Commuting

The morning paper is heavy, full of mud-puddle water soaked up through a hole in its plastic rain wrapper. At the end of the driveway, Jimmy sees it in the headlights. He stops, leans out of his pickup, grabs the paper and holds it there over the puddle until it stops dripping, then spreads the newspaper across the bench seat to dry out on his drive to work.

Pre-dawn dark: Driving along the jetty, only the Coast Guard station and the pulp mill stacks are illuminated. Beyond the edge of the two-lane road, the land falls off and sinks into the Pacific. Jimmy can’t see it, but he knows the sea is up against the rocks in a great, gray grind of waves and foam. To his left, tucked in darkness, the redwoods stretch down from the hills and meet the pastures that tumble into sand dunes. Jimmy continues past the station and toward the mill’s glow in the distance, the drizzle reflecting the industrial light into halos around the tops of the stacks.

Jimmy takes lunch in his truck. He picks up the paper, still damp, and places the sections in order. The weather has cleared and the sun glares into the cab. Front page:

EEL RIVER, SOUTH FORK—A young fisherman drowned Tuesday when the waders he was wearing filled with water. Carl Rush was fishing for steelhead on the Eel River with his father, David Rush, when the boy became overconfident and waded too far out into the swift moving current. “I warned him,” the father said. “But those fish were hitting real hard and the boy got too excited, you could just see the silver flashing…the sun off those scales. It just drew him out too far.” The search for a body continues, but officials believe the current has already moved it out to sea.

Jimmy takes a bite of his fried-egg sandwich, then tosses the rest out the truck window. A white swirl of gulls descends then lifts away, scraps hanging from yellow beaks. Jimmy imagines the father watching his boy being moved away from him, both of them helpless. Then, afterwards, walking the riverbank and looking, shadowing the son’s journey downriver.

Driving home, Jimmy tries to tune the radio. His favorite song is playing, but static is nearly drowning it out. Fine, he thinks, and switches it off. With the sun finally behind him, Jimmy pulls his truck into the driveway. He shuts down the engine, walks to the back of the house and sits on the last step of the porch to take off his boots. From there he can see down across the valley and up along the ridge where one dogwood tree, ignited by the setting sun, has gone orange and red amidst the evergreens.

Jason Marak lives behind the Redwood Curtain in Humboldt County, California. His work has appeared in a number of print and online journals including The Paris Review, Raritan, and Vestal Review.

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