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ISSN 2330-2690
Me and You and Zvonimir
Casey Whitworth


Two hours before we’re supposed to be on Anastasia Island for our gazing session with the Croatian faith healer, I pull into my sister’s driveway and find her in the porch rocker wearing nothing but a pink towel. She glares at me. I finger my wedding ring from the ashtray and twist it on. The gazing thing was her idea. The only reason I’m going is that her license is suspended and, according to her, my father doesn’t do so well in crowds. 

Soon as I step out, Sharon flings something into the grass. “I get out of the shower,” she says, “and the TV’s on, and the front door—it’s wide open. How’s the GPS even supposed to work if he can just take the damn thing off?”

I bend down and pick up my father’s watch. “Go get ready,” I say. “I’ll find him.”

“Y’all think I’m crazy,” she says. “But you just wait. You’ll see.”  

Around back, I holler my father’s name. He’s not on the patio or out in the shed. Come to think of it, I don’t blame him for wandering away. I’d do the same if my daughter was hellbent on dragging me to see some mute magic man who supposedly heals people by staring at them. 

I make my way to the chain-link fence at the back of the yard. “Clark!” I say. “Dad? You out there?” Turkey buzzards spiral high above the pinewoods. Down an overgrown trail is a big retention pond where a ten-foot alligator had to be euthanized last fall after it ate Sharon’s Corgi, and, sure enough, my father’s out on the grassy bank in a tank top and Bermuda shorts, staring across the water like a castaway in search of a sail. 

Looking at him, you might not think a thing was wrong. He’s got all his own hair, for one, and the lean build of a man who used to jog a mile on the beach at Anastasia Island each morning and then swim back to his truck. But at some point after he turned fifty, my father began to lose his memory. God knows when it started. He wasn’t the sort to seek medical attention. I finally recognized something was wrong a few years ago when he called me at four a.m. to ask if I’d seen my mother, who died when I was seventeen.

About a year later, Sharon told me he’d lost his job. But I’d already seen the play-by-play on WJAX-TV. He’d driven the company forklift out of the carpet warehouse and across the Bridge of Lions. That’s when Sharon finally dragged him to a hospital.

After numerous visits and neurological exams and cognitive tests, the doctors determined it to be Alzheimer’s—early onset familial Alzheimer’s, to be precise, which meant Sharon and I had a coin-flip chance of losing it, too. Only she would have the gall to get tested, which might explain why she volunteered to be his caregiver: to get a glimpse of her own future. We did look into nursing homes, but neither of us has the money for all that. Hell, Sharon’s still paying off her second D.U.I.

When I emerge from the trail onto the grass, my father looks at me. His face is calm, but in his eyes is a desperation I’ve never noticed before, as if someone else is trapped in his skin, the man who remembers what I swore to help him do before he’s too far gone. 

“Ready to go?” I say, and he narrows his eyes. “Dad,” I say. “It’s me. Tom.” 

“For God’s sake.” He squints at the trail behind me. “Where’s Diana?” 

“Working.”

He snorts and turns to the pond. “I never see her anymore.”

“Now that’s not true,” I say. “We came over last month for your birthday. Remember?” His eyes flit back and forth. “Diana had too much sangria. You tried teaching her how to waltz and she couldn’t stop hiccupping. Remember?” 

That gets him smiling. He nods, and I almost hate myself for having asked him to recall something that never happened, but it’s easier than confessing that I haven’t heard from Diana since she moved to Phoenix nine months ago.

He looks back at me, at my tan penny loafers and green slacks and chambray blazer. “What you dressed up like that for?” 

“We’re going to Anastasia Island,” I say. “Remember? You and me and Sharon.” 

“Anastasia Island,” he says, as dreamily as if it were a mythical land.

We head back through the pinewoods, and he says he’ll ask Sharon for a couple cans of Alpo to chum the water. He tells me I should get changed before we get to the pier. I don’t mention the incident with the gator. And I don’t say I go fishing at the pier every Saturday and have never once invited him to go. 

