Issue > Fiction
Mark Crimmins

Mark Crimmins

Mark Crimmins has published fiction in Confrontation, Cha, Split Rock Review, Penmen Review, Trainless, QLRS, Kyoto Journal, Eclectica, Happy, White Rabbit, theNewerYork, Columbia, Tampa Review, Eunoia Review, Flash Frontier, Portland Review, Pif, Gravel, Eastlit, Restless, Prick of the Spindle, Atticus Review, Apocrypha & Abstractions, Dogzplot, and Microliterature. One of his stories was nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize.

Rockaway

For a while there we went to Rockaway Beach if we needed to talk about heavy stuff. As we approached the major junctures. So when the time came for me to break the news, I picked a beautiful afternoon when my mother was home early from the hospital on Parnassus and asked her to come for a drive.

At the wheel of her old Lincoln, I eased out of Sunset Heights, slipped down Sixth Avenue, turned left onto Judah, and drove past the stations of our lives in Frisco and on down the rolling road with all its stops and starts until we hit the Coast Highway. Then I turned left again and set sail for Pacifica.

"I know where you're taking me," she said. "You're taking me to Rockaway Beach. You've got something you want to tell me."

Her hunch was that it was big news but good news. An engagement. Some new professional ambition. I told her I wanted to wait until we got to Rockaway. The truth was I didn't want a scene while I was driving.

I parked at the beach and we walked down to the narrow strand. The ocean was restless. A couple of surfers were riding the swells. The sun was pitching towards the horizon. We couldn't hear the highway traffic. Just the boom of the tumbling waves and the swish and shake of the rattling surf. We walked to the north end of the beach. I sat on a boulder. It had a naturally hollowed seat that made it resemble a throne.

We came to a pause in the small talk we'd been making about office politics in Medical Records. I looked out to sea at the diving gulls. A pelican flapped out of Calera Creek and swooped past us. The arms of the bluffs reached out around the cove and held the sea in their embrace. It was time.

I settled on my throne and told my mother I was leaving. No more church. No more religion. No more lies. It was over. At first she was in denial. Joking about sacred things, she said, was really in bad taste. But I stuck to my guns. When she saw I was serious she was speechless. Then she started to weep. I was ready for this. I knew all too well what they said about people who left. It would have been better if they could have had a fatal accident before they started thinking this way. If they could have caught some terrible disease and died young, their faith intact. Better for them to have had millstones tied around their necks and to have been cast into the midst of the sea.

But I was past all that. Beyond threat. Beyond manipulation. Beyond equivocation. My mother wept and wailed. How could she not? She herself was caught in the trap of belief. It held her like a vice. At one point she fell to her knees in the sand. What had she done to deserve this? How was she supposed to carry on living? I let her cry herself out. Finally she grasped that this wasn't a phase. A resolution written in sand. Heavy with realization, she struggled to her feet. I had ruined her life, she said. She had lost her only son. Lost everything. She would never be happy until I came back. She would spend the rest of her life praying for my return. Living in such a way that her prayers would be granted. She would not rest until she had brought me back into the fold. She played a stiff hand. It all went pretty much as I had imagined. But I had long passed the point of no return.

She did, though, surprise me with one thing. She asked me what it felt like to face life without the gospel. No savior. No church. No fellowship. No hope of life after death. No divine plan for humankind. I wanted to convey how liberating it was to escape the shackles of belief. How exhilarating. A seagull nearby had just taken off. I pointed to the gull as it climbed.

"See that bird? I feel like that bird."

He battled upwards against the buffeting wind. We both watched him from the rock-strewn shore. Up, up, up. Wordlessly, we watched him until he was a tiny black shape soaring over the silver sea, the surfers below him precarious on their boards, the sunset behind him like an acclamation.

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