Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Communion, a short story

by Stephen Brooke ©2016

Patty's boyfriend got religion and she didn’t. We all figured the breakup would follow, sooner or later.

But no one was going to move in. No, not yet. Not when he was a bud and, for that matter, so was she. But we were watching.

“What if she goes Jesus-freak too?” wondered Mike. I couldn't see it happening. 

Neither could Pat. “Art is her religion,” he opined. Pat Edwards was my best friend here at Florida Atlantic. Like Mike and me, he was a surfer.

As was the aforementioned boyfriend, Rob. All four of us shared a suite in the dorms, its pale green concrete block walls plastered with surf posters, our boards propped up in the corners.

The squeak-squeak of Duke’s wheel filled a momentary silence. Duke was Rob’s hamster. “One good thing,” said Pat. “Rob has sworn off sex so I don’t have to vacate our room anymore.”

“Ted probably wishes I would too,” remarked Mike, snickering. I never complained about being shut out but I couldn't always hide my aggravation. Pat and I would long since have become roomies if Rob and Mike had been willing to switch. But they weren’t, even if they were the best of buddies. They knew each other too well.

I grinned at the pair. “We need to convert Rob to the True Church,” I told them. All three of us were Catholic, though at varying levels of observance. That is, Mike not at all, Pat pretty religious, and me somewhere between. That was just one of those things that happens; it was surf that brought us together and we only discovered the religion part later.

“We’re not the best role models, Shaper,” Pat told me. He called me Shaper because I fooled around with building surfboards. I have Pat Edwards to thank — or blame — for that life-long nickname, though only he used it much back then.

“And Rob doesn't have enough Irish in him,” stated Mike. Being three Irishmen as well — more or less — we concurred with this. Rob was very much the odd man in this group, although perhaps the most normal outside of it.

Until this Jesus thing. That baffled us. I was inclined to think it would pass, that it was a phase, but what did I know back then? I was only twenty, after all.

And we all were wondering about Patty. That surfer girl was as much a part of our group as any of us now. If it got weird between her and Rob she might not want to hang with us anymore. I would just as soon lose Rob, myself. I don't know how the others felt about it.

We all had other concerns, anyway, like studying and, of course, surfing. Spring, ‘71 — it was not a bad time to be in college, especially with the threat of being drafted still very real for guys our age.

It was not a bad place to be in college, either. We were at Florida Atlantic University, a school widely referred to as “Surfer U.” The surf had definitely been the deciding factor for me to attend. So I surfed, when I could, as did my friends.

The next day — a Thursday morning when neither Pat nor I had a class — we were in the waves right there in Boca, at a spot at the north end of the city limits and the public beach, where a little rocky point stuck out into the Atlantic. The locals called the place “Jap Rock.” I never learned why but I did learn that it could be ridden on a really tiny swell. When the waves got much size it was no better than any other spot and not as good as some. Then we might go up to Ocean Ridge, to the inlet and jetty there. That setup was a lot like the more famous Sebastian Inlet further north, until they dredged out our sandbar in the name of beach replenishment and ruined the spot.

Years later I happened to look at a map and saw that little point was named Yamato Rock, so that explained the ‘Jap’ thing. But I still don’t know who Yamato was or why the rock was named for him. Or her, for all I know.

“There’s Patty,” I called to my buddy. Her blue Falcon had pulled into a space by the highway, overlooking the beach. Right behind my old, faded Corvair, in fact. We liked to park where we could see our cars from the water. There were lowlifes enough — some of whom called themselves surfers — who would steal the racks right off your roof and maybe take anything inside if they could get at it.

She paddled out to where we sat, checked whether any waves were coming, then turned to Pat and asked, “Will you be in the studio tomorrow?” To paint, she meant. There were always plenty of students using the rooms on the third floor of the Humanities building, when no classes were being held.

Pat shook his head. “Going home for the weekend.”

“Darn, so is Rob.”

“Mike, too. He’s riding with me.” Both lived down toward Miami somewhere. Exactly where was not of any interest to me. Not any of my business either. “Rob’s gonna be with his mom?”