“Sure thing, Dad,” I say. “Sure thing.” 

On the back porch, I say, “Oh and by the way. I found your watch.” I draw it from my jacket pocket. “Why don’t you put it back on, huh? For Sharon.” He glares at the clunky thing, then peels back his sleeve and holds out his wrist.

Inside the living room, I notice that the place is clean and tidy. No vodka on top of the fridge, no wine bottles on the counter. Sharon’s been doing all right, it seems. 

The TV’s on, muted. Some guy in a white tunic stands in front of a gray curtain, staring out at us. My father wanders down the hall past the bathroom where Sharon’s blow-drying her hair, but I sit on the coffee table and pick up a DVD case. The Blessed Gaze of Zvonimir. The cover shows the face of the Croatian faith healer, a remarkably handsome man, with the long brown hair and cropped beard of a Western Jesus. On TV, the man’s still watching me with these wide-set brown eyes and this bright smile that seems to say, I accept, I forgive, as if he can actually see me, not just me but the real me, as if there’s no distance between us at all and he could reach through the screen and take me by the hand.

*

Six years ago, when Diana and I got married, my father showed up at the reception on Anastasia Island. Sharon had invited him, not me. I hadn’t seen him since the three of us sat beneath the funeral tent staring at my mother’s casket. 

I was slow-dancing with Diana to that Bryan Adams song she always loved, and she was looking into my eyes just like the song says, while all of our friends snapped photographs and hooted and hollered. 

Then someone tapped my shoulder. “May I?” said a man who sounded like my father, only drunker. 

When I introduced him to my bride, my father took off his top hat—yes, he actually wore a top hat and a tux with tails—and took her hand and Diana blushed as he bowed to kiss her skin. 

While I took shots with my groomsmen at the bar, my father whisked Diana around the dance floor in a foxtrot. And I do not remember the song they danced to, but I remember the way they moved, sinuously, the way he whispered in Diana’s ear, the way she giggled like a little girl, the way he twirled her and twirled her and then dipped her so low her hair swept the floor. 

Soon my father sidled up to me. “Now that’s a real woman,” he said, and made a comment about how lucky I was, how I’d finally made a man of myself, and I remember feeling a strange stir of pride until he went on to say he’d assumed I was off somewhere “biting pillows.” Then he laughed, clapped me on the back, and ordered us double shots of Wild Turkey.

*

As I drive the three of us over the Bridge of Lions, my father squints at the glimmering river. I wonder if he remembers stealing the forklift and leading three St. Johns County Sheriff’s deputies over this bridge on a slow-speed pursuit while the WJAX-TV news chopper hovered high overhead. 

“Been a while since you took the johnboat down the Matanzas,” I say. 

“The what-now?”

“The river. The Matanzas,” I say, with my eyes on the cargo bed of the pickup in front of us, where a half-dozen teenaged jocks with no shirts on are sipping cans of Busch. “It means killings in español.” I glance over and see him looking out at the water “The Spanish, they executed hundreds of shipwrecked Huguenots near the inlet in the 1500s. You told me that, you know. One time when we went camping out there. I Googled it a couple months ago. Sure enough, you were right.”

He laughs. “Hear that, Sharon?” he says. “Tommy admits I was right about something.”

Sharon’s got her foot up on the center console, painting her toenails red to match her dress, I guess, but stinking up the car. “I never knew that,” she says, “about the river.”

“When it got dark,” I say, “there were these noises in the woods, and you kept saying the Huguenots were coming to gut us like fish. Remember?”

“I know,” Sharon says. “How about we change the subject?” In the rearview mirror, she leans back and digs something from her bra. “I won a hundred on this Bejeweled Diamond Payout yesterday,” she says, and waves the scratch-off in the air. “The very day before our session with Zvonimir. Now don’t y’all tell me that’s not a sign.” 

