They were there, every other day, at the beach. I used to come every day. To see the wind, hear the air pop like bubble-wrap on the shore. I’d come at night: the wind was wet, free from the tongues of visitors, save me. But I’m more of a resident. When I was a teen, I’d come here with them. They were a teen too but more like a baby with some adult in there. One day, as we batted rocks with fat sticks, they were eyeing me. They said to me, “You don’t seem like a kid sometimes, you seem like something else.” They sighed, threw their stick to a stray. “You’re like that dog. Every time I do stuff with you, it feels like you’ll dart off and I’ll never see you again.” I hit a particularly large rock; my stick cracked in two, hinged by a strand. “Don’t worry,” I said. They said, “I’m not worrying. I was just thinking, it was an observation. Don’t think that.” I didn’t say anything, but I hit with that half-broken stick harder, to drown out their voice from my head. Some days after, we had a sleepover. They lived near the sea. I didn’t live far, but for some reason, I felt I couldn’t go to the sea, or even listen to it, or think about it, without him. I couldn’t think of them without the sea either, without a wave eating-up silence. When they raped me, the waves were strong, that night. My eyes didn’t move from the window till morning broke: I saw a thick-skinned owl made of twigs, a mid-flight bird made of barbed wire, and a wood-worked man running from something big, all coming to life, all with wide, yellow-painted eyes. Someone was building something, that night. When I returned the next morning, the sculptures weren’t there. In their place were rocks and wood beaten until indistinguishable from the sea-side logs. The debris was arranged in neat circles and they were there, sitting in them, watching the sea. I didn’t go to them until they called, “Come over here, will you?” I paused. Then I went. They were bolder, this time. There were onlookers, but they all grimaced and left. Now there was just the sea, watching us, and I alone looked back. There was nothing else to look at. The other day I came, as usual, after work and shots. It was mid-morning and I was sobering up. They were there, watching the sea. Their back was bare, pants in pools around their ankles. The moon was bright and met their sunken chest. I waited but they didn’t say anything. And when they heard my footsteps, those quiet aches, they still didn’t say anything. Still nothing, as I stood behind him, my face a breath away from their neck. “Still a dog?” I said. They turned, their eyes red and heavy sighs salt-licked. They studied everything but my eyes as waves sprinkled their backside. A tide ran up their feet and carried away their shorts, and as it receded, their shorts hooked to the rust of newborn sculptures sitting in the distance. They raised their fingers to my chest, but lowered them before making contact. Then suddenly, they gripped my arms and hugged me, a long, tight hug, that weakened as the sun rose, their head slack on my shoulders. I don’t know how long it was. But after some moments, they broke from me and walked idly to the sea. They paused at the sculptures, another tall man and bird and, this time, a human-sized rabbit. They locked eyes with the figures, for a moment, before sinking beneath the surface. I came the next day, as always. They weren’t there, but a new sculpture — a carved rock and barbed-wire dog — stood above the debris left for the world last night.
Jacob Ahana-Laba is a writer, poet, and artist from Berkeley, California. They have appeared or are forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, DIAGRAM, Psychedelic Press, as well as elsewhere.