Prose by Francois Peloquin
Art by Kathy Nguyen
The seagulls had woken him, but it was the children walking beside him along the shore who took the brunt of his rage. He was up in seconds, sand flying from his tangled grey hair and beard, making him look larger than he was, like a charging desert lion. His clothing slowed him, weighed down with years of scrap silverware, old napkins, and rusty change lost in the folds of his coat. But he was up and flailing, the bottle still in his hand from when he had collapsed the night before. He broke the bottle at the neck with an explosive snap and made a run for the group.
If Marcus hadn’t tripped over the long seaweed that had washed onto the shore, nothing would’ve happened. The old man would’ve reeled and collapsed back onto his perch on the sand dune as the beach was restored to the calm grey it had been only seconds before.
But the old man caught Marcus with one hand, and the boy groped forward, causing them both to fall into the ocean surf. The old man’s eyes rolled in his head as he wrestled, enraged from years the cold and heat had torn at his faculties, while the boy did his best to get up. The birds flew in low in mockery while attempting to grab their share of the bounty, screaming with high villainous hopes.
The pair tumbled backwards onto the pebbles and sand at the water’s edge, but the old man would not let go. From his place on the sand, lying on his back, the old man swung the bottle-knife in a great arc and cut into the small of Marcus’ back. The boy screamed in pain. And it was this jolt, this human voice in the chaos, that recalled the old man to his senses. He let out a yell and struck out against the ground and lapping waves, driving small pieces of the bottle that remained into his hands. At last, he turned and ran, leaving the boy and the bottle as evidence and a pool of blood to the birds and waves.
Marcus lay in the sand as his classmates surrounded him while a hysterical teacher called 911. The other boys did the best they could to cover him with their coats, but still he shivered. He lay on his side and cried a little as gentle waves washed across his face, until he saw the lights of the ambulance reflecting off the mirror of wet sand.
The paramedic pulled two long shards of glass from Marcus’s back and set them beside him on the sand. He stood and listened as the group of boys told him what had happened, how the old man had risen up and rushed them, how he had used the bottle against their friend. The paramedic turned to search in vain for the neck of the bottle, but the sea had done its job and carried the shards away.
The blood and glass drifted out to sea unattended. The blood did not attract the attention of the sharks, who were busy with a fishing boat dumping the refuse from its daily catch.
The glass drifted along the ocean floor, through the turns of the Humboldt Current, where sand and salt stripped label and insignia from the side of the shard. Turtles in their haste confused it for jellyfish. A stingray tore his flesh on its vengeful edge while searching for food along the ocean floor.
The bottle glass made its escape from the ocean one year later, on a January morning when it washed up at Marbella. It had journeyed far and explored all of the known world. It had traversed a great reef, where it stayed trapped for long months, stumbling with ocean currents that dragged along hills of exquisite fauna. It had wandered through ship graveyards and piles of treasure long since lost to the eyes of man. It had fought for splendour amongst the exotic fish of the Caribbean. It had settled for a time in the silt at the mouth of the Nile, until an ocean liner stirred the banks of the sandbar and sent it once more on its way.
At Marbella I found the neck of the bottle without an edge, soft, its round curves worn thin by time. I ran my fingers across its teeth, now too smooth to cut. I took it from the sand, placed it in my basket, and continued with my glass along the shore.
When I tired of the walking, I brought my basket to a fountain in the plaza. I left the bottle glass there in a pool of other shards. It would live for a time under the quiet music of the fountain, under the light of the sun, with the joy of people all around.
Someday an urchin boy would come, and the bottle glass would take his fancy. He would carry it like gemstone on a string around his neck and believe himself a great lord. He would throw it into the same sea it had come from, where we all come from, where it would once again begin its journey home.
Marcus sat in the medical centre where the old man was being treated. The old man was fading fast. They said he needed a new liver, among other things. He had been found easily enough, bloodied as he was. The police had found him under a car, shivering and confused, with his last cigarette in his mouth. They had found him just in time.
Marcus watched him through the glass. He was afraid when he saw the old man at first, and hid behind the paramedic whom he had come to trust. The old man reminded him of the pain of that morning, of the sky and whirling air. But now Marcus had come. He would see the old man and let him know that he was alright. The glass was gone. Only a scar would remain.
The old man’s wild eyes took in the strange room. He was unsure of where he was, but felt comfortable and warm. He looked down and saw the clear eyes of the young boy looking at him through the glass. He stared back.