So I don’t. 

I veer onto A1A, glancing at the boys shotgunning beers in the back of the pickup, the foam running down their sunburnt chests. “Dinner on you then?” I say. 

She laughs. “They do have a nice veranda,” she says, “and a mean Mojito. I mean, not that it matters.” And she looks out the window for a long moment before telling us this story of the time she met a blind date at The Mirage. “And it turned out the guy was legally blind,” she says, in this weird, wistful way. “He had on thick glasses that made his eyes huge. And, I don’t know. It was nice. The way he looked at me. Like I was the most fascinating thing.”

I click on the radio and surf the channels for something beachy. “So we just stand there?” I say. “And nobody says anything?”  

“Did you even open the email I sent you?” Sharon digs her phone from her purse and messes with it a while, then holds it out between me and my father. On the screen is a close-up of the man I saw on her TV, same white tunic and eerie stare. She tells us how on Zvonimir’s website you can read testimonials from people all over the world whose diseases and disabilities have been cured by the man’s gaze.

I glance at my father, waiting for a sarcastic remark, but he’s looking out the window at the ocean through the trees. “Dad,” I say. “Smells like horseshit, right?” 

“Huh?” he says, and sniffs the air.

“You have to want help to get help,” Sharon says, and leans back in her seat. In the rearview mirror, I watch her stare at her phone with this look of adoration. “You have to have faith,” she says, and in her tone of voice I hear a hint of a sad acknowledgement that this is a futile mission, that no whacko can look into her eyes and cure the genetic mutation that will eventually erase her identity.

“I have faith, Sharon,” I say. “I do.”

After a moment, she looks up and smiles. “You know, he’s been able to help people with relationships, too.” She puts a hand on my shoulder. “Maybe you could find some—”

“Okay, Sharon,” I say, and shrug her hand away. I turn the radio up. 

Some DJ’s giving the weather report. Sunny, ninety-eight degrees. Up ahead in the sky, the WJAX-TV news chopper hovers over the shore, moving south toward the pier. I almost ask my father if he remembers the time I got a hook stuck in my palm and it wouldn’t stop bleeding and he told me to drip it on the bait. But he asks if Diana’s waiting for us at the beach, and I turn the radio up even louder. An advisory has been issued for the waters along Anastasia Island, the DJ says. Hundreds and hundreds of sharks have congregated in the shallows.

“Now don’t y’all tell me,” Sharon says, “that that’s not a sign.”

“Ladyfish,” my father says. “We’ll need a cast net to catch ‘em. And then some poles.” He’s turned to the window and the boardwalk that leads to the pier.

“Daddy,” Sharon says. “The sharks can feel Zvonimir’s power.”

I stop the car to wait for a minivan to parallel park on the shoulder. Two buff black guys walk around the hood of my car, each carrying one side of a white cooler. They strut down the boardwalk and through the dunes and they’re halfway to the pier when my father shoves open the passenger door and jumps out.

“Daddy,” Sharon says, then slaps my arm. “Go get him, Tommy.”

“What?” I say. “I’m driving.”

“Tommy,” she says.

“It’s your turn.”

“I can’t,” she says. “My nails are still wet.”

*

On the dance floor at the reception, Diana and all our friends were shambling and clapping in step to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” I was supposed to be out there front and center, wearing one white glove, but I was stuck at the bar “catching up” with my father. 

“God help us,” he said, “if Sharon brings a baby into this world. So I’m counting on you for a grandson.” He clapped my back again. “And don’t you worry,” he said. “I’ll teach the little squirt how to be a man.” 

As he strode away with his bourbon, I whirled around and glared at him, at his top hat and his swagger, and then I bulled after him and tackled him across the parquet floor. We rolled around, and somehow he got on top and backslapped me, but I grabbed his wrist and twisted him down into a chokehold. Our guests gathered around us, and right above me was Diana in her lacy white dress, shouting my name, begging me to let him go, which only made me squeeze harder.  

