John Duffy is from Ballina, County Mayo. He writes short fiction and poetry. John studied at NUI Galway and graduated with Master’s degree.
He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Wax the board
Slip on the wetsuit
and Cycle to the beach.
Enter dream time.
By John Duffy
Here, this will do, she is now, a massive tube of blue, yawning, curling and dripping in front. Holy mackerel. Turn around horse. Lying down for some rapid paddle, feels like you're going nowhere, suspended, then lifted by force from underneath, rising with it, taking position, real time in slow motion, until there's a drop of about six feet underneath and you realise you're on top of the thing, balance there, surrounded, thunderous motion over the shoulder, picking up speed, carried, swept along by the force, buzz, keep going there, hopping away on the board.
Walking up the beach.
Some people kicking football. Goal.
Thanks surf sista.
Back at base Jen was heating tea in a saucepan over a gas flame. A plate of butter croissants with fried eggs on the bonnet of a Chevrolet truck.
The way she could turn it on. The way she fit snugly under my chin while holding her close. The smell of her head. It must have something to do with. The oily, aromatic smell of her head.
'How was it?'
'Will you have tea? Warm you up.' 'Please.'
We had some clothes hanging on a line.
Snow white talking to some dwarves at the bottom of the Barents Sea. Shorts, swim suits and towels.
It could only get better from there really.
Trevin picked up his flask of steaming drink and lit a smoke. 'We got kicked out,' Jen said.
'We made too much noise last night. We can't stay here anymore.' 'We'll find somewhere else. This place is massive. I saw the map.' He looked around.
'I don’t know.'
'Marie is asking at reception.'
'It's so lame. We can't sing. We can't have a fire on the beach. You're making too much noise, blah, blah.'
'We were not that loud.'
"I said that and she's like, 'Well, we had some complaints from guests, so.'"
'Listen, I was the first to go to bed. I don't know what happened after that.'
'He was a funny buck Jen.'
'Oh my God. He was hilarious.'
'He's a funny bloke, for sure.'
'I was in stitches.'
'He works here doesn't he?'
'I think so.'
'He was like, the jolliest man you ever met.'
'Just laughing away the whole time. It was hard not to laugh with him.'
'It's like, contagious or something.
'Strumming the guitar afterwards and we were all singing. It was so much fun.'
'Here, it looks like we're out of fire wood.'
'That's the lot,' he said, nodding at the embers around the pit. 'I'll get some more.'
I met Marie outside reception,
'Hey, so I spoke with the owner. She gave me some flyers for parks and hotels in the area.’ ‘What about that place near Lake Lotus?’
‘Right? We could go back there.’
‘And we’re not that far from the beach.’
‘Right? This is just the start of our adventure Jay. We’re going to have a great time. No matter what.’
‘For sure we will. That’s the spirit!’
I went down the path and across the road back towards the river.
After a while, by a pathway overgrown with early summer growth, salmon berries, a totem pole figure with arms outstretched wearing a denim gardener’s outfit and cap. There was a glass house nearby, and the loveliest cuts of wood in the ditch, about four feet long, all dried out.
I heard a rustling from within the bushes.
'We were staying above.'
'How's it going here?'
'We've been here for months mate. It's the best place ever.' 'She's some spot. You can hear it from here.'
'It's the business. We go out every day. It's just the biz.' 'Class.'
There was something about this buck. I had a feeling he knew what I was going to say before I even knew the formation of the words myself. The smiley head on him. Sure enough.
'Well, he might let you stay here. I could ask him if you want. Is it just yourself?' 'I'm with girlfriend and two friends.'
'We can go there now and ask him if you want?'
'This place looks magic.'
'Just wait until you see the rest of it.'
We ran along the path through the forest and soon it became a rope bridge of sorts that led into the upper reaches of the trees and after a while we were surrounded by branches woven together with rope in places, the light was bright, sunlight through spaces, hundreds of emerald shades of light and occasionally the blueness of the sky and darker blue of the ocean further out. Just unreal. Ethereal.
We went along this bridge for about three hundred yards through the trees then down into a garden with gnomes and fountains around a lawn to a cabin built within a massive ring of old growth trees. I thought I was in a Lord of the Rings film or something else.
He knocked on the door,
'Mr. Cool. There is somebody here, wants to speak with you. Jay is here.' 'Thank you Alex.'
‘You are most welcome to our home in the rainforest.’ 3
‘Thank you. It’s good to be here.’
He brought a bowl of soup to the table.
'You'll excuse me, I'm just at lunch.'
'No bother. I got you at a bad time.'
'Not at all. You are supposed to be here.'
'So tell me about yourself?
What brings you to us?'
'Well, I'm travelling around the island with girlfriend and another couple of friends.
We're not staying at the resort anymore.'
'I'm from, you know,'
'Yes, I know. My mother you see.'
'So, we were wondering could we stay here. We have tents and materials.'
'So Jay. Yes! You are most welcome to stay with us. We have plots we're working on. Perhaps you could clear a space.'
'Not a problem.'
He took a call on the telephone.
'Excuse me. So. Yes, we are an eco-friendly community here aiming for full self-sufficiency within a few years.'
'It really is.'
'We grow our own food. We have a whole irrigation system in place.
We harvest rain water. We use solar panels for power. I can show you around if you'd like. 'Sounds great.'
'Well. Yes! Jay. Be sure to invite your friends over.'
'Thank you Sir. We'll see you later.'
