Eddie Asks The Ocean For His Girl Back

by Ernie Brill

In the San Francisco summer of 1965, Eddie and Coral met at a party of fellow artists and writers and fell magnetically in love, dancing like one person. She painted and made jewelry: obsidian necklaces, turquoise earrings, carnelian bracelets. He was halfway through a short story collection about growing up in a Brooklyn project.

They spent a mostly naked week in a cabin with no heat or electricity at an ocean meadow north of San Francisco. Her rosy creamy complexion was the lighter part of an opened strawberry. She had sexily crooked oversized front teeth like a beaver eating chiclets.

They found a ratty stinking six room apartment in a condemned building on a street no longer there. They cleaned. They washed the ceilings and the floors. They tore out the linoleum and found newspapers announcing Hitler’s invasion of Poland. They hit the Goodwills and Thrifts for furniture. They painted all the rooms white, except for the kitchen and bathroom. She painted the stove and refrigerator flaming orange. She painted the bathtub purple and the toilet red, humming.

When his salesman uncle visited he smiled benevolently the whole time, then reported to the family back East that Eddie was “shacked up” in sin with a crazed hippie very attractive on the hefty side but what’s with the red toilet.

Coral painted big, seven by four feet, sumptuous purple-blue hills and sundry sultry round forms. She made “stained glass for poor people,” playing with small colored glass windows to fit half a regular window curliqued with rice paper, then used gouaches, watercolors, and oil to experiment with light.

Coral claimed kinship with the ocean. Often, she’d go before dawn, strip, and, for a long time, sit in the surf, singing although she couldn’t carry a note to save her life. She desired to give the waves gifts.

One breezy night with friends they went to the beach and built a fire. She and Eddie strolled in the surf then, splashing, raced down to the beach. Four breathless dunes down, she stripped and entered the ocean, ignoring the undertow sign, plunging into the black-green waves. She swam; a full moon lit the ocean. She dove, surfaced, dove and surfaced again, dove.

Suddenly, Eddie saw only enormous silence. He called her name. He heard only the waves. He walked rapidly, then ran in little circles. Panic surged. Loss of breath choked him.

Eddie stared at the ocean, hard.

“Give her back.”

He frowned at the black waves.

Some waves turned dark green. A slight whiteness flowed near, closer. She swam calmly then rose from the water. At the shore, he ran and took her in his arms. She smiled, her eyes faraway as he rubbed her shivering body.

“I had this feeling you weren’t coming back.”

“Me too,” she whispered.

As she dreamily sought her clothes, Eddie faced the ocean.

“Thanks,” he murmured.

Ernie Brill is finishing a novel about a tumultuous strike against racism at San Francisco State College. Ruby Dee performed for PBS his story “Crazy Hattie Enters The Ice Age” from his collection I LOOKED OVER JORDAN AND OTHER STORIES (South End Press, Boston). He has widely published stories and poems in small presses.

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