For what it’s worth, he did try his best to teach me how to be a man, as he would say. He took me hiking through the sedge fields of the Okefenokee Swamp. We kept our fires dim. Struck our tents at first light. He taught me to recognize tracks and scat. How to smoke an eastern diamondback out of a gopher tortoise burrow. How to cast a net from the St. Augustine Pier into a school of ladyfish, which we’d use as bait for blacktips. But all that now seems as cryptic and fragmented as a dream.

*

Out on the pier, people have gathered along the railings to stare down at the water, waiting to glimpse a dorsal fin, I guess. A few glare at me as I jog past them. What they don’t realize is that sharks rarely swim close enough to the surface to be seen.

At the end of the pier, my father stands beside a fat angler with a hairy back. My father’s necktie billows in the wind. The angler has hooked something big. He shuffles sideways past a tackle box and a five-gallon bucket, his pole bent toward the water. Even from twenty feet away I hear the reel clicking. 

“That’s it, son,” my father tells him. “Careful, now.”

My father leans on the railing with his hand inches away from bloody chunks of fish. The waves lap at the pilings below us. He says something in a hushed voice, either to the man or the water. I can’t tell. But he’s smiling, and I can’t remember the last time I saw that, so I decide to linger behind them a few moments longer. I wonder if he knows that I come out here to fish every Saturday, that I even chum the water with Alpo like he taught me to. And I wonder if he remembers calling me on New Year’s Eve, and what he made me swear to do. We’ll go out in the woods, he said, somewhere in the Okefenokee, with a shovel and a pistol. Just you and me and God.

“Hey Dad,” I say, but he doesn’t flinch. “Clark,” I say. “Hey Clark!” 

When he turns and notices me, his smile fades. He eyes me with suspicion. “Martin,” he says, and looks at the angler. “I want you to meet my son.”

“My name’s Harold,” the man says. His pole lurches to the right and he staggers along the railing. “Good to meet you.”  

“Dad?” I say. “What time is it?” 

My father picks up a fish chunk. “What’re you using for bait, Gerald?”

“Ladyfish,” the man says. “Like I told you. Oh ho! Here he comes!” 

About fifty feet from the pier, a dorsal fin slices through the waves. The shark spins a wide half circle, churning the water with its tail, and dives beneath the surface. The angler laughs, his pole bowing as the reel whines. Behind me, someone’s shouting. Two girls in bikinis are running our way, and behind them comes a guy with a baby stroller, and still others are approaching from farther down the pier.

I walk over to my father and clutch his arm. “Time to go now,” I say, and feel his biceps harden. “Come on.”

“Nice to meet you, Gerald,” he says. “Don’t give up the fight.”

The gathering crowd parts to let us pass. I tighten my grip on his arm and lead him toward the car. The white cabanas out front of The Mirage are packed with people, and along the beach many others are lounging on towels and chairs, some flying kites, others tossing bread to squawking seagulls. Only the pelicans are brave enough to test the water. 

“Sharon’s gonna kill us both,” I say. My father mumbles something and slows his pace. “Come on,” I say, and jerk his arm. “What time is it anyway? Is it past seven?”

But now he won’t budge. His eyes are welling up with tears. I ask him what’s wrong, what is it, and he shakes his head. “I’m sorry,” he says, and keeps on saying it.

“About what?” I say, but he turns toward the end of the pier and keeps saying it. “Dad, what are you sorry about.” I clutch his shoulders. I shake him. “Sorry about what?” 

Far down the pier, someone cheers and a few others start clapping. My father stares at the crowd. He’s crying—yes, actual tears—and though I’ve never witnessed it before, Sharon’s told me it happens every now and then. I can’t tell if it means anything at all, but I want him to say something before he forgets. And if he does, I want to tell him no, I think you were right all along. I want to tell him the truth about Diana. I want to tell him how I tried to give him a grandson, I really did try.

