The following was written as part of my contribution to the Abydos Summer Writing Academy I am participating in. Please feel free to offer any constructive criticism, as I will be able to make modifications for a few more hours yet. Note that it is not related to ed-tech field, so you may want to skip it.
by Miguel Guhlin
The shark lies breathless on the beach, dead for a time but not for long. Bleached white with a five o’clock shadow cast over it, crabs only beginning to gather, death has claimed it. Standing over its spiritless carcass, looking down with seagulls flying over like silent sentries on a death watch, an uneasy fear, like nausea, stirs in my gut. My first shark, my first dead body. I am seven years old.
My toes dig into the black and white sands of Punta Chame beach, where I’d spent many a day as long as I could remember. The surf came in strong at the Point, La Punta in Spanish, tearing at the sand and grass like it would devour it in a tidal crescendo of waves. Walking on the cool black sand that morning, the water kissed my toes. Here and there, the ridged, ivory sea shells the size of a man’s open hand dotted the beach. A Kuna Indian, their colorful mole clothing, stands near the half-finished canoe. Chasing guacamole colored iguanas among the driftwood, futilely firing my sling-shot at the seagulls overhead, the sight of a dead shark caught me unawares.
As my parents walked up, my Dad urged me into the water, after giving the shark’s body a cursory glance. A boy of seven, I found myself reluctant to step into the shallow water. “What if there are more sharks in the water, Dad?”
“No, that one died out to sea and washed in. Get in the water,” my Dad suggested in his gruffest voice. My fear reached up and grabbed me by the throat, and I backed away from the gentle waves flowing over the shallow ridges of sand. The silver sparkle of minnows seemed more ominous. He strode boldly ahead of me, turning sideways as the waves split around him. As I stepped out behind him, pulled unwillingly into the wake of his personality, I began to cry. After several reassurances, he tried a different tact.
“Are you bleeding?” My answer came reluctantly through my crocodile tears, “No,” I blubbered. He had made his point--if I wasn’t bleeding, then I had no reason for tears.
As I clung to the beach, refusing his embrace for a swim in waist-deep, shark-infested waters, he plunged into the sea, his slow, even stroke carrying him out deeper than a boy as careful as I would ever go. But then, Dad had a need to swim alone, matching himself against the ocean. Perhaps his fearlessness came from his time as an Army paratrooper, a drill sergeant that trained General Patton’s son. Or, that activity was a by-product of his need to push himself.
Many years later, I would watch the man who growled his commands and asked me if I was bleeding, turn to putty in my son’s hands. I found that fathers may need one type of courage, while grandfather’s, another.
“More milk, Papa,” cried my son as he reclined like some emperor of old and stretched out his hand imperiously, not even bothering to look at the old man with wisdom etched in silver upon his head, shorn yet strangely burnished by the travails of chemo-therapy. My Dad never asked my son the question, “Are you bleeding?” He never failed to fill that little hand, nor to kiss the cheek it belonged to.
Like a retired Poseidon, he summoned smiles and laughter in his final days. When he coughed blood on the way home from Bingo, he insisted he drive home, my mother told me. Though he must have been afraid, he waited until 5:00 AM before finally conceding to let my Mom call me. “Miguel needs his sleep,” he grumbled at her that Sunday morning.
A week later, my Mom and I stood, watching Dad swim out into the sea one more time. In those final moments, as his mouth opened and closed, opened and closed, I whispered, “Goodbye, Dad. It’s OK.” His body lay breathless before me. This time, I did not feel the fear.
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