Michelle Meyers’s writing has previously been published in the Los Angeles Times, DOGZPLOT, jmww, Grey Sparrow Journal, and Juked. In addition, her flash fiction piece “Primal Beauty” was named as one of the Wigleaf Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions of 2014, and she was a 2015 PEN Center
Emerging Voices Fellow in Fiction. She is currently an MFA Fiction candidate at the University of Alabama.
We were brothers. Twin brothers, a single egg rupture. Womb dancers, arms around necks, legs twisted together. We were joined at the knee, the hip, the shoulder, flaps of skin scalpel separated. Our birth made page 5 of the local news. If we’d shared a heart or a liver, we would’ve been on page 1. Our hair was the cornhusks of our Midwest roots, our eyes the atmospheric blue of the California coast, galaxies of freckles
spread across our cheeks, two galaxies interconnected with one another.
Our parents soon left, but we did not care. We were raised by the beaches. We guzzled salt water and gritted sand between our teeth. We wore our hair long in snakes down our necks, tattered jeans yawning across our knees. We skipped school on our penny brown cruisers, slurping saltwater taffy at the pier. We did not watch shows like Leave It to Beaver or Father Knows Best. We did not believe in screens. Technically we were left in the care of a benevolent great uncle, a rickety man with milk white cataracts, but his grip on reality was tenuous at best, so we were left to ourselves, left to create our own world.
We built ourselves a ship out of driftwood and seaweed. You were the captain. I was the first mate. We ate biscuits and cold sausages and drank fruit punch pretending it was rum. You had a peg leg. I had an eye patch. We sought out treasures like loose change and seashells. When night fell and we holed up in the cabin, we would reveal to one another our deepest fears. You were afraid that the government would find us, take us, bury us in paper and bureaucracy. Brothers were not supposed to live as we did. I was afraid that you would disappear, that I would wake up one morning and you would be gone, evaporated into the ether. We were both afraid of the Soviets, of massive retaliation, of nuclear annihilation.
We stopped going to school. We grew the first scraggly hairs along our cheekbones. Our voices plunged octaves. We smoked dope and did handiwork for money. Sometimes, tucked into sleeping bags in the early morning dew, I would roll over next to you so that I could feel the warmth of your breath. Even your breath smelled like the sea.
We heard rumors that there were others like us. When we turned fifteen, we hitched in the back of a pickup truck along the Pacific Coast Highway, the palm trees’ long necks swaying in the wind. We drove past the Feed Bin and the Spic N Span Cleaners, the Colony Coffee Shop, the Mayfair Market, down into the salty belly of Malibu, a.k.a. Surf City U.S.A. We sank into the sand, sighing relief, and watched as young men carved up waves with their sleek, waxy boards.
We were surfers. We had always been surfers, we just hadn’t realized it. We drank A-frame waves at dawn, waited on glassy days under the sun, learned to read the deep-water breaks. We made friends. We met girls. We had sex. We fought off valley kooks invading our territory, dusted off hodaddies knocking on our waves. We moved in with an Australian fellow who let us crash in his living room after a thunderstorm washed all of our belongings away. We dropped acid and felt the infinite love of the universe crawling up our skin.
We did not know about the assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. We did not know that Lyndon B. Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 or the Voting Rights Act in 1965. We did not know that there were people protesting police discrimination in Watts. We did not know that the United States had sent troops to Vietnam. We were all surf and sand and blue skies and getting high and whitewashed sunshine.
And then one day the sky was an overcast clinging fog and the waves were meek and choppy. We paddled out through the foam, our boards nosing through the swells. The wind picked up and the waves doubled in size, screaming wild as they crashed in on each other. One last wave before we called it quits. The lip curled just over our heads in a perfect pipeline. You were ahead of me, adjusting your stance, stink-bugging, your left foot slipping. You toppled off the board into the throat of the wave. We all expected you to come back up. Only once the surf had settled did we see the thin trail of blood seeping from over by the rocks. You were so heavy, so much heavier than I expected, your body against mine as I dragged you across the beach, your lips salty and cold, my fingers searching for your heartbeat. Your eyes were like two moons, desolate and lifeless.
I would be dead within the next year too. Drafted, just a few weeks after the funeral. The beaches in Vietnam were not like ours. The sand was silty smooth, the ocean warm like bathwater, lulling the soldiers to sleep at night. I would stay awake, the stars gasping above me. I wondered what it felt like when you took your last breath.
Two months later my boots scuttered across a landmine. The Army’s official report said that it was my fault, that I was running away. True, I did not want to kill the Viet Cong. I did not want to kill anybody. But the real truth was that I was already dead. By the time the high tide came in and the waves lapped me up, the fragments of bone, the splatters of flesh, I was a ghost. I was ashes. I was a shadow from a past that no longer existed.
We were brothers. We died young. We will not be remembered. Only the ocean has truly known us. Only the ocean has cared.