“Dad,” I say. “Please. Why’d you say you were sorry?”

He looks at me, confused. “I—I don’t know?” 

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I—I don’t remember.”

“Try, Dad. Please try.”

“It’s in the water,” he says.

“What are you talking about?”

And for a moment he looks up at the clouds and appears to be concentrating on whatever he means to say, gathering the words. But then someone down the pier yells, “Shark! Shark!” and my father turns that way and smiles as if they were chanting his name. 

*

Sometimes, in dreams, I still hear Diana and our wedding guests shouting my name the way they did on the dance floor when I had my father in the chokehold. He squirmed and wheezed and clawed at my hair, slowly losing strength until it seemed he was patting my head in congratulations. Everyone was chanting my name as if I were back on the mat in the St. Augustine High gym—junior varsity, freshman year, a Yellow Jacket again.

Some say you become a man the day you can match your father swing for swing. If that’s true, then my father had finally done what he set out to do. He was the one who taught me how to fight. The day I came home from sixth grade with a black eye, he showed me how to stand, where to hold my fists. I never told him that the boys had kicked my ass because I’d broken an unspoken rule of the locker room: look but don’t stare. And I remember my father unbuttoning his work shirt, telling me to punch him in the gut, like Harry Houdini. “Go on. Do it!” he yelled. So I did. And he screamed, “Again, you pussy! Again!”

By the age of fifteen, I’d built a respectable reputation for myself in high school by focusing on girls with low self-esteem: fat girls, mainly, but ugly girls, too. At the end of freshman year, my wrestling buddies had started calling me the Good Samaritan of Poontang. 

But all that changed in sophomore year. One Friday, a guy on the team slept over at my house. Gary was this short, wiry dude with cauliflower ears and big biceps and bad acne. No one’s idea of a stud. But we got to horsing around in my room, circling each other in staggered stances, and I flipped him onto the rug and mounted his back, tried to pin him, but he bucked and bucked, and next thing I knew I had this massive hard-on and each time he bucked it sent a jolt of pleasure up my spine, and I reached around to see if he felt the same way, and when I grabbed him, he yelped and elbowed me in the temple, tossed me against the dresser, and then loomed over me, screaming the sorts of words that still echo in my head at night, until my dad burst into the room and noticed me scrunched up in the corner, covering myself.

The next morning, my father searched my room and found my FLEX magazines. If they’d been out on the weight bench in the garage instead of beneath my mattress next to a rigid sock, my father would have never made me burn them in the backyard. I remember looking through the smoke toward the house and seeing Sharon watching from her bedroom window. 

That afternoon, my father told my mother he was taking me camping, then drove me to a motel in the slums of Jacksonville, somewhere off Moncrief Road. Out in the truck, he couldn’t even look at me. “You’ll thank me some day,” he said.

Up on the second floor in a shitty room with cigarette burns on the carpet and a Bible on the nightstand, I sat on the edge of the bed, and my father poured a few fingers of Wild Turkey into a plastic cup. 

“What’re we doing here, Dad?”

“Here,” he said. “Drink it.” And when I gagged on the first sip, he said, “All of it. And don’t you say a word of this to your mother.”

I was woozy when we heard the knock at the door. Out in the hall was this short but voluptuous Latina in a white tube dress and Chuck Taylor high tops. She didn’t even acknowledge me until my father had counted three hundred dollars onto the dresser, given her somewhat nauseating instructions, and walked out the door. Finally she narrowed her eyes on me and told me to take off my shoes.

Two months later, my mother died in a car wreck. That’s a whole other story. 

After the funeral, I dropped out of high school, moved out of the city, out of the state, and eventually met a girl named Diana, who’d also grown up in St. Augustine. It was just my luck that she wanted to move back. For six years I didn’t hear a thing from my father, not until he tapped my shoulder at the reception and asked to step in, wearing a smug grin that seemed to say You’re welcome.

