It’s one of those late afternoons veering into night, and the beach is glorious.
Look at my boy. He is racing along, kicking up his heels. I can see the whiteness of the underside of his soles of his feet flashing as he runs in the dusk, barely imprinting the hard-packed sand, just the five concavities of his toes digging in. Now he stops on a dime, crouches, examining something intently, then runs back to me. He is holding a small jellyfish in the cup of his palm; he thrusts it forward for inspection.
“Look!” he commands, and I do. “Look at the rim—that’s where the tentacles are.”
He slides his finger around the inside of the rim. It looks like a gelatinous cervical cap. It would give a clear view up the cervix. I think about the life and death of sperm, and he jiggles it in his palm.
“Rainbow. With these little ridges all around. Do you want to touch it?”
“No.” I shake my head. He turns then and runs down to the edge of the water. Leaning back like a pitcher, he hurls the jellyfish into the sea. It arcs and lands in the little waves that tickle the shore. He turns and smiles, triumphant, running back to walk by my side for a companionable bit before wandering off. I see him stoop, gathering up parts of jellyfish shredded by the ocean. Then he spots a man fishing, surfcasting for blues. He tosses away the pieces and he is off.
“Don’t go too close,” I yell, thinking about a hook flying back or a man interrupted in his solitude by a boy with too many questions. I stand a little ways away, watching.
The man wears some kind of orange jumpsuit. He looks expensive and a little dangerous. He is fit, hard-bodied though he’s my age; he has the kind of defined muscle that doesn’t give up easy. You can see from his dark skin that he’s been outside a lot and from his eyes that he likes women. He holds up a sandy bluefish, two fingers under its gills, for my boy to inspect. The gills flap against his fingers, forced opening with a flash of pink that is too intimate.
“That’s how you hold them.” He watches the boy study the fish. “You have to watch out for the teeth. Look.” He holds out the fish, deftly opening its mouth with his hand and pulling back the lip. My boy touches the teeth with his fingertips. They stand very still, the moon rising bulbous in a gray sky behind them.
The fish moves suddenly, and my boy jerks his hand away.
“The dorsal fin. Did you get hurt?”
“Wash it in the ocean. You have to hold it like this.” The man holds the fish out again, his fingers deep in the gills. “Do you want to keep it?” he asks, and my boy turns to me, questioning.
“I don’t know.” I pause, and the man waits. “Do you want to see me sever its spinal cord, slit open its belly, and scoop out the insides, the intestines and the stomach, then put my heel on its tail and scale it?”
“No,” my boy says softly, “I guess I don’t want it.”
The man turns and walks off.
“What’s he doing?”
The man turns and comes back, two fingers and now a thumb inserted under the other gill. He is watching me. Now he looks at the boy.
“Want to put it back?”
“Yes please,” my son says, suddenly humbled, and they walk together to the edge. They squat, holding the fish steady; it lists to one side and rolls in the shallow water. The man strokes it gently then launches it into the surf. It wiggles to life, there’s a glimmer of scales, a whisk of tail, and it disappears into the lip of a wave. We wait, watching the dark water for some kind of sign. Wisps of cloud obscure the sky. Seaweed pods gum the surface, but beyond that there is nothing but the ripple and churn of water.
My boy tugs at my hand.
“We’re going home,” I say.
The man stands still. Moonlight stipples the water. His jumpsuit is iridescent now, the orange a beacon. He doesn’t speak. My boy waves. I don’t know if the man sees or turns to watch us as we, too, disappear into the darkness.
Susan Haar’s play The Darlings was published by Broadway Publishing (2006), and her plays have also been published in The Best Men’s Stage Monologues of 2007 and in The Best 10-Minute Plays of 2018. Her work has been produced at Primary Stages, The Women’s Project, 13th Street Rep, and a variety of other venues, and she has recently been published in bioStories, The Borfski Press, Forge, The Furious Gazelle, Glint Literary Magazine, and Saint Ann’s Review. She is a member of The Actors Studio, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and HB Playwright’s Unit, was a selected participant at The Women’s Project, and served a residency at New River Dramatists. Her book of monologues, Radical Thinking Inside a Box, will be published by Smith & Krauss in 2019.
She received her J.D. and a B.A. in visual studies from Harvard University. She is currently a real estate consultant to the dean of New York University Law School. When she’s not writing, she enjoys gardening and beekeeping.