Outside in a common area, a girl was tying plaits in another girl’s hair.
There was a girl trace painting leaves on a sheet of plywood by the bench. The venation patterns. It looked pretty cool.
There were tents, huts and shacks set up about the place.
I passed a fellow sitting on the steps of a caravan playing harmonica.
A sign in the garden read,
Lettuce live in peace.
There were rows of potatoes and other vegetables growing well in the gardens.
What a bouncy feeling leaving his place. What a legend of a man. Wait until I tell the rest of the guys about this fellow. Wait until I tell them about this place.
Back at base Jen was wearing big sunglasses, speaking on her cell phone to a hotel receptionist. Marie looked flustered. She threw a T- shirt inside her ruck sack.
'Look. It is what it is.'
'I know babe. We'll find someplace else.'
Trev put his arm around her.
'It's not the end of the world. Right?'
Then twenty minutes later we're all rolling into Cools place and there was the man himself walking along the path, dragging a block with a handful of bottle caps stuck to it. A magnet block.
'Hello. You are most welcome. It is truly amazing you are here!'
'So we can stay here, right?'
'How much does it cost?'
'Well. Perhaps you could help with some general labour in return.' 'Of course.'
'Wow. It is so great you are here Jen.'
'Absolutely. Good to meet you Mr. Cool. And thank you so much.'
'Wow! Marie. You're just so. Wow!'
'Trevin. Yes! You made it.'
'Thanks Mr. Cool. You've got a big place here,' looking around.
'There is a lot of work. We always need hands. Right now we are building a floating stage. There will be seating for two hundred people over there.'
'That's in the future.'
Next thing he's massaging Jens shoulders and then Marie afterwards and the girls seemed unfazed and delighted, which spoke to the innocent intent behind this little ritual.
Oh yeah. It was nice after that we could relax a bit at Cools place. Dig a bit of earth out for the plots. Set up our tents.
Trevin and Marie had a big purple tent they called the Palace.
We had a standard enough tent but it did the job.
Splitting wood with an axe for the fire. We didn't have far to go for it.
Walking around the pathways, the shadows gathered round.
There were old abandoned vehicles parked up in places. A school bus with rusty old doors and the wheels taken off. A bobcat and some machinery.
I passed an old recreational vehicle covered in weeds with no wheels. It must have been there since the 1980’s. A neon sign blinking in the windscreen. Open.
Voices nearby. People coming and going.
You can check out any time you like but you can never leave.
Remember those surfing lessons in Jay Bay, South Africa from that fellow, The blondie mop,
And a black tank top
With some words, Wu Tang.
'Turn it around man,
When you see the wave forming, When it's there,
Face the shore
'Hold the rails like this. Then jump up and
Go with the flow.'
'Then listen. OK. Just Relax. Yeah man, you can totally do this. There's no competition here. Step through the water, feel the flow hard against the quads, let the toes dig into the sand, must gauge the direction of the current, walking into ocean space.’
Before he sent us out to the most shark-infested waters on the planet. We were beaten up by water.
Until you heard his words
Ringing in your ears
And you get up and ride a wave, Swimming away to catch another. Into the deepest blue,
Letting the board do the work, Ducking into the bigger waves. Pros out back,
Sitting on short boards,
Gazing over the gathering swell. Afritude.
It could take years of practice Or thirty hours.
Depends what shape you're in.
Then later, taking inspiration from Mr. Cool’s initiative we gave the girls massage around the fire. We had a few brews. Jen stood, warming her back side by the fire.
Golden-orange flames licking the wood, curling up.
That night, the sky was thick with stars.
We watched them drop.
Then lying in the tent with her afterwards, warming her up, the depths of cold and darkness and quiet enveloped us, drifting off together, body heat in a sleeping bag, the distant rumble of the ocean carried over in waves.
Here to you Mr. Cool.
A sound fellow to meet along the way.
'What are those birds called with the blue feathers?'
'They woke me up at first light, flying through the trees about your place.' 'Those are our resident Steller’s Jay.'
We were not the only people you helped along the way. I read the report. You made it possible for some people to live there. For decades.
Affordable living in relative harmony with nature, old school bartering system, faith in people and their skills and abilities.
You made paradise even better.
On the Pacific Rim,
Past the 49th Parallel there are many stars.
Many years later, we returned on holidays, Jen said, 'You should go surfing.
You can do it, can't you?'
Such a question.
The cold freshness of the water pervading the skin. Free floating about in the water, feet can't feel the bottom now. Turning over, swirling, twirling round, stretching limbs, so much space
further out, so much blue beyond, wonder what it's like in the deeper water, wonder what it was like for him back in 1988, starting out on his path.
The smell of salt and ocean water rushing in, each wave a different story.
This perilous, awesome beauty abounds, combinations of sounds, smells like seaweed and bull kelp nearby. So much to rediscover about the island.
The pros were busy out back, hopping about on proper waves with such skill. We watched them for hours yesterday evening, their dark shapes and silhouettes against the orange-red sun set, still at it. Swinging in a hammock with Jen. That was nice. The two of us, rolled into a hammock strung between two cedar trees. The sound of waves rushing up the beach.
A ticking clock.
We got back this summer and learned the news.
The road was dusty driving down.
A sign outside Mr. Cool’s place read,
Multi-coloured scribbles all over it.
Here's a little scarf to wrap around yourself in heaven buddy. Big hearts travel far.
My best wishes to all in these Pandemic times.