*

At ten past seven, we pull into the parking lot of The Mirage, and in the backseat Sharon’s saying, Shit-shit-shit. Soon as I park, she leaps out and rips open the passenger door. “Come on, Daddy,” she says.

With the engine idling, I watch her speed-walk toward the portico with my father shambling after her. He stops at the valet stand to look back at me.

By the time I make it to the lobby, they’re crossing under the crystal chandelier toward the ballroom doors where an usher stands beside a life-size cut-out of the faith healer. The usher opens the door for Sharon and my father, then waits for me to jog over. 

The usher leads us down the left-hand aisle past a great crowd of men and women who sit facing the stage where a man’s speaking behind a podium, flanked on either side by wide screens which project the faith healer’s smiling face. 

“What’s all this?” my father says. “Who’re these people?”

“Good question,” I say.

At the end of the second row, we settle into our seats. An old women frowns at us. Meanwhile, the man at the podium’s talking about miracles. Across the packed room, all the men, women, and children watch with faraway looks, and on the opposite end of our row I notice a cute little girl in a wheelchair with a teddy bear on her lap, and it makes me sick to think of what her parents might have promised.

“What Zvonimir does,” says the man at the podium, “is stimulates an energy within us that allows us to heal ourselves, transform ourselves. We’re all born with extraordinary power, you see, every single one of us in this room, and Zvonimir is here to help us harness it.”

The lights dim. At the back of the stage, the screens brighten with a wide shot of Earth, a giant marble fixed in the darkness of space, and a solitary voice whispers words I can’t discern. Another voice soon joins in, and then another, and another, until there’s a babel of voices whispering what must be an incantation.

Beside me, Sharon clutches my father’s hand. On her face is this look of hopeful despair. When trumpets sound somewhere offstage, she perks up. The overhead lights slowly fade in, and everyone stands, including Sharon and my father, so I get up, too. 

The crowd around us takes a collective gasp. The Croatian faith healer moves to the front of the stage, extending his arms with upturned palms, his brown beard and long hair dark against his bright white tunic. His beauty is more striking in person than on screen, a radiance you might expect from a movie star, and I only look away when I notice in the corner of my vision the girl in the wheelchair struggling to see between the people clustered in front of her. The poor thing pushes up on the armrests, leans way over, and I can almost hear her begging her legs to work. 

Finally, Zvonimir beckons us to sit. My father, however, remains standing, a few steps out in the aisle, glancing around the room, bewildered, and I see what Sharon meant about him not doing well in crowds. Sharon takes his hand, and he looks at her, then at me, and I nod at him to let him know everything’s okay. He finally lowers himself onto his chair. 

“Maybe I should take him outside,” I tell Sharon, but she shushes me.  

At the front of the stage, Zvonimir has turned his gaze on us, on me. I bristle in my seat and glance to my right and left. Sharon stares ahead with open-mouthed awe. But the healer is gazing at me. He seems to know I do not belong, an imposter who could be content without a miracle. He seems to acknowledge that my father’s a better man now than he was before, his fading memory an unexpected blessing. I glance over at my father, who looks so old now and so tired. He watches the faith healer with vacant eyes, and I suppose he has no idea where he is and why. The whole world must be a carnival funhouse full of distorting mirrors, and I think about how humiliating that must feel, how terrifying. And I think about what he made me swear to do, a shovel and a pistol, just him and me and God. Then he shifts his head and looks at me, and when he smiles, I realize I won’t ever be able to do it. 

I turn back to the stage and lock eyes with Zvonimir. I won’t look away before the Croatian does. Staring matches are an American pastime. And so I wait and wait. My eyes begin to sting and blur, and in the periphery of my vision I can tell my father’s watching me. But I stare at Zvonimir, into his unwavering gaze.

“I gotta pee,” my father says, and someone shushes him.

“Daddy,” Sharon says. “Please.”

“I said I gotta pee.”

