"Deluge"


“To look at the river now,” I said.

“Makes me forget it was a dry river bottom…. We used to run circles in.”

Brett and I stood on the rusted-over Union Pacific truss overlooking the Ventura River, now flooded from El Niño’s deluge. We were getting drenched, hoodies over our heads, facing the Pacific Ocean and watching the waves rise higher than we’d ever seen. We passed a joint between us, trying to keep it together and dry. The waves broke down on the tide thunderous, booming like something sonic, each wave’s back-spray camouflaging the next one growing.

“We should be out there,” Brett said.

“Dad would be,” I said. “Imagine the stuff that’s in that water, from all the way in Casitas, brought out there from the river.”

“He would.”

Brett stripped off his hoodie—“Yeah, good idea”—and the rain hit us on our bare shoulders, parted our long and unkempt hair, and the smoke, when we let it go, hung against the sheets of rain coming down all around us.

“I think we can do it.”

“Man,” I said. “If we do it, we should have fins. We should have a lot of things.”

I laughed.

“Nah, too hard to surf with a finbelt. I’ve tried. Rather take my chances of not wiping out.”

“Like in Teahupo'o.”

“Yeah.” Brett laughed. “Like you in Teahupo'o.”

* * * * *

I was in my kitchen rolling a joint with fingers shaky from not having eaten. The week-long rain had finally lessened but the storm far from over. In the news, El Niño seemed to have retreated, but only to regain its full strength—it was coming back to flood us more. Well inside my apartment, my chafed elbows propped against the woodgrain Formica countertop worn white long before I existed, I mistakenly ripped a creased leaf of Arabic gummed paper, my set jaw off-kilter, when the phone rang once, twice, three times, again I thought—four. Brett buzzed on the other end of it, saying, “El Niño’s a gift from God, Boonie. Anyhow. What? Screw what the Weather Channel said. I’m amped. You too, right?”

So I decided to agree with him with all my heart—the same heart my girlfriend, Maggie, thought she’d tucked away for safekeeping. And here it was, 1997, a nasty El Niño upon us—on our own claustrophobic generation X, Y, or Z, they weren’t sure, and so were we, unsure. I heard noises from Maggie opening and shutting drawers and the medicine cabinet down the hall from me. Brett muffled the phone, but not well enough, and said, “Just pack what we need, that’s it.”

He was talking to Natalia, his girlfriend, who fired back, “Okay. Ass!”

We were all going surfing.

Brett went on blaring, “It’s not like we’re going hiking in the Sespe,” to which Natalia countered, “Okay-ass!”

An hour went. I breathed out the cakey patio screen where the glass door was cracked open and saw Brett’s topaz pickup truck race into the parking lot of Buenaventura Studios, my apartment conglomerate. I shouldered into a flannel shirt, left it open, and stepped outside. My eyes tightened under the overcast morning that rumbled from high but was supposed to hold until night. The air was warmer, without the smell of rain… we had plenty of time.

Two tailfins overbit the tailgate of Brett’s pickup truck. The warmed asphalt tickled the rubber of his sagging tires, sounding off like the mini racing pigs at the Ventura County Fair every year. I watched Natalia in the cab of the truck, faced forward and hidden by a pair of Foster Grant shades. Before Brett had even braked, she moved at the passenger door and hopped out.

“Hey, Boone,” Natalia hollered and waved, whirling to the tailgate. She yanked her shortboard out from the bed as if, what—as if it weighed nothing at all. She brought it to where I stood in the fresh-cut grass, where dark green clumps cooled the bare soles of my feet. She laid it down, stripped the grungy wax. I swept my hair out of my face and called her Nat because it created a kind of funny fury in her. And when I did she swung her board around and nearly clocked me.

“We need to get some fresh wax on these boards, quick,” Brett barked out the left-open door. “They’ve already been stripped,” he lied, his adrenaline going.

He leapt out of the cab, maneuvering his stickered-up board from the bed, and pressed it into the grass next to Nat’s. He sling-shotted back into the cab, frisbeeing Slayer into the dash-mounted aftermarket CD player he’d recently got in exchange for a quarter ganja.

Nat tore shrinkwrap from a fresh bar of Mr. Zog’s Quick Humps Sex Wax.