The following is an excerpt from a short story by Jerry Coamey. Jerry now lives in Chicago and works in advertising, but he hopes to eventually publish short stories about growing up in Gerritsen Beach.
Against the Tide
Cool, damp sand tickled my toes. I looked down at my feet and watched the water roll over them, pause, and roll back out, sucking the sand and pulling it out from under my feet, leaving me standing on two hills amid water-filled valleys.
His hands steadied the rubber inflatable raft in the rolling water of the low tide. Bottles, cigarette butts, driftwood, and seaweed lined the shoreline where the last inbound wave from the high tide deposited them early this morning. The beach was littered with the refuse of yesterday.
He stood in the water lapping at his knees. “You ready?” he asked. Above us a gull cried as it circled the channel, sliding down low over the water. I climbed into the raft, one foot steadying myself in the cool water.
He pushed us out a little more until he was up to his waist. Then, with one quick move, he pushed up and dropped into the raft. We rocked from side to side as the waves sputtered against the side of the raft. I grabbed the sides to steady myself.
He paddled us out into the channel until we were in the boat lanes. I looked back. The shore where we began shrunk and elongated as the houses stood against it. “Beautiful night,” he said.
My father paddled us further down the channel. I dropped my hand over the side of the raft, trailing it in the water. It was colder above the water than below, since it was early September and the water had been heated all summer. Jelly fish wiggled between my fingers as we moved toward the bridge. Out on the parkway cars sped home, fathers eager for dinner or late for Little League games. Atop the wooden pilings along the far shoreline, gulls sat and watched us as we paddled further up the channel.
The lights of the parkway blinked on like stars, lit among the purple sky of the early evening. The wind picked up, blowing the reeds along the shoreline and bending them, their seed-topped heads and hairy stalks rustling and snapping in the breeze. My arms bristled with drops of water, and some ran down my arm and pooled at the back of my hand, coursing around the knuckles.
My father rested the oars and reached into the pocket on the inside of the raft. He pulled out a long, thin brown cigar with a white plastic tip. My father had been smoking these for the last few years in an attempt to get off the cigarettes. “You don’t inhale these,” he’d say as he lit one of the more than a dozen he’d smoke in any given day. “And you smoke less of them.” My father clenched the tip between his teeth and reached back into the pocket for a book of matches. As he lit the cigar, a bright orange glow faintly lit his dark face. A wispy cloud of smoke curled up and away from the end of the cigar, mixing with the misty cool air of the early evening.
“Traffic’s heavy tonight,” he said. After awhile, he resumed his rowing. The bridge was coming closer into view. Two gulls left their posts along the shore and headed down the channel, away from our raft and toward the fishing boats. The air was colder and wet with mist. The hair on my arms bristled with the breeze and bent over with tiny drops of spray clinging to each hair like a bug on the stem of a flower—up close like in one of those nature shows.
Smoke curled up and away from the end of his cigar, framing his face in clouds. Droplets of water clung to his glasses, bubbling on the surface like water in a boiling pot. He rowed on, his back to our front. My feet squeaked in the bottom of the raft when I shifted a little away from him. Orange embers floated from the end of his cigar, riding the wispy fingers of smoke up into the purple sky. A gull circled high above, crying and whining as it came closer. He rowed on, oblivious to all the sensation around us, lost in his cloud of smoke.
Copyright © 2000 by Gerald Coamey Jr.
Last changed: July 15, 2002