"The Wrecking Ground, pt. 5" by Lee Huttner
"The Wrecking Ground" is an essay told in parts by Lee Huttner. We will be publishing a new part each week on our blog. Stay tuned!
A glove, linen, cast up on the strand. Its fingers filled with sand, as if there were a hand still within, keeping itself warm.
The sand fills the pockets of coats, too. Coins, handkerchiefs, billfolds, letters, pickpocketed by the sea and exchanged for fine dark silt.
When he walks the streets of Concord, he is known by everyone. When he smiles, he does not show his teeth. Here, at this last gasp of land, no one knows him.
He only arrived this morning. They see a man of thirty or thereabouts, aquiline nose, his jaw resolute, the corners of his mouth dimpled into mirrored crescents. He wears a coat pulled close about him despite the descending summer sun, and stands quite still, a few paces back from the wrack line, a raised cicatrice of foam and weeds, gray driftwood, broken shell.
He has been standing here for some while, looking out over the water.
A pair of drunken Dutch sailors weave, arms about each other’s shoulders, singing, among the salvage. Their jackets and shirts are unbuttoned, exposing the skin of their torsos, ludicrously pale compared to their dark sun-stained faces.
Listen: the sailors’ bawdy song carried along by the wind.
He waits until the final sliver of the sun dips and hides itself behind the lip of the horizon. The sky is heavy and wet, the sunset staining the clouds crimson. Beneath heavy lids, his eyes, hardly blinking, reflect only the darkening water. Soon, as evening deepens to night, sky and sea will be indistinguishable.
It is five days since they found the boy, four days since the burial. The scavengers from Islip and Babylon have claimed much from the free commons of the sea. Hats and skirts and half-rotted furnishings. Some coins. But still he waits. The water has much to relinquish still.
They tell him how they cleaned the child, washed the body, dried and dressed it for the grave. The sand gave them some trouble. Sand in its mouth, sand in its hair, sand in its ears, sand under its eyelids. Every time they turned it, a dusting of sand would spill from some new place.
Listen: a sudden splash and groan as one of the Dutchmen vomits. The shrill laugh as the other watches.
Soon, he will turn away. There will be light enough yet for an hour or so in which to walk the shore. His back to the sea, he will pass by the sailors, now asleep in the dunes, one’s head on the other’s chest. He will pause above them, find such beauty in the broad, homely faces, mouths hanging open and ringed with bile.
Walking on, he recalls that the breast feathers of the storm petrel are waterproof. One finds them floating, boat-like, upon the surface of the stillest water, the quietest days. The bird’s call deep and insectile. As the evening deepens, he tries to replicate that sound in the back of his throat.
The morning they were to bury the child, its hand began to bleed.