Sharon elbows me, asks me to take him to the bathroom, and a few people shush her, but I keep staring at Zvonimir. I won’t look away. Sharon says my name a few times, then gets up and storms off. I know I should go after them, but I can’t. Not now. I’m alone with Zvonimir, and I feel like I’m winning whatever there is to be won. For a long time I don’t blink, until my eyes well up with tears and I feel them tracing down my cheeks.

Sharon says my name, and a handful of people shush her. “No, you shut up,” she hisses. “All of you. Just shut up. Tommy,” she says, “He won’t come out of the bathroom.”

And then I turn and see the worry in her face, the fear. “Okay,” I say. “I’m coming.” 

I follow her down the side aisle. People in the crowd glare at us. At the ballroom doors I look back at Zvonimir. He’s watching with this compassionate look. I accept, he seems to be saying. I forgive. But from this distance he could be looking at someone else in the crowd, anyone else.

Sharon holds open the door, then follows me out into the lobby toward a carpeted hallway. “I waited ten minutes before I poked my head in,” she says. “And he wouldn’t answer.” 

Inside the bathroom, my father’s not at the sink or over by the urinals. “Clark?” I say, and peek under the row of stalls. “Dad,” I say. “It’s Tommy. You in here?” Then I catch my reflection in the mirror. I look older somehow, more and more like my father every day. And then I see it over my shoulder: on the far wall, a window.

Out in the hall, Sharon’s staring at the ballroom doors like she left something behind. She’s chewing at the inside of her cheek, and I wonder if Zvonimir has changed anything for her, if she feels different in any way. Then it hits me: someday I’ll be taking care of her. 

“Well?” she says. “What’s he doing in there?”

“He’s not in the bathroom.” I dig my phone from my pocket. As I load the GO-FIND-ME app on my phone, she asks me where the hell he could have gone. I tell her about the window as I type in my father’s ID number. “We’ll find him,” I say. “Give me a second.” 

A map loads on the screen, and then the GPS kicks in and there he is—a red dot somewhere behind the resort. 

“Shit,” I say. “He’s outside.”

Sharon slips off her high heels, and we jog through the lobby and into the steakhouse, weaving between tables of startled diners. Out on the veranda, the evening is hot and sticky and dark, the first stars piercing the sky. I can hear the static of the waves. Down in the sand, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder and check the GPS. The red dot is too far away, impossibly far. 

We both look up at the ocean. Sharon stumbles toward the water, dropping her high heels in the sand, then breaks into a sprint. I shout her name and chase her through the abandoned cabanas toward the Atlantic. She hikes up her dress and starts into the surf, screaming for my father. I stay behind, heart pounding, and scan the ocean for a head above the waves. The tide washes in and slurps at my shoes, and then I race past my sister and splash into knee-deep water and stand there screaming along with her. On the GPS, the red dot’s far out in the water, over near the lights at the end of the pier, and I have this frightening vision of hundreds and hundreds of sharks swarming below the surface and there’s my father on the bottom, holding his breath.

“Daddy?” Sharon says.

I turn to see her splashing toward the beach. A wave crashes into me and I stagger sideways. My father’s up on the sand. Sharon throws her arms around his neck and I can hear the relief in her voice. Another wave comes and bowls me over. I roll under and roll again and gasp for air and lose the phone. When I push myself to my hands and knees, coughing up seawater, the tide ebbs around me, tugging at my arms and legs. Finally I climb to my feet. My father and sister call to me. Before I walk out of the water and join them, I look back at the pier. My father’s watch must be out there curled on the seabed, waiting for an angler’s hook. 
Casey Whitworth is an MFA candidate in fiction at Florida State University and the assistant programs manager of The Southeast Review. Recently, he won the Blue River Editors’ Award for Fiction and was a finalist for Salamander’s 2016 Fiction Prize. He lives with his wife in Tallahassee where he is currently at work on a novel. Join Casey on Twitter @CaseyWhitworth_.