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Abstract 7

Painting by Gloria Alford

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Catherine Segurson

Beach Break in Miami

      The Atlantic Ocean is feminine and the Pacific Ocean is masculine, I was thinking.  What did I expect?  I don’t know.  I guess I expected waves.  That would explain why the flat Atlantic Ocean seemed so intimidating when I first arrived here in Florida.  I could leave my Cabana Chair and walk the twenty or so feet to the shore for a swim, but the calm, cool water seems menacing to me.
       A man just swam the one hundred yards out to the red and white buoy at the edge of the safety zone.  He must have dropped his snorkel, because he didn’t have it when he came out of the water.  He went back in to find it.  I know how to swim in the ocean, and I’m in better shape than he is.  I could go out and dive around for his snorkel.  I just don’t feel like it. 
       The only ocean I know is the Pacific, and you never snorkel in the Pacific, at least not along my Northern California Coast.  We have the Maverick surf contest where guys drown under a wave that’s an eighteen-story tower of water, or come out bloody after being dashed on jagged rocks by surge.  Not like this guy who romps out 100 yards in shallow water wearing some flamingo bathing suit deal. 
       I like it here in my padded lounge chair with its blue Cabana cover, just fine.  It’s kind of like having a secret tent from the waist up. Only my legs are exposed to the heat.
       I flip back the cover to get some sun.  Now this is more like it.  Get some sun; act sexy, live up to your name, girl, like they’d say.  I should forget the men at work.  They have to call me Cal, or the occasional Calie, but never California.  Sometimes the mean ones insist on calling me California, and I resist the temptation to think I’m only some lovechild of a couple dumb California hippies.  Forget I was born in 1969 to a Mom on drugs. If I dwell on stuff like that it slows me down.  Like this weak sun in Florida, all spread out, blah, muted, weak, and razzah, hazzah it might say if it had a balloon.  A melty balloon dialogue dribbling from the corner of a wavy slightly parted mouth, no face, and arms for rays. A mouth but no face, and only arms spread with yellow glimmer fringe hanging down like the Supremes wore when they came to the Circle Star Theater.  And glitter hair.
       The resort lurks like a giant robot frozen at land’s edge. The sun reflecting his 40 stories of mirrored windowpanes, dazzling us puny conference attendees with his dreams of destruction.
       I came out here to get away from the conference, get away from the pressure, and here I am working. I could just go in the water.  If I think about the ocean, I won’t remember the meeting I’m missing, the battlefield, the Pacific, the unsettled sound, the furious sound that moves the air.  Fills the blood, fuels the dreams, made me want to make things, like we all did at first.  Not sell out, like some would’ve called it, but buffalo charge a path up through the ranks on the inside of the structure, carve through the ice with a blow torch, until one day there’s just too many of us solo voices in the chorus and some have to go quiet, so they told me. 
       Asked me to give them some names.  I had to do it because there I was inside of the system I wanted to bust through.  The ones I chose to provide had already gone quiet, maybe, and needed the shove for them to find their voice again some other way.  Maybe.  Maybe the slick Atlantic’s giving me second thoughts, like with anything that ripples on the surface, there’s always this sense something’s got to be lurking underneath.
       Some parts of the Pacific are warm like Laguna Beach, or Mazatlan maybe, but those parts aren’t my Pacific. Mine is cold and pounding.  The quick hurls and angry recessions, the mad sound that’s so easy to crave.   Hurl.  To hurl, to throw up.  No churl.  The churning round, the washing machine rum, carrum, and bam it would say.  It would have white fists and be smiling.  The Pacific would shout her fury. Spew it, in, in a spiked balloon or in lightening bolts.  It would have white fists and be smiling.  The Pacific has fun being the Pacific.
       The Atlantic, shrouded by lazy wind and its filmy fan club, the sultry humidity, and the fickle storm clouds, oh, occasionally it flutters; a white cap mingles in an absent-minded dalliance with the wind.  I can bask, just bask, just watch that demure oceanic seduction, gaze as they all mix around like bumbling groupies, not sure which direction to take, which recipe is best, or what to decide.  The indecision is unsettling, somehow.  With the Pacific the sun is direct, the clouds are decisive, and the wind is in your face and mean. 
       I think what I need is a cocktail.  This is the kind of hotel where you are waited upon right in your Cabana.  The waitress strolls by languidly, barefoot in the sand.  She’s wearing a flowered sarong and a turquoise halter-top.  She sees me just crane my neck a bit and that’s all it takes to make her saunter back.  She was cute once, but up close you can see those summers by the beach have starched her hair, and parched her skin, particularly around the elbows and knees.  She’s so casual she’s almost asleep, and she resents the smiles she gives away shabbily with every drink she fills.     
       “I’d like a Miami Vice,” I say.
       This is a new drink for me now, and I can thank the conference for that.  It consists of part Pina Colada and part Rum Runner.  I tilt the back of the chair using the little wooden lever on the left side.  All week I wanted to relax but there were so many damn meetings.  At the bottom I’m a cartoonist still, that’s what it is, really, but the men who make it their identity, their bold slice of the American dream, hate that, hate when I call it cartoons even, and insist on being called a Comic Professional, or Comic Artist, or there’s Professional Animator, even Humorous Illustrationists – that’s got to be my favorite.  Hard work was how I got to be a Lead Conceptual with a team. Before I had a team, I had to do the work of three men; wrote, did drawings, did color, and like it was nothing I had to play humble, even with a team I’d call myself a cartoonist still, still just making cartoons.
