by Jaime Balboa

The ocean calls. A surfer said that to me once. Swimmers, sailors, fishermen all say the same thing. Ask them what it says, ask them to quote the ocean back to you. See? They laugh. That’s because they don’t have the conch. I don’t laugh because I can quote it back. I have the conch now and I can quote it back. The ocean ocean ocean. I can quote it back.

Dreary February night. Drizzle, drizzle all night. Stinky stinky clothes all drippy drippy. On the beach, under a lifeguard tower, listening to the rain and the churning churning of the waves waves waves. I saw it. It didn’t want me to see it and I blushed and turned my eyes. So much mischief. It didn’t go away so I whistled to it. Quiet at first, without looking at it except quick out the corner of my eye. Louder I whistled and finally, I looked right at it and whistled a tune. You see? It moved, trying to come to me.

Flat on my stomach, like a Marine creeping up on an enemy – only the conch was no enemy, it was my connection. To the ocean. It connected me. I crawled, flat on my stomach in the drizzle drizzle across the wet sand. Dirty, stinky me in wet sand. Right up to the conch. I blew the sand off and it was empty. Listen. Even then I knew. Put it to my ear.

‘Listen carefully.’

I put it down with a start. You see, I was embarrassed again. The conch spoke to me! I giggled and glanced around. Twitter flitter, nobody saw. Nobody on the beach. Drizzle drizzle dreary day. Nobody on the beach. Put it to my ear.

It instructed me. The conch did that.

A conch can’t speak, you say. But it wasn’t the conch so much as the ocean. The ocean spoke through the conch. And I can quote it back to you.

‘Listen carefully. Save Roxy.’

‘Who is Roxy?’

‘A little girl. Be the hero. Save her.’

‘Why me?’

‘Because it all comes down to you. Only you.’

You see? It was just like that. Save Roxy. The ocean chose me.

*

Mom says the water’s too cold this time of year, that I’ll just get chilled and then complain. She’s wrong, though. I never complain at the beach, not even if it’s drizzling or cold. I convinced her: the beach, not the trampoline park. We’re packing our lunches and towels now and a thermos full of hot cocoa. The thing is, Mom loves the beach as much as I do. Our wetsuits and bodyboards are already in the car. I really love the beach.

*

Hand in my pocket, conch in my hand. Special special. Don’t let go, real careful like. The ocean talking through the conch. I could tell. I was saved when I turned twelve. Dunky dunky in the river. Me and the preacher in our clothes. The ocean chose me. But who is Roxy? Listen to the conch. Quiet quiet. Sh sh sh.

Shivering, shivering, chickery cold February day. Drizzle drizzle all dried up. Conch to ear, patrol.

Save Roxy. It all comes down to me. Only me.

Tiny clams echo the ocean in their tiny whispers, Save Roxy.

Up ahead, a jogger. A man. Not Roxy. A clue? I whisper, ‘Where’s Roxy.’ Nothing. Loud as thunder: ‘Where’s Roxy?’ Barely a nod. It all comes down to me.

Oh, looky looky, over there. Looky looky look.

*

Mom calls these waves crunchy because there’s no tubes. They’re shoreline, crunchy breaks, and perfect to ride with a bodyboard because I can’t get thrown. She was right, the water is cold but we have our wetsuits and the beach to ourselves. We had our sandwiches and hot cocoa after a good while in the waves. I went back in, but even with the cocoa and wetsuit, Mom was cold and stood on the sand, wrapped in a towel, watching me.

*

Be the hero. Quickly quickly to the girl in the turquoise wetsuit, splishing splashing in the surf. Roxy splashing in the surf. Grippy grippy conch real tight, slicey peaks and ridges. Bloody digits bloody palm saving turquoise Roxy.

Waste no time. Dunky dunky save her in my clothes, like when I was twelve. Dunky dunky splash splash splash. Dunky dunky dunk. Save little Roxy. Hero of her soul. Dunky dunky dunk her soul.

Jaime Balboa’s fiction has appeared in The Timberline ReviewStreetlight MagazineLunch TicketChaleur Magazine, and elsewhere. He currently edits for Flash Fiction Magazine. An open water swimmer, many of his stories come to him in the waters of the Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @jaimerb.