I came upon them in the waves. The sea heaved green and rolled in white. Scott, my youngest brother, and Harry, the Chinese neighbor kid, let the waves have them. They didn’t notice me come up. They were in a scene I wanted to remember. Tuxis Island’s scruffy green outline stood out beyond their flopping, wave-washed bodies. The sky was not clear blue, but was bracing anyhow, restless and bright like the sea’s glittering war. It threw up the debris of the storm, seaweed brown and green. I had forgotten about the storm, much touted in the weather-as-entertainment news, but I saw it there in the water, a trauma rolling and rolling in like news after an attack. The sea was so electric I had to go in. it lit up Scott’s and Harry’s faces.
I figured it wouldn’t matter just pulling off my pants since there was hardly anyone on the beach. Every soul there was enamored, anyhow. No one looked at my boxers. Boys were hell-bent for waves. Little girls could not resist running down to the hissing fringe, magically transmitting delight to the faces of their mothers behind them. I waded in. It took me in. Scott swam out impetuously, head lifting and dropping over the waves; I followed. We wanted that ominous sight of something alive and looming, a gathering danger that bobbed us up at the last second for a sight of another one. Tired, we turned back. Seaweed touched a foot, a thigh. I fought to touch sand – a current sucked back out and new waves swelled over it. I finally stood: Scott was still engulfed in surf, mouth hung open, beat. He was just being theatrical, right? I thought. A thought shocked me. “Get out!” I snapped, angry. I never thought of currents, not here --. He still lolled limply under each wave. “Come on, get out!” I shouted again, an order this time, I am your big brother and you are not gonna scare me with this look of giving up. He hauled himself up onto the beach. I went back in. There he stood on the sand, mouth still slack, panting. “Don’t swim out wearing long pants!” I said brusquely. He nodded. Christ, this is how he could come to an end, careless and rash and feeling good – then the pants, heavy, dragging. . .
Later we three stood in a circle on the sand. Harry and I initiated Scott into Chinese. “Guess what I’m saying to Harry,” I said to Scott: “Ni e bu e.” Scott looked puzzled. “Ni e bu e,” I repeated.
“Umm, hungry?” he asked.
“Yeah, you hungry not hungry.” When I tried getting him to say, “I want to drink,” he couldn’t stop laughing when he hit the last word, “He” (drink). It comes from the gut. He laughed, bent over. Harry laughed, I laughed. “Again,” I’d say, and it would happen again, like a foot on a banana peel. Finally he was on.
The first time he said “chi” (eat), he said it just right. “Wow,” Harry and I said. Like the word tree without the two “e”s. I marveled at the sight of Scott speaking Chinese, brow furrowed, lips groping. For a minute a little fantasy had me. Those Chinese words bounced back and forth and only us three stood circled in that violent beauty. We were smuggled into something strange. We were elsewhere, in a different place that looked like the old Surf Club, but was wild with waves, sun, and bizarre syllables in Scott’s mouth. And we all three were gilded by the sun.