Viktor was a Detroit Red Wing. The hockey team. The Red Wings are playing for the championship., and want home ice advantage for the playoffs. They just have to beat the Bruins. The Boston Bruins. There’s…what…two games left in the season. Now this is what I’m told. I could be completely wrong. You know how stories get after they are told, and retold. He could have been a Bruin, say, or vice versa. Doesn’t matter. It changes the whole season…ultimately…the whole championship!
He washed his face with the ocean water, wondering aside about baptisms, and then dismissing baptisms, and continued once his face was fresh from the splash. Viktor is a defense-man. I guess he’s very good. Who knows. But here it is: He’s playing defense at the end of the game…two minutes left in regulation play, and the Red Wings, let’s say the Red Wings, they’re tied with the Bruins. He rushes back on defense, I mean, he rushes back, because he is behind the play. He had gone up on offense. Try to score. Now he circles, and he makes a nice move. He’s one of the better players. He gets ahead of a guy, his guy, the one he is supposed to cover, and then leans to stop him. His guy is the puck-carrier. He’s just crossed the blue line. He’s got a hefty, lefty shot, a heckuva shot. The guy goes for a one-timer, a slap shot, at the goal. Viktor’s got him. No sweat. Viktor’s right up on him. There’s just enough room to shoot. And the puck is big as a beach ball to Viktor’s eyes. He can see it. No sweat. But the Bruin guy dekes, and he winds away the other way, and decided to snaps a wrist shot towards the goalie. Still no problem. Viktor can block it. He sees the puck in the air. He dives at it, and whacks it with his glove.
Seth shook the seawater out of his hair. Things aren’t always simple, Lord. I feel for the guy, if You can believe it. The puck see, it hits his glove. Viktor only changes the direction of the puck. He like…redirects it. The goalie is bewildered. The puck was going in one direction, but now it’s going in another direction, because of Viktor’s whack. Puck goes in the net.
You know the rest. Detroit loses. Boston gets home ice. They win the Cup. Whatever. I’m not sure what year it was, but Viktor never lives it down. They ultimately release him. He agrees with them. The whole lousy nine yards. Seth paused, more reverently. Viktor may have told You about it already. He had a chance at the Hall of Fame? Down the drain in two seconds.
Seth realized he was alone in the waters off Brighton Beach, and became suddenly angry, unsure of the complete facts of the play. He hollered into the horizon, and the ocean around him, “Why do these things happen?” It was futile. He added, for all I know, Lord, it was Harvard-Yale.
“I don’t know about you, Flavin,” Nedly said, his hand on Red’s arm. “What do you know? You don’t know anything. I have to help. Melody came out for a Newport, or a Kool. Everybody sees this hottie, and she’s there smoking a cigarette. Plus she’s rich. She’s got a white coat. They can tell she’s a doctor.”
Flavin recoiled, “How do they know she’s a doctor?”
“That’s just stupid. But I feel bad for the husband. I feel bad for him.”
“You said he was to blame!” Flavin replied, and then he yawned. “Seth is the guy’s name.”
Nedly continued the story, “So, the doctor, Melody, the physician, which everybody knows, comes out at a break in the AAA talk about heart attacks. Seminar. She decides to walk across the street, Alley 13, for some reason. She uses the crosswalk.” Flavin was unheard when he tried to interject “AA” was short for Alcoholics Anonymous, and “AAA” for Automobile Association of America, and neither was a heart disease clinic. He scratched his chin, wondering how people mentally fade away.
Flavin responded, “Traffic slams to a halt! A Chrysler stops a foot away from her. The front of the car is just … j-ust … over the crosswalk line. There’s a cabbie accident at the other end! Everything, the chain reaction, … and there you are. Zip. That’s it. She wasn’t even hit.”
Nedly rallied, “She doesn’t have to be. Got it? She’s got palpitations.”
Flavin resolved, wearily, “It could have happened anywhere.”
Nedly agreed, “Yup.”
Flash forward, Seth said, ten years now, Lord, turning to face Brighton Beach, and casually move south in a weak current. It’s last week or so. Viktor doesn’t ever get over this hockey thing. He thinks he does. But no. It’s so hard to say. I understand that. He lives in Manhattan, and he goes to Coney Island, and this particular day he goes to Alley 13. No, wait, he’s going to bail out a guy at the police department. That’s what it is. He’s on the south side of the street, down from where the lights are, way up a few blocks. The street is backed up. Both sides, both ends. There’s this lady, and she’s got a toddler boy, and she’s got him by the collar. She’s carrying grocery bags. The kid tugs, and gets loose. Lady drops the groceries on the pavement. Viktor is just right, innocently right behind, so close enough to hear a jar of grape jelly smash, and break from dropping on the cement. Viktor has got reflexes. He’s got real reflexes. NHL. The toddler wants to touch the cars! Believe it? Whoa. Seth paused to take another breath.
The toddler’s in the street. The mother loses it. It’s hopeless. She’s crazy now, the mother. All she does, stand and scream, like it’s going to help. Cars are moving pretty good, but it’s congested. Yellow Cab screeches. Viktor yanks the toddler’s collar, lifts him right out of the street. The cab stops. Everybody stares at everybody. Like you know. Etc. Etc. Shock, relief. Viktor, he never says a word. He sits on the sidewalk, asphyxiated, like; why, I don’t know, but he feels worse than anyone. He’s a hero. He’s great. Fly. Somebody takes his photo with a selfie phone. Long…freakin’ pole. And it all ends up in the paper. He’s holding one of his hands in front of his face. Weird. It’s the same hand, without a glove, that lost the NHL championship years ago.
Lord, your job is tough. People just don’t get things, Seth said, wide-eyed, taking high, heavy steps, in a trudge of the seawater in the Atlantic. What happens is Viktor goes home to Manhattan. He’s on TV news, tabloids. Yesterday, the TV shows two recycling guys getting out of their truck, and applauding him in front of his uptown brownstone at home. One of them says, “Hey, that was pretty lucky,!” And like Viktor, he says nothing.
Seth didn’t notice the huge, sandy footprints leading to his apartment door, and worried about them the next day. He jangled the house keys into a glass dish. Seth couldn’t remember ever having said a prayer. The daze of grief made every step, and gesture sure, and precise. He stood at the mantle, and said, most of all, Lord, help me not make a mistake. He braced, reached for Melody’s homecoming picture, and put the tips of his fingers on the glass. He began never to forget. ◊
¤ JUKE BOX ¤
Theme: playlist, “Flea Markets, Nos. 1-50,” a myopic vaile (No. 28)
| “Countin’ On A Miracle,” Bruce Springsteen |
“The Echo By Seas” is one of three works by SODA TOM, from The Echo By Seas; & Other Stories by Soda Tom.
Created by Soda Tom. Copyright (C) 2018-19, 2017; ff.
All Rights Reserved.