“Somebody has to do his laundry and it sure won’t be me,” stated Patty. “Taking off!” She paddled into one of the little lefts. They were pretty much all lefts at the Rock.

We watched her try to pump her little board through a flat section but the wave passed her by. “Shitty waves,” she said when she got back to us. We knew that but, hey, they were better than nothing. “Looks like just you and me this weekend, Ted.”

I only nodded, not being at all sure how to respond to that.

“Get him to build you a board,” said Pat. “You could go into one of the studios and claim you’re working on an art project.”

“My tools are all at home,” I immediately informed him, without really thinking.

“He’s joking, Shaper. But I guess you could take me home with you.”

These two knew how socially inept I was and how easy it was to tease me like this. But they would never take it too far. None the less, it was a good time to catch a wave and avoid answering. I had one of my own boards, a thick, flat-bottomed twin-fin I had built just for riding tiny waves like these. The thing handled terribly but it paddled into the little stuff easily. I was able to stick with the wave almost all the way to beach.

Incidentally, a few weeks later I tried riding it in bigger stuff back home in Genoa and managed to go nose first into the bottom. Snapped it right in two. I was still learning and only had a half-dozen shapes under my belt at that point.

Paddle back out or run up and launch on the north side of the point? It was only a few strokes back to the take-off zone then, and not difficult on a small day like this. But neither was paddling. I could see both my friends riding in as I paddled out.

The two paddled back together. “I’d better make this my last wave,” said Patty. “I have a class at eleven.” She glanced at Pat. “We both have a class at eleven.” The pair shared two or three classes this semester, I knew. Patty and I had an art history class in common on Monday and Wednesday evenings. None of us shared a single class with Mike or Rob, who were psychology and business majors, respectively.

“Me, too,” I said. “And another at one.” I looked out across the water. “Maybe I’ll come back later.”

“All the school kids will be out here then,” Pat reminded me.

“Yeah. I’d probably have to use the parking lot.” That was on the other side of A-1-A, by the picnic grounds in the city park.

“Why don’t we all come back?” asked Patty. “We could bring some food. Mike, too. He could even bring whoever he is chasing after at the moment, if he wants.” Rob had a late class — we all knew that.

“A picnic?” asked Pat.

“Sure. Why not?” The reply was nonchalant but I thought I sensed more. An urgency? Maybe Patty,too, felt that the friendships we had formed might be falling apart. I suppose it is inevitable that any group of college friends would eventually go their ways. But not now. No, we weren’t ready for that.

There wasn’t enough of a swell left to be worth paddling out. I could see that as I cruised up the beach toward the park, after my second class. In an hour or so, it would be getting dark, anyway.

And cold. It was still winter, late February. The water stays pretty warm all year round at Boca, thanks to the Gulf Stream, but we all had been wearing wetsuits. As the sun sank, so would the temperatures. I turned left into Spanish River Park, and pulled in next to Pat’s little pickup truck. One of those would be handy, if I ever had any money.

There was Mike, in a green flannel shirt to which he was particularly partial, grilling hot dogs over a charcoal fire. His girlfriend sat near, looking out of place. Pat and Patty huddled at a picnic table, their still-damp hair telling that they must have attempted to ride a few waves. “Is Rob gonna come?” I asked.

“Nah, he’s going to some sort of — meeting? Or service, maybe. Whatever you wanta call it.” Patty shrugged. “He invited me along.”

“But you enjoy our company more,” said Mike. We all laughed, except his girlfriend, who didn’t seem to get us. She wasn’t likely to last and I think Mike preferred it that way.

“I do,” admitted Patty. “Not more than Rob but, well, you know.” We did, of course.

Pat nodded thoughtfully. He could appear much more wise and mature than the rest of us. Not that he was, you understand, just that Mike and I looked like the skinny kids we were. “He’s found something he thinks is great and wants to share it with you. That’s understandable.”

“Yeah. I had religion once but recovered. I’ve built up some immunity now.” She turned toward me. “You gonna try to surf, Ted?”

