Once, drunk, two brothers decided to walk west until they reached the ocean. The older one was to be married seven days later to a kind, dark-haired woman, so the younger one never left his side for more than a minute that night. There were other, incidental men in their group, but their names have all flickered out by now. They’d just come from a variety show and 8 course dinner in Chinatown, so drop soup & sour mix slicked the bowls of their bellies as they walked through the city. The cigar smoke didn’t help their nausea at all.
Truthfully, the two were not brothers, whatever the younger one wished. Just college buddies. Just friends who’d seen the worst moments of each others’ lives up to that point, & who both loved the dark-haired woman in their own way. They all stumbled west from Long Beach, shouldering street lights until they reached the dim, moondrawn edge of the ocean.
As they walked, the older & younger man stood away from the drove of swaying drunks. Someone fell backward into a rusty firepit, was forgotten. The younger one, already a divorced single parent, wanted to say something wise to mark the moment, weighting his hand solemnly on his friend’s shoulder.
He wanted to tell the future. Like this:
In seven days, you’ll catch up to her laugh.
In one year, you’ll find a stray cat behind
a dumpster & grow your family to three.
In seven years, you will have a son
& I will lose a son, whom you love, months apart.
You’ll wonder, passingly, if there was a way to trade
your son’s unformed soul for my son’s
chemo-battered, 12-year-old soul,
would you take it?
This is the most loving thing
you’ll ever say to me, & still,
in ten years, we won’t be friends anymore.
The many stories of our one fight
will be so much less important
than the state of unfriendship that came after.
I will get married, and we will both have second sons,
months apart, each on our own sides of the world.
You won’t tell me when your wife gets sick
or when she gets better
or when she gets sick again.
& still, in sixteen years,
you will call me at five in the morning
to tell me they can’t stop the bleeding.
I will drive a hundred miles to see her,
& you, & I will arrive
five minutes late—
But the younger man didn’t know this future, so he stuck his hands in his pockets and said nothing as they walked across the sand to the water.
Look, the older man said. The ocean’s glowing.
The seasonal bloom of bioluminescent algae, the kind that turns blue when agitated, came early that summer, banking the L.A. coast with neon for a week. Each wave warmed in a long, slow curl, then exploded into beryl in the break & churn. Someone realized that hard footsteps on wet sand would linger. Someone waded to his hips to slosh a blue angel out of salt & darkness.
Come on. Let’s write our names with pee, the older one said, and everyone agreed, because it was his party and he was their leader. Other, incidental men joined the almost brothers in a line facing the ocean, 8 Picassos about to draw a centaur in the air with a light pen.
Between waves, they each held their cold dick out & tried to piss a signature in front of their feet. Not one could finish the full, glowing script of their name before the damp sand faded black, before the ground was dark enough to disappear into.
Micah Chatterton’s first collection, Go to the Living, was published in 2017. His work has appeared widely, including in Pratik, EcoTheo, Tupelo Quarterly and Best New Poets. Micah teaches rhetoric and library at San Bernardino Valley College. He tweets about small, wild things at @micahchatterton and is waiting for a new heart because his old one mutinied.