Fiction

Ocean Beach

BY


Illustration by Rolli

It’s another perfect day at Ocean Beach Men’s Shelter.

I had a desk job for ten years. I made some bad decisions. I got fired for punching Mr. Aldermaston. I started training to be a fighter. I bought a station wagon. When I crashed the station wagon, I walked away but the guy from the Mercedes punched me in the back of the head.

“What medications do you take?” the doctor asked me. After I woke up.

I rattled them off.

“Your cerebellum is in bad shape.”

It felt fine.

“Can I fight again?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “If you want to die.”

I would’ve punched him only I was strapped to a gurney.

“And you can’t drink again, either,” he added.

I just about lost my shit.

“Nice tattoo,” said the nurse. After jamming a needle in my arm.

*

“Hey, bud,” said a voice, a guy’s voice, in the dark.

“Got the time?”

“It’s the middle of the night,” I said. Assuming.

“Thanks, bud.”

My eyes weren’t adjusting.

“Your brain works best in the dark, you notice that? I can’t fucking think for my life in the AM but—you got any weed?”

“I’m strapped to a gurney,” I said.

I heard this creaking.

“Me too,” the guy said.

“When I was a kid, when it was dark in my bedroom, I could see lots of things floating around. Cartoons, spiders, knives. If I thought about spiders, that’s all I’d see, they’d cover me. I’d scream. Dreams, my mom would always say, just dreams. But they weren’t dreams. They were real. Or they were real dreams, ha. You ever experience shit like that?”

“No.”

Silence.

“Did you say you had some weed?”

I felt sleepy.

I closed my eyes.

*

The best thing about Ocean Beach . . .

I get up at sunrise. I have some coffee. I meditate. I go for a swim. I have breakfast. I take a nap. I have lunch. I have some coffee. I meditate. I go hiking. I have supper. I go for a swim. I read a bit. I punch someone. I go to bed.

Every day’s a good day.

Every day used to be shit.

Shit.

*

For a few months, I was stuck in a room with another guy. He was always sleeping. Sometimes he opened a book and slept.

I sat up in bed, one day.

“Why are we here, again?” I said.

The guy opened one eye. Then he closed it.

I lay back down.

I sat up again.

I picked up a newspaper. I rolled it up. I threw the newspaper at the guy.

He sat up.

“That’s assault!”

I laughed.

“That’s a laugh,” I said.

The guy threw his book at me. It was a big, thick book. It was a Bible.

I walked up to him and punched his lights out. Only they kept coming back on.

The door clicked.

I felt a prick in my neck.

“I like your sideburns,” said the nurse, sticking the needle in deep.

*

Darkness.

“How’s it going, bud?”

I couldn’t budge.

I heard this shifting and squeaking.

“Could you repeat the question?” the guy said.

“This one time, my buddy and I and his girl—this was in Mexico—we drove deep into the jungle and pitched a tent. We chucked our clothes, it was so isolated. By the end of the night, we’d smoked the whole coconut. We had this coconut with dope in it.”

“Who the hell are you?” I asked.

No answer.

“I could sure go for a coconut about now.”

Silence.

I was getting pretty tired.

“Night, bud,” said the guy.

“Night,” I said.

*

I’ve got lots of memories just floating around. I don’t know where they fit.

Like sitting on the floor with a woman and two kids I’d never seen before. Doing a puzzle or something, I can’t remember. The kids kept looking up at me.

And walking in a garden. I remember . . . I crouched down and touched a flower. I rubbed it till it fell apart. When I looked up a guy with a clipboard was writing stuff down.

I’m pretty sure there was electricity shooting out of me. This was another time.

“Torture chamber,” I remember saying. Whenever anyone looked at me.

*

The biggest guy in the Common Room was always Big Ed. Six six, six seven. At least.

He was sitting by the window. Looking up at the clock.

When he got up to take a leak, I jumped him.

He threw me off like a bronco but I got back on. I put a choke-hold on him and decked him.

He finally went down.

The clock fell on his head.

A buzzer went off.

“Your stitches are looking better,” said the nurse. Pulling the needle back out.

*

“Life ain’t a cartoon, you know,” said the guy in the dark.

“I know that.”

“It’s more like a dinner theatre.”

I waited but he didn’t say anything.

I was ninety-nine percent sure I could smell marijuana.

*

They gave me a new suit when they discharged me. And some sunscreen.

I ripped the arms off the jacket.

I did a hundred push-ups.

I ripped the legs off at the knee.

I jogged out of the city.

I didn’t look back once.

*

When I wake up in the morning, I’m thinking about it.

When I look out the window, I’m looking at it.

Mount Ookean. Twenty-two thousand feet, the tallest peak. Twenty-two thousand fucking feet. Rising out of the sea.

My backpack’s ready to go.

I’m going to be famous or dead.

I’ll just have to wait and see.

Rolli (rollistuff.com; @rolliwrites) is a writer and cartoonist from Regina. His most recent story collection, I Am Currently Working On a Novel, was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and short-listed for the High Plains Book Award. Rolli’s cartoons appear regularly in the Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, Adbusters, and other popular outlets.

THEWALRUS.CA IS FREE. If you enjoyed this article, please consider making a donation to the charitable, non-profit Walrus Foundation. Learn More »

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER. Get the weekly roundup from The Walrus, a collection of our best stories, delivered to your inbox. Learn More »

Elsewhere on TheWalrus.ca