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Story by Will Kaufman (Read author interview) September 25, 2012

art by Daniel J. Glendening

Here by the ocean. No, sea. Here by the sea breakers rushing up the sand dredge seaweed over a lost engine block, complete with timing belt and water pump. Better be ocean, so it doesn’t clash with seaweed. Here by the ocean a water pump on an engine somehow lost on a beach and washed over and over by the mighty saltwater pump of moon and ocean. Too many oceans, getting repetitive. Stainless steel engine block, green threads of seaweed, and dolphins out past the breakers. Why not dolphins, finned backs surging in and out of the rise and fall of the waves? Why not an engine block, half-buried, a hundred feet from the crumpled and torn remains of a sail? Heavy canvas, that sail.

Do they come from the same place? Some wrecked ship? No, a boat. The engine’s only the size of a rolling suitcase, and there’s only one sail, so: a boat. A boat wracked across some rock that never bothered any dolphin.

They made a movie about that dolphin with the prosthetic tail, all hope and perseverance—the dolphin played itself—all how we wreck a thing and make it whole again. Maybe we could have done better than whole, faster, could have stitched a propeller to the stump, the fastest goddamn dolphin in the sea. Talk about the fittest, talk about surviving; that’s gas-powered survival, that’s making things better. Why don’t we give the world the gifts we give ourselves? I worry about these things.

Shipwrecks don’t worry about these things. A wrecked ship—sorry, boat—sinking to the bottom of the ocean—sorry, sea—doesn’t care, doesn’t care about depth. Without buoyancy, pressure equalizes. Such is the life of wrecked boats wracked over hidden rocks; all depths are the same.

So this engine may have propelled a boat bearing some lost sailor back to his presumptuous widow, who became a nun in his absence, his long absence, and if he returns she will have to choose between her husband and the god she believed murdered him. Mercifully, he wrecks again, and will not return home. Merciful, that salted death. God loves his new wife and wants her to be happy, untroubled, the brow beneath her habit unfurrowed.

No furrows there, no, this loving god troubles no brows for sowing. Though he lets crows’ feet trod his wife’s face like the common earth.

Or maybe that sail impelled a bachelor party, beers in hand, more packed in plastic coolers, in pounds of store-bought ice. Brewskies, blue skies, maybe a stripper named Sky for the men to get all salty-dog over. And the best man watches Sky grind her bethonged buttocks against the groom’s groin, and he smiles and laughs and calls for another brewski, but secretly he is ashamed. He wishes his fingers could tease the groom’s tresses, his buttocks feel the groom’s caresses.

When the sail snaps and the boat capsizes and all is screaming and struggling for survival, the best man will think the sea some god’s penalty, some punishment for his impurity, and he will sink willingly, while above him Sky screams as the groom tries to drag her into the lifeboat by her thong.

The best man will sink, maybe the best man will sink, until he sees the likewise sunk sailor supine on the rocks. Ignoring the pressure pressing on his eardrums and shrinking his eyes in their sockets, the best man dives down to the sailor and takes him by the hand. He kicks for the surface, that last breath held, unequalized, unexpended in prayer, but he won’t make it, he is not buoyant enough. Suddenly a gentle dolphin nudges him with its tail, pushes him into air and life.

That’s why people don’t go grafting propellers onto dolphins in place of their tails, so they can give us the gifts we want to give ourselves instead of chopping us up.

The best man pulls the lost sailor’s limp body out of the sea, onto the sandy shore with the engine and the sail. He pumps the sailor’s chest, blows wind into his lungs, beats life back into his hull, and the sailor wakes to the best man’s face. They fall in love, these salt-logged survivors, and run off together, leave the nun and the groom to honor their commitments, and live happily ever after in a shack up the side of a mountain where there are no boats and the only salt is for the driveway when it snows.

So everything will equalize, and oh, God, I’m never sure how deep I am.

About the Author

Will Kaufman has an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis and an MFA from the University of Utah. His work has appeared in HOUSEFIRE, Identity Theory, Kaleidotrope, and elsewhere. He also contributed the text for UFOs and Their Spiritual Mission, available from Social Malpractice Press. An audio version of his story “We Went Missing in the Summer” will be coming soon from Litro. He currently lives in northern California with his fiancée. You can follow him on Twitter @specwill.

About the Artist

Daniel J. Glendening is an artist and writer based in Portland, OR. He has exhibited nationally, and his work has been featured in publications including Panhandler, Familiar Quarterly and Drain. “UFOs and their Spiritual Mission,” featuring images by Glendening and a work of fiction by Will Kaufman, was recently published by Social Malpractice Publishing. He collects books and mystical shit.


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