Henrik on Freeman Beach

“You see this?” Henrik asked.

“Yeah. It’s a bottle, a bottle with some paper in it,” I said. My voice was shrill against the oncoming wind.

“It’s not just any bottle,” he replied. “This bottle is the key to our new beginning. You and I. We’re going to be somebody someday.” His feet struggled against the wet sand, against the ocean pulling at his ankles, against gravity. His toe nails peeked out at me, gray and dirty.

“Uh, okay. What did Mom want us to do with that bottle?” I was doubtful that a tiny glass bottle could help us—or him—at all. It was just bottle, corked at the mouth.

“Why do you care what Mom wants us to do with this?” Henrik’s back was the slat of a fence bent backward from the weight of too many unruly children as he curled his right arm past his head. His breath reeked of alcohol. His stained shirt, once blue like the color of his cerulean eyes, was now gray like the color of the sky that could easily break into rain or brush away its clouds and turn blue. Was the sky itself uncertain about what it wanted?

“Make up your mind, clouds. Do what you have to do,” I thought to a stormy sky that was as indecisive as Henrik. He had no plans after college, just as how he no plans before college. Henrik could never make up his mind on what he wanted to do. I could never figure him out. He either had too many ideas or no idea whatsoever on how he wanted to spend his life. Once upon a time he wanted a degree in astronomy. He wondered about the stars, their gases, and the chemical reactions within them that kept them lit. Then he wanted a degree in mechanical engineering. He wanted to design airplanes and spaceships. Now he was penniless and a drifter on the shores of Freeman beach.

Henrik turned to look at me, arm crooked as if to throw. The bottle glinted in the sunlight, held in the grasp of his long fingers. A grin as wide as the horizon split across his weather-beaten face. His teeth glowed beneath the midday sun. It surprised me, as always, with his torn shorts in need of repair, stained shirts, and half-shaven mug, that he still managed to take the time to care for his teeth.

“You want to know something, Callum? All of our yesterdays are locked inside this tiny bottle,” he said as he tossed it into the ocean.

“Wait,” I cried. “That’s littering.” It was too late. I watched the light glitter off the glass surface of the bottle as it flew out to sea. Henrik was the type of person who set an example, a type of example that no one should follow.

“Goodbye, my troubles!” Henrik hollered to the sky. “Goodbye, my yesterdays!” He looked back at me and laughed. His laughter was a cross between a growl and deep-throated belly-laugh, taking me back to my memories of elementary school when Henrik was always there to pick me up after school and take me home. We splashed each other at community pools and played hide-and-go-seek at our neighbors’ annual barbeque block parties. Now I barely see him at all, unless I come here to Freeman beach with its ocean the color of steel and the sun suffocating behind a cloak of stormy clouds.

A pair of ladies walked by with umbrellas and lawn chairs. Mindless of them, Henrik, still laughing, ran into the waves, splashing wet sand and seawater in every direction. My hands flew to shield my eyes.

“Wait!” Henrik dove into the ocean. Was that me who called after him? Or was it someone else? Another version of me called after Henrik that day on Freeman beach, standing ankle-deep in frigid ocean water. A boy I remembered from my primary school days, a boy who reminisced about an older brother who had once taken the place of a distracted father.

Nearby, one of the ladies muttered to her companion under her breath, but the wind blew her scattered words to me.

“What a nuisance,” she said.

Somewhere in the waves, Henrik laughed.

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