By Reem Abu-Baker
Tuesday, my Miles reads about the way the moon pulls the tide—like a magnet, he says, dangling the black horseshoe above his sandy hair and looking up. I take his shoes off and scold him when the rocks tumble across the kitchen floor. He draws his feet under his body and keeps tracing the words with chewed fingers.
In the morning, we walk along the water like always, me holding his thin arm to keep him from climbing the jagged dark mounds. I can feel his bones through the skin; he has always been so small. I let him run along the water if he doesn’t go deeper than his ankles.
My Miles stands still in the ankle-ocean and stares at the sky. His eyes search above him on Wednesday and Thursday.
Friday, the white day crescent shows itself, and his little hands reach up as if to touch it. I leave him to walk down the shore alone. I am not too worried. My Miles knows the dangers of water because I have told him every night how easy it is to be sucked down the undercurrents. I have told him that this is how his father was taken.
Looking down as I drag my feet up from the sand’s pull, I almost walk into the beast’s limp body. It is freshly washed up. Its rubbery hide doesn’t smell like anything but salt and seaweed. Only a few flies circle. The black eyes are round, staring. Alive, the sea lions flop on Monterey’s boulders and docks and floating tires in hot breathing heaps. Dead, they lie in our sand like dark omens.
There are two that day, and I look for a third but can’t find it. When my Miles sees them, he says that maybe they are the skins of the seal-people he’d read about in his book of world mythologies. He says we must move them back from where the tide comes so they won’t get washed away, so the selkies will be able to find their skins and return to their homes. He is frantic, grabs my hand and leads me towards the bodies. They seem so thick next to him.
My Miles looks thin, on his skin a translucent glow. I do not want him to touch the sea lions, but my Miles twists around and slips his hand out of mine. I cannot hold him. He closes the animals’ eyes so gently, looks up again at the ghost moon hinged in the blue.
We pull, together, grabbing onto the leathery hide, digging our fingers into the cold fur. We make slow progress, and after the first sea lion is tucked into the rocks near the hill, my Miles’s arms and legs are shaking. I ask him if he wants to stop, but he turns, follows the wake we have made in the sand back to the other animal.
Inside, I make him scrub his hands with soap and hot water until they turn red. He stares out the window until the sky darkens and I send him to bed.
At night I hear the waves crashing up, and my Miles’s breaths get lost in them. His curled body shines in the window’s lunar glow. I kiss his head, lick the sand from my lips. I step silently out of the bedroom and through the kitchen, where I slide the matches from the drawer, the gasoline from the grill’s box.
The sea lions take a long time to burn, their melting blubber lighting up in a scent like the end of the earth. It is nearly unbearable, but I stand still in the cold damp, because this is the end, where the water starts. The flames reach longingly towards the moon. I look back at the house, the little wooden rectangle on the hill over the beach. It is ours. That is where my Miles sleeps.
Reem Abu-Baker lives in Denver, where she is an editor at Y’all’d’veand a program coordinator at Colorado Humanities. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in Timber, Thin Air Magazine, Word Riot,and other journals.