CIRCA 193,000 B.C.///DAVID














ON THE SURFACE Barron T. Byrnes

You call the lifeguard “Shark Attack” because he reminds you of the first time you saw Jaws.

      “He's useless.”

      “So we're dead.”

      But we walk into the ocean anyway. It's high noon.


I'm lying on the bed and you're in the bathroom washing the sand out of your hair and I want to help but this bed is already a throne of clean so I don't move. I wonder who could tuck the corners so nicely and fluff the pillows like this. It's good work – everything is taut and even. The tan and maroon scheme makes the room feel like an extension of the shore.

      You come and lie down next to me and you smell like vanilla and grass. Your hair is wrapped in a white towel.

      The sun is burning all of those swimmers out there.


You're in the bathroom washing the sand from your feet. Mine are clean because I wore my sandals when we walked on the shore. I don't trust the ocean at night. The moon and stars don't shine brightly enough to let you know what's ahead. They don't shine brightly enough to let you know what's behind you, either. Broken shells, washed-up jellyfish, seaweed.

      No, you can smell the seaweed, you can smell its smog. It's everywhere. I'm afraid of not seeing everything else that can hurt me.


You wanted to go on a walk when the sun was setting. That's what young couples do. We enjoy the beauty of nature, the rhythm of waves, the laughter of families, the sun rising or setting, together, and we're watching it set, tonight. And then, tonight, together, we'll look up and see stars in a clear sky. I suppose.

      The breeze smells especially like salt. To you, it smells like your hair, blown against your face in brown wisps, like long blades of grass swaying in the dunes. I can't tell if you smell like vanilla anymore but maybe I'm just not close enough.


The dinner before the walk was nice. I got the seared ahi and seaweed. Never again. The thought of the taste makes me ill. But it was lovely for one evening, for what it was. That’s all.


The next morning we wake up to the sun shining through gaps in the tan curtain, lighting up the room without even knowing or caring. Maybe we woke up from the heat. I had left the window open last night to hear the ocean.

      You let a cute smile slip, and whisper, “Close the window.”

      I whisper back. “Nonononono.”

      “Alright Shark Attack.”

      I roll over you and we fall into a bed that is the ocean, under a sheet that is a wave, in a room that is the whole world.


Looking at you now, I don't know how I should feel.

      Everyone else is crying but I don't feel it swelling up in my own throat. Whatever I can be feeling has already been lost at sea almost a year ago. And almost a year before that was when you decided everything. So of course we knew what would happen, and that's why we went to the beach. But how could I do anything but be anything more than a lifeguard when you were already in a great white's mouth?


On the flight to the beach, I let you have the window seat. I could still lean over you to watch the cities and towns and farmlands (but no clouds) below us. And I could lean on you and pretend that I didn't care that your familiar hair could get in my mouth and that your shoulder wasn't firm.

      I noticed from up there that the world looks like a microchip. But on the ground, only a microchip looks like a microchip; the forests are dead circuit boards, and the roads are wired connections, and cars are resistors when they're parked next to rivers.

On the flight back, I wanted you to have the window seat again because you wanted it. During the flight, you fell asleep on my shoulder, and stayed that way for hours.


I hate that when we went fishing from the pier, we didn't catch anything. I usually do. But I don't go often, and I've never been at night.


The funeral wasn't the last time I saw your mother and your father. It hadn't been long since we had last spoken and it won't be long before we never speak again.  I had never really known them that well, and still don't. Anyways, we'll always be on good terms. Standing in front of a dead body can really bring people together.

On the drive home I turned off the radio and rolled down the windows. There were a few things missing from the scene, and the smell of rain was unappreciated.


After our first swim, and after you had showered, I went into the bathroom, and looked at myself in the mirror. Face to face, eye to eye. They're gray. And my face was too red. I took my shower and washed off more sand than I had imagined I would. I had turned the sinkhole into a tiny shore on a porcelain Earth.

I got out of the shower and stood in front of the mirror again. What did I expect to see? I still saw gray eyes and a too-red face. That's all.


You got your brown eyes from your father. I always hated to make eye contact with the man, but that's what I most remember about him.


When there's an attraction felt, the pupils dilate. It's not completely reliable because they also dilate in dim lighting. So when we first talked about where your burning candles came from and what your room's shadows look like, you were impossible to read. Your brown eyes didn't help anything. So when we kissed I caressed your neck to feel for a quickened pulse. That was my fallback. I wanted to pretend our heartbeats were matched in cadence and whenever they weren't I still wanted to pretend that they were together in an even more complex way, pounding out triplets and rests, but I got lost in the syncopation as I got lost in your hair for the first time.


The sun is shining in your face, and in mine too. When I'm looking at you, the glare is bright enough to challenge even the sun.

      Just kidding.

      It's very hot outside.

      We're out in the ocean. There's not a cloud in sight and the sun's light hits us, completely unfiltered. No shade anywhere – there are no palms on the shore. Even the water is hot, and it feels like repeated disciplinary slaps when its waves hit my back. But after the thump, the slap, the water runs off and that feels like something else entirely, feels like salty sweat running down our backs.

      Even though we're out in the sun and in the water, and even if you're smiling and laughing and poking me with your eyes or your fingers while I'm holding you and grabbing you and dragging you into the water, I don't feel safe.



When we return to the hotel room I start to put my shirt back on but quickly take it back off, and you mirror me, and we're back to falling in the ocean.

     The sun's burning all those swimmers out there.


After the drive home from the funeral, I took off my shirts, my shoes, my belt, my pants. Before I stepped into the shower, I looked at myself. That's what it's like to see a dead body. That’s when it hit me.