A wall of angry clouds threatened the morning light. William Watson hoisted the last suitcase and slammed the trunk.
“Hurry! It’s almost here!” he hollered. “We need to stay ahead of it!”
He adjusted the rearview mirror, smiled confidently at the kids, and wheeled the sedan off the apron of the driveway.
“Here we go!”
The dark nimbus blanket trailed them for many miles before disappearing. It wouldn’t be long before they were in paradise.
William’s feet brushed against the warm sand, triggering an influx of fine memories. The graceful spring breeze, the azure sky, the unforgettable scent of salt in the afternoon air. His eyes dampened.
With his head raised and lids relaxed, the nooks of his mouth widened; dimpling his cheeks with nostalgic elation.
Hello, old friend.
The children sang in unison, “We’re here!”
Kites soared, music pulsed, billows whooshed; explosions of joy swept the Watson family. As they trekked past a medley of peoples and tribes, William realized himself. Despite his fear of the ocean, he entered its shallow edge.
His confidence swelled amid the cool mist of the folding waves and earth grains between his toes. He scanned the beach and found Mrs. Watson sampling a tamarind margarita under a cabana. She glistened with beauty.
He wandered further out; the waves were now above his shoulders, tapping his chin. He shifted his attention to the children and with great triumph, roared, “Kids! Look at Dad!” They were preoccupied with their sand castle, unable to hear his calls. Emma glanced up at him but was distracted by her little brother who had begun to squeal.
“Emma, look! Look what I caught!” cried William Jr. He was holding an alien beach bug.
William chuckled, momentarily forgetting the ocean’s humbling presence. He didn’t want the day to end. The calm swagger of the touring horses, the banana boats screaming on the horizon, the flying machines, the melodies, the spirits—it soothed his old soul.
There was a loud, echoing CRACK! The ground felt as though it would drop from beneath him. Spidery black clouds groveled toward them, deflating his jovial state. The thunder-clapping shadows bullied their way into his utopic world.
You bastard, he thought.
His heart raced, muscles tensed. Fear leaped into his gut like rabid grasshoppers. Emma cut through the waves in his direction. He didn’t want her to see what was about to happen.
Slaps of thunder spooked Mrs. Watson. Her senses flickered as she checked the shoreline. She reached for her binoculars, removed her mirrored shades, and focused the lenses. Panic choked her; she staggered to her feet, sending the margarita splashing onto the hot sand. Her vocal folds mummified with fright. Their eyes fastened. William mouthed, I love you. Then it happened.
It hit him with the force of a deranged fighting bull. The impact was mild compared to the grinding pressure that ensued. Adrenaline flooded his body as he struggled to tear away from its vibrating jaws. The savage thrusting flopped his torso above the red bubbling surface like a strung puppet.
Please, don’t let them see me like this!
With nanosecond speed, William placed his little girl—studying the contour of her dainty face. In the heart of every parent exists a primal impulse to shield a child from the ugly, ungodly things of the world.
Emma, my sweet Emma, he grieved. Please don’t look at me.
The carnage continued, and he wondered naively when it would stop. Reality grabbed him by the throat, and it was then that he understood what was happening. The pain was excruciating, but his mind was alert—as clear and sharp as a diamond.
Why is this happening?! I’m a good man!
Feelings of forsakenness and indignation overtook him. Concern for his flesh disappeared. Fear was all that remained. The thought of abandoning Emma and her brother was more than he could bear. He angled his head upward; he could see the glare from the ocean’s surface dimming as the monster drew him deeper.
I’m not ready. There was so much more I wanted to . . .
He exploded. Reduced to that of an animal, he began to paw his way to its lifeless eye. He scraped, gouged, tore at the black rolling orb. The monster burst into a bestial frenzy—snapping his pelvis like a large wishbone. The jolt that followed was final.
His body was razed; a distorted shell of what it was just seconds ago. Everything burned and began to give out. His lungs failed and icy seawater sliced its way in. Like an ancient scroll, he opened—revealing many truths.
He could see their faces. The nooks of his mouth widened. And like an old dog in its final moment, William Watson received his omega.
It had been a year since cancer took William. The oncologist was astounded. In all her years of practice, she had never seen such courage, such devotion, such love. William had tried to refuse the morphine, but in the end, the pain was just too great. He wanted to leave the world on his feet, rather than in a comatose state. His entire life had been a battle. This was the battle to end all battles.
“I’ll never forget that smile,” Dr. Ramsey confessed to a colleague. “That wide, fearless, absolute smile he gave her, right up until—” she paused, fighting back the tears. “It was heart-wrenchingly beautiful.”
Mrs. Watson sipped on a margarita. She looked up and noticed a kite; it was dancing with the cool spring wind. Memories of William caressed her thoughts.
“Emma!” she yelled, hand on her chest. “Please don’t go so far out!”
She glared at her mother.
Mrs. Watson motioned for the kids to come to her.
“I miss Daddy,” moaned Emma, tears raining down her face. “It’s not the same here without him. Nothing will ever be the same.” Her mother held her tightly.
“I miss him, too,” William Jr. murmured while organizing his seashells.
Mrs. Watson grappled with the meaning of it all. A cool breeze suddenly enveloped her with pictures of his smile.
Together, they relaxed their watery eyelids . . . and remembered.
Artwork by the author.