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Tom Stock-Hendel

July 27, 2014

An Opening


The Pacific Ocean stretches away from him. There is a sharp wind and the sky is absolutely clear. Sunlight glares off the water. Waves build up and then fall flat, squashed by the wind. No one is swimming, no gabby frolickers in bright bathing suits on the beach, no polished skin oiled and smelling of coconut. Just a scattering of men bundled in dark clothes, homeless silhouettes against the pale sand, all keeping a safe distance from one another. And from him.

He sits on the sand, hugging his knees. Cold seeps up through his jeans and down the back of his neck. The wind whips up a gritty powder, inches above the beach surface. It stings the exposed skin above his socks. This cold is unexpected. He had driven off with no jacket, just a thin shirt.

The sound of the waves and the wind masks her footsteps until she is too close.

“How did you find me?” he asks.

“You’ve told us about this place.” She groans softly, an exhausted sound, and sits next to him on the sand. She still sits cross legged, like when he was little. Her thick knit brown sweater almost touches his arm. She tries to keep her shoulder-length hair behind her ears, but there is the wind. Her hands are pink and cracked against her face. Crows feet deepen as she squints in the sunlight. The bruise by her mouth has mellowed to a darker purple. She looks out over the water.

“Anyway,” she says, “I needed the long drive.”

There are two tankers steaming offshore, boxy control towers at the stern, ridiculous looking long decks, their hulls a matching dull red. He can’t say how far away. On this clear day the boats seem close enough to reach with a pleasant swim.

“The police are looking for you,” she says. “They’ve got witnesses.”

He looks down and notices a bit of dried blood under his fingernail. He pushes his finger into the sand, trying to shove the blood out. His shoulder bumps against hers. She leans away, just enough.

They had run from his father a long time ago. She pulled him out of school in the middle of the day, the swollen lump on her cheek hidden poorly behind sunglasses, and sat him in the backseat of the car with a few of his favorite toys. He was eight. For five years they lived in small, dark apartments—varieties of yellowing fleur-de-lis wallpaper, windows opening to the brick wall of the building next door, he sleeping on the narrow bed next to a small homework desk, she staying on the couch in the other room with the television. Then his parents got back together. His father gave deep-eyed promises that the bad was behind him and the subject was put away, the five years of hurt left sulking in memory. His parents danced and laughed. Friends gathered around their waxed-to-a-shine table. His father never hit her again. Until.

“Do you know what you are going to do?” she asks.

He barely shakes his head. Blown sand gathers around the sides of his sneakers and the cold leaks through the fraying material. He will need stronger shoes. She stares ahead, giving him no sign. He rocks forward and stands up, one smooth motion, and walks to the water’s edge. Wind and glare burn his cheeks.

Doing it had been surprisingly easy. All he needed was a knife and an opening.

After a moment she stands beside him. She has given up trying to control her hair and it whips and flops about her head. She pulls a plain white envelope out of a pocket and passes it to him. It is thick with money. He runs his thumb across the edges of the bills. They are soft, almost fluffy.

He wonders if terrorists blew up those two oil tankers out there would the fireball be large enough to swallow him up.

She says, “Put it in your pocket before it blows away.” Like she’s talking to a child.

He closes the envelope. He will not put it in his pocket. “I just wanted to scare him. I didn’t want him to hurt you again.”

“Don’t hang this on me,” she says.

He doesn’t have the foggiest idea where to hang this. Eyes looking the other way in the hallway as they passed. Hours of harsh silence around a fishing pole. Morning coffee slammed on the table. Something as dumb as the last potato chips in the bag. Watching for the fist to clench, even wanting it.

“Your father could be a hard man,” she says, “but I took him back. Now forgiveness feels like a sin.”

Forgiveness. A pelican glides just over the ocean, the tips of its wide steady wings barely missing the water’s crests and points, its grace spellbinding. Transforming into sharp right angles, the bird elevates quickly, stops in mid-air and splashes down, head first. It surfaces, swallowing it’s prey.

He closes his eyes, wrapping himself in the sparse heat of the sun by force of will. The wind sneaks between his shirt buttons. He reaches for her hand.






Tom Stock-Hendel has had work published in Superstition Review. He has recently earned an MFA at Antioch University, Los Angeles and wrote the screenplay for the soon to be produced short film, “Holy Communion.”He lives in the Southern California area with his wife and son. His son often chides him that when talking about the family he doesn’t include the dog. Tom lives in the Southern California area with his wife, son and their dog, Scout.




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