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Like Bees On A Raft Of Air

In the shadow of elders in 1950s Laguna.

Light / Dark

“Just watch.” Peanuts points. They’re sitting on an old balsa surfboard. Peanuts and the boy. Backs against Oak Street’s low rock wall. Legs hanging over, casting morning shadows.

He wears rust-stained white Outrigger Canoe Club trunks. All the older guys wear them. The boy also has a pair. Like his, but newer. Bought downtown—Walta Clarke’s Hawaiian Shop—across from Main Beach.

Peanuts suddenly produces a scuffed cigar box. He glances over. The boy knows better than to ask. Peanuts chuckles and opens the lid. A faint scent of cedar escapes. Nestled inside on cotton, are tiny gliders. Slivers of balsawood and clear-doped tissue paper. They resemble mounted insects.

“Watch,” Peanuts says, moistening his finger. He lifts it above his head. Then he points.

Looking, the boy sees nothing. Only the ocean. Shallow, apple green water, a shadow of eelgrass. Beyond the reef, turquoise. Then, marking the deeper Pacific, cerulean.

“What,” the boy whispers.

“Shush. Just watch. You’ll feel it.”

It’s there. Faint pressure, eddying around the boy’s ears.

Peanuts points.

Over the reef, a cat’s paw of wind. Shifting, wrinkling the water.

He removes a tiny bumble-bee-sized glider. Pinches it lightly, like a piece of lint.

“It’s so small,” the boy marvels.

“Shhh.” He closes the cigar box’s lid. Whatever’s going to transpire requires silence.

Leaning forward, Peanuts’ wrist cocks back. Then, just his fingers flick. The tiny aircraft floats for a moment. Then it plunges below the cliff’s lip.

“It’s—”

“Quiet. Watch.”

Lifted by an unseen current it reappears. Hanging at eye-level—suspended—feet away.

Peanuts removes another. He waits, then makes the releasing gesture. He launches two more.

They watch.

One plummets, almost reaching the beach. Then it lifts, rising above the others. Three gliders circle—dancing an airborne adagio. A tiny almost-invisible squadron.

“It’s like Emily Dickinson,” the boy whispers.

“Who?”

“She wrote poems, all alone, in an attic. We read one in school.” He quotes: “‘Like bees on a raft of air.’”

“They’re riding the adiabatical,” Peanuts mutters.

“A-di-a-bat-i-cal,” the boy repeats to himself. It sounds like a magic word. Like abracadabra. “Adiabatacal.” He repeats it again, under his breath.

He glances down at the empty box. Peanuts’ tiny gliders had seemed trapped inside. Now, he’s released them to an unknown fate. A grand and magical gesture.

Peanuts’ little undulating flotilla becomes smaller. Wafted seaward, disappearing on the wind’s current. They remain silent for a while.

Standing up, Peanuts closes the box’s lid. Suddenly he’s in a hurry. Peanuts is like that. Here, demanding absolute attention, then vanishing. Like his tiny gliders.

“Where’ll they go?” the boy asks, still watching. He’s anxious not to lose track. As if seeing them ensures their return.

“Somewhere. Out to sea. Wherever the wind’ll carry them. Maybe they’ll even return, with the onshore.”

“Like homing pigeons?”

“Nope.” Peanuts chuckles, vaulting the low rock wall. “Like bees. On a raft of air.”

This piece was originally written for and run in H20, Martin Sugarman’s popular SaMo Canyon artifact. The author spent his 1950s adolescence in the shadow of Laguna Beach’s elder surfers and is now one himself. —S.P.