DANIEL ADLER: In the ocean too far from shore

Flash Fiction by Daniel Adler

The Shark 

Circle the table for the seven. Point with my cue to the corner. Lean, slide, knock it in.  

The lamp swings gently over the table as I circle again—key to surveying and keeping your opponent unbalanced, circling.  

Four ball—much harder here, side pocket. Square the hips. Grace it in.  

Next, the yellow one. Straight across the green baize from the kitchen. Steady. Their eyes on me with expectation.  

Slam it.  

Fingers glance the chrome as I round, survey, bend for what’s next.  

He’s been staring, curiosity and hatred in his eyes. Square-jawed, stubbled, brown-haired, dumb, moody eyes—and the leather jacket with the tank underneath tells me mommy didn’t love him enough. His friend in the shadows is scrawny and sour-faced, a hair from cross-eyed.  

I knock the eight ball so gentle it’s like I blow it in.   

He slaps a greasy twenty into my palm.  

Grab the blue chalk to soften my tip. “Whose quarter?”  

The next one’s weaselly, older, with bad tatts on his neck and light watery blue eyes that remind me of carpetbaggers and hypocrites.  

“How much?”  

“Ten for now.”  

“You rack.”  

You gotta talk to ‘em like that. Otherwise they think they’re the shark.  

But when he cracks the earth opens and a volcano’s lava chases us.  

We’re in a clearing of ancient pines, surrounded by flames of apocalypse.  

In the ocean too far from shore when a knock against our leg makes our bowels drop and bile rise in our throats.

Robin’s Egg 

My Dad theorizes he can tell a place’s latitude by the sky’s blue. He says the blue of Carolina’s skies is a classic thirty-four degrees north. I asked him what he based that on and he said the farther south you go the whiter the sky, the sun is stronger. Depends on the season, too, on the earth’s tilt to the sun. Summer in Carolina the sky is robin’s egg: more cerulean than turquoise at the azimuth, which tapers into a shade of iceberg at the horizon.  

Dad knows all about latitudes. He trucks freight part-time. He made it to California once in a day and a half. I think he drove straight there, didn’t sleep. He always wanted to move to Los Angeles. He’d say it’s the most decadent place on the planet, the same latitude as our lake house.  

Dad is the man my mother always wanted him to be. She encouraged him to provide—the truck, tailgating parties, twelve rescue cats. I’ve always hated her.  

In an Ozu film—I forget which one—a character says that a child is the opposite sex of the stronger parent.  

Mom’s mom was the scion of an indigo plantation owner in Lexington County. Scotch-Irish indentured servants who six generations later had acres of horses. The last of the land sold off before I was born to pay for Mom’s college tuition. Mom’s and all her cousins’. She used her B.S. to become a dental hygienist. She also gave me her red hair. And then, how cliché, her comments about what I ate—as soon as my boobs came in—made me bulimic.  

Dad’s dad was a lawyer, son of a barber. Growing up, Dad was nouveau riche. Grampa bought a pecan farm, and Dad still goes to farmer’s auctions for tractors and equipment. Every October I help him with the harvest, but I can’t eat them anymore—to me, nuts will always taste like manual labor.  

Dad has me as legal resident of the lake house, even though I live in Columbia, for tax purposes—it’s cheaper to make it a primary home. That’s why I go out there once a week or so and spend the night by myself. We don’t want the neighbors to get suspicious—last year the IRS asked if I lived there and they said sure.  

But it’s really so I can turn on the speakers —Dad was a DJ back in the day, and he keeps his old JBLs in the back room—and blast Bach’s 3rd orchestral suite or the organ sonata 3 in D Minor—strip on the back porch, leave my clothes on the antique gurney, open the screen door to the cicadas and—you’d be surprised how many stars you can see at night—careful because the dry dock has splinters—and inhale as I jump in.  

It’s refreshing, not shocking-cold.  

My foot brushes against a plant and in fear some lake water splashes into my mouth and I accidentally swallow. Bach’s still primordial through the bugs. The lake and Mom are unrelated as I swim naked at twelve-fifteen a.m. on a Tuesday night, thinking about power, why I gave up music, and what it means to be a successful violinist.  

And when I come in toweling myself dry, the cedar walls glow in the lamplight and my eyes want to melt; it’s the feeling—before I lie on the brass bed, the lumpy mattress in clean sheets—the same feeling I had when Dad used to read me bedtime stories about Hansel and Gretel and witches and saints—of having had a full day, and under it all, the peaceful drift of Bach, a rim of golden moon and hot robin’s egg sky still more than eight hours away.

Daniel Adler was born in Brooklyn and raised in Portland. He has an MFA from U of South Carolina where he was nonfiction editor at Yemassee Journal. His work has appeared or is forthcoming from J Journal, Storgy, The Broadkill Review and elsewhere. He’s @anieldadler. 

Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.

Published by poetrybay

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