“Don’t think so. Not much time, anyway. The park will be closing.” We would have to get out at sunset, not that we couldn’t go park along the beach and stay there all night if we wanted.

Mike looked at his watch, the ubiquitous dive watch one saw on almost every surfer’s wrist back then. “Yeah, in, um, about an hour and a quarter I think. Wanta eat?”

Canned baked beans, hot dogs, chips — this was our own religious ceremony, our communion, following a baptism in the waves. Yeah, these were our sacraments. I think the guys and I felt this, even if they wouldn’t articulate it quite that way. It was a familiar symbolism, a way of looking at the world, a part of our upbringing. We would always carry that with us.

A park attendant came by. “Closing the gates in half an hour, kids,” he warned us, and moved on.

“I’m going down to the beach,” I told my friends, rising. “Anyone else wanta stretch their legs?”

Mike and his girl looked at each other. Never did learn her name and I guess it didn’t matter. Anyway, we could see that they had other sorts of exercise on their minds. “We’re heading back to the dorm,” said Mike, and grinned. “We’ll try not to keep you locked out too long, Ted.”

“Remember we’re taking off early tomorrow,” Pat warned him. “Let’s go,” he said to me. “You too, Patty?”

“Sure.” She zipped her jacket, then hesitated as she looked over the table. 

“We’ll take this stuff back with us,” Mike offered. He was good at picking up on people’s needs, way better than the rest of us. That made him a success as a psychologist later on and a success with the girls then. “You go ahead.”

There was a tunnel, an underpass, beneath A-1-A where one could walk from the park onto the beach. It was dark in there this late in the day, with the live oaks overhanging the entrance. Like entering a church, I told myself, and smiled. You’re carrying that whole idea a little too far, Ted!

Back home, on the Gulf, we could have watched the sun set over the water. Here, we stood in the shadow of the bluffs that rose behind us, a shadow that slowly crept toward the water. Soon, the beach would be in darkness.

Small waves tumbling on the shore added a low murmur, a background to our own subdued voices. “No waves in the forecast,” Pat was saying. “Before we know it, we’ll be into the summer pattern.” In other words, little to no surf. These kids had grown up around here and knew all about that.

“Is it just as bad on the Gulf, Ted?” Patty asked me.

“Pretty much, unless a tropical storm comes by.”

She looked back out at the Atlantic for a few moments. “I think I’m going to stay for the summer semester.”

None of us guys would think of doing that and hurrying up our graduation. As soon as we had our degrees, we would be eligible for the draft. “Any worth-while classes?” wondered Pat.

“I can catch up a couple requirements. And the studios won’t be so crowded.”

“Hmm, yeah. I already have a job lined up. How ‘bout you, Ted? Gonna build boards all summer?”

“Work construction for my dad,” I answered. Mostly job-site cleanup, but I didn’t need to add that. It didn’t sound as macho.

“Oh, that’s why you build things,” said Patty. “It’s hereditary!” She turned her round, freckled face to the two of us. “Do you guys plan to room together next fall?”

“That’s the idea,” said Pat. I nodded in agreement.

“I hope Rob doesn’t — you know, get away from us. You and Mike and — and me —” She sighed. “Even if he and I break up.”

I don’t think either Pat or I knew how to respond to that. “Let’s get back,” she said, and started toward the underpass.

Yeah, let’s get back. Back to how it was. Didn’t we all know that was impossible?

The lights had been turned on in the parking lot, shining into the far end of the tunnel.

NOTE: Yamato Rock is actually named for the Yamato agricultural community of Japanese immigrants that once existed in the Boca Raton area. The point is also a popular spot for divers.

This is a Ted Carrol story, the character who is the protagonist of my novel SHAPER, set about thirty years later. And, as with SHAPER, there is some autobiographical detail but Ted is not me. I see something like this more as back story for the characters in the novels than anything else.

And it should be considered as an early draft but the story is there — not that there actually is much of a ‘story’ — for the most part.

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