[FICTION] The Gulf Stream
Only one time, as a child, you swim in the ocean.
“It’s a gulf, not an ocean,” he says.
The salt air rises from the water. It floats between the wooden buildings of the town. You smell it. Your skin chafes. You hate it. Rocking in the waves you don’t feel chafing, but every moment out of the water is miserable.
“You’ll turn into a prune,” says your father.
With a fishing pole jammed into the beach, he digs through the sand, past the layers of white until the walls of the hole are gray and moist. Here he keeps the beer he drinks, covered with a towel.
You splash in the shallows anyway, face down like the bottles your father tosses in the surf. They could hold their breath forever, floating just below the surface. In the deeper spots near the beach where waves play out the last of their energy, you pull your legs up. Your hair floats free, jellyfish tentacles bobbing with the waves. You wish you could hold your breath forever, stay face down in the warm water too – float away on the current like an empty brown bottle.
While teaching yourself to keep your eyes open plops spiral under the yellow surface. You feel the weight of little objects on your back. Sitting up you catch your father flinging chop from the bucket at his feet. Tiny fish with nubbed fins, tiny cut up fish without heads, tiny fish heads with no fish bodies rain into the waves. The slime and streaks, the falling fish bits, stink for days, no matter how much you scrub.
Even after you scream running from the water, your father keeps laughing.
“You should see your face,” he says.
You don’t care that you won’t swim again.
Markus Egeler Jones graduated from Eastern Kentucky University’s MFA program — the Bluegrass Writer’s Studio. He teaches Creative Writing at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri. His first fiction novel, How the Butcher Bird Found Her Voice, will be published in 2017 with Five Oaks Press.