By Christina Tabacco
Astride her favorite surfboard, Myna eyed the glassy peaks that formed and rolled by, anticipating her last wave. A pelican teased the nearest cresting wave, ducking its wing left just as the top folded over in a pleat of white foam. The horizon churned with incoming swell. Ocean, teach me. Help me stop.
Myna plunged her icy hands in the hollow of her armpits. Her thoughts drifted as she shook a piece of kelp from her ankle. There were times when she hadn’t been careful, leaving the string of a bikini top dangling out of her shoulder purse or failing to notice a discreetly placed sensor that triggered an alarm. Why haven’t they caught me yet?
The first wave of the set swelled to the size of a mountain. Radical took off on it, as usual. The first set wave was “his thing,” he had told her, in that dingy maroon hallway. Warmth had bloomed from him, the air crowded with the smells of slow-roasted meat, marijuana smoke, and a chemical cleaning agent. They had been waiting for the bathroom. “I’ve seen you out there a few times,” Radical said.
Myna had nodded, scarlet lips curling into a petite smile, eyes peeling skywards to meet his.
Radical paddled in strong strokes, catching the wave’s energy with ease. He made a turn on the wave’s open face. Water sprayed in the shape of a handheld fan. Next, he whipped the board’s nose vertical, eclipsing the top of the wave in what he would later refer to as “that sick vertical hack I threw.” But the ocean had no desire to give him such credit. The wave abruptly shut down in front of him, forcing his exit. Radical launched from the wave, putting sky between surfer and sea.
Myna watched him paddle back out to the lineup. He paused to flip hair from his face, brushing it back with both hands. He didn’t know what Myna did. No one knew. My wretched secret. At first, her stealing had seemed the fitting reaction of a teen, short on patience for authority, and scornful of capitalism. Fuck them. But it became an obsession, and she quickly became hooked on the exhilaration of breaking their rules, while the pain of her secrecy multiplied like a cancer. Myna was no longer sure which was more agonizing: her bad habit or the burden of her silence. Too proud to ask for help or maybe too ashamed, she prayed for purity, penalty, or pain. Ocean, make me whole.
Myna paddled into position as the final set wave rose behind her. It was steeper than the previous two, causing her to miscalculate. She lay too far forward on the board. Shit. The board’s nose dove beneath the water; Myna arched her spine like a bow, forcing her weight back. The rounded tip resurfaced just as she caught the wave’s momentum. Yes. She pushed up to her feet and guided the board down the wave’s seamless face. A rogue kelp tendril, reminiscent of the olive branch pin on her father’s slim lapel before meetings with diplomats, waved and disappeared with the swell’s passing energy. Squatting low, Myna pulled into the wave’s tubular embrace. Cheers rang out, but she only heard a torrent of crashing water.
The ecstasy of the ride was so consuming that Myna failed to notice the ocean’s irritation. The wave’s lip closed heavily, pummeling Myna’s small body to the rocky floor. Her arms instinctively encircled her head as the sound of roiling water amplified, a demonic washing machine in unrelenting spin cycle. I’ve taken too much.
Radical was probably grinning, proud of her performance on the wave. She thought of his home, a decaying 1950s cottage he shared with roommates and a resident skunk population who snuffled around the backyard’s untrimmed bramble. Radical would text her later that night, “saw ur sick wave earlier,” when she would be lazing on the micro-suede sectional her mom purchased for her. She would close her eyes, and the pelican would soar into sight, projected on the skin of her eyelids.
Turmoil, then agony. Her ribs collided with the flat side of a submerged boulder. The pain exploded in pulses. The rubber leash tethering Myna’s ankle to the board jolted her helpless body, as her ankle popped, and the cord strained from its new anchor point, a jagged catch in the depths.
Myna swung her leg from the hip, attempting to free the leash. I promise, I won’t steal again. I’ll get help. Her body swirled without control, struck by the force of another breaking wave. A growing sense of urgency spawned from shallow instincts. The world grew slippery as her fingers fought to reach her right ankle. Strands of her long hair blended with the stringy kelp; her cells drank salt.
Later, she would stand at the cottage door, hair cascading over one shoulder in a wet tangle, nipple tickled and tipped skyward. He’d be so pleased. “Come here,” he’d gently command. Smile. Kiss. Hello.
Stretched to their elastic limits, her lungs screamed. At last, her frozen fingers found the velcro ringing her right ankle. She tugged. Her head broke the surface. She sucked air, choking on the sudden rush. The world gradually straightened; sky and sea drew apart. Hands clutching her chest, Myna drew in a slow, immaculate breath. She had survived, and she was the only reason why.