       It feels good to be wearing a skimpy bikini here in my reclining cabana chair.  I tilt the back of the chair using the little wooden lever on the left side.  Time to take off my cover-up.  All week I wanted to break free and sunbathe but there were so many damn meetings.  
       Teresa, I think it is, returns with my drink.  Icy rivulets trace the sides.  The bottom, pink and melted, freezes my hand.  It’s too cold to hold; it’s the mean pink freeze.
       Why I look out the corner of my eye I don’t know, instinct maybe, because there’s no relaxation not even if I imagine it, and sure enough I see three men, ridiculous in suits, walking through the bathers around the pool. They’re stiff.  They gingerly sidestep around the puddles.  Why? They’re worried about their polished shoes.  What do they want coming out here, now?  It’s Jeremy, Marco, and Ralph, and they’re distinctly not just going to stop and find a seat of their own; they’re aiming, in their not so secret tiptoe fashion, for me. 
       I unfurl the blue cabana over my chair and scramble for my cover-up.  I hold my Miami Vice with my feet while I try to put on my cover-up.  It’s backwards now, and the zipper snags the cover-up's hood and a yarn is unraveling.   I just try to get it inside out to fix it.  The drink is freezing my heels and toes.  I’m about to turn the left sleeve back through so I can put it on when Marco says “Hey California,” in his Humorous Illustrationist tone.
       So I flip back the blue cabana cover, what the hell.  I say “Hello Gentlemen” in my pink Roxy bikini with the turquoise hip beads, the Miami Vice between my feet and everything.
       “You missed the wrap-up,” Ralph says.  He’s looking around at the blue satin sheet of an ocean like it’s an audience that might concur. 
       “It was a big one,” Jeremy says.
       They all kind of snicker together and shake their heads with this in-between themselves, knowing thing they do.  I try and cross my legs and grab the Miami Vice at the same time.  I take a sip of my drink like I’m not concerned about the wrap-up anyway.  They’re all just kind of standing there looking uncomfortable.
       Marco puts his hands in his pockets, taps his foot in the sand, but the tapping doesn’t work like it does in the offices, the sound is swallowed up by sea shush.
       “Big what?”  I say pretending to be naive.
       I lean over my cocktail and adjust the paper parasol to one side. I lie back in my big comfy Cabana chair, bikini and all, with a quiet expression of confusion.       
       “What?”  I repeat.
       “They sold us,” Marco says.  “All three of us, right there in the conference room, they do it in the conference room at a conference, like didn’t even bring us up to the penthouse or nothing, nothing.”
       “Gave us to the clients as free-lancers,” Ralph adds.
       No wonder Marco is tapping his foot. Pippity pat, the thinking tinkering tap of his. I bet he was sure they wouldn’t include him, a full time Comic Artist with name recognition, a downright pro like himself.
       “The Cartoon business can be rough.”  I mention. I act relaxed so they won’t know I was involved.
       “Threw the babies out, kept the bathwater, you know, they take our product, man, they sell us like a pack a Goddamn pencils,” Ralph says.  “Time for a new phase they tell us!  Without us?  Aren’t we the new phase? We were the critical pieces to the new phase… bonkers, man.”
       “Did he say you, you weren’t critical? ”  I ask.  Another sip of that freezing Miami Vice, mean and pink.
       “Not if they can merge our product with the competition’s,” Marco says.
       “Big Guns calls us into the board room and takes our badges” Marco says. 
       “Just Big Guns?”
       “Big Man’s up here too, up in the penthouse, I heard.” Jeremy adds.
       “That’s why he’s known as Big Guns…Bam, likes to shoot,” Ralph chimes in. He pounds his fist into his palm three times squashing them, bam, with a snide glance at the guys bam, bam.
       “The New Phase doesn’t seem to be affecting you  Californ-i-ay,” Marco says.
       I stir my drink.  If I were in the offices I could swivel away in my bean-shaped chair, roll up my sleeve and check my watch. 
       “You guys can still make new cartoons, right? Even as Free-lancers right? Still do your comics, don’t you think?”  I ask.   They hate when I call it cartoons, especially hate it when I call it comics.
       “Nope, no sir, we do what they want, the network’s going to control our every move, its them, they make the calls, we just give them what they want.”  Jeremy says.
       “Output without the input.”  Ralph says.
       “I’m sorry to hear that,” I say.
       These guys are definitely out-put.  He’s got that right.
       The man who was snorkeling comes out of the surf.  I mentally give him his snorkel and everything.  I make his snorkel yellow and his fins blue and his bathing suit a bright neon pink Speedo.  I slick back his hair, black-oiled Cuban style.  I make water drip, tap-tap-tap, from his chin.  A bright orange buoy bobbles in the wind-riddled distance, dancing to a beat.  The sun’s fringe arms move to the rhythm of  “you just keep me hanging ah a on, dana da daa.” The Swimmer walks right past the three clowns around my cabana chair.
       The boys make some snide comment about me being out here having a drink and I suggest they go get one themselves and they saunter off to the outdoor Tiki Bar by the peanut shaped pool to the beat of the steel drummer who’s started his gig over there already at 10 am.
       The Swimmer looks back over his shoulder at the three men, moving toward the bar dragging their crosses through the sand, and then he looks back at me and winks.  What a flirt!  Yes, I tell him, you’re the man, I’m going to make you. But I can’t feel it, what is with this, I’m alone and I’m thinking, wait a minute, I don’t want to work the work of three men again, is that what this is about? Me doing it all?  It sucks they got fired.  I’m glad I didn’t have to do it.  What am I thinking, here, it could have been me, what would that have been like, that would’ve been worse, right?  The penthouse, no one gets fired in a penthouse, what was he even thinking.  I look around for the swimmer but he’s nowhere in sight.  Fired.  You get fired when you’re working for someone else.  On your own nobody can fire you.
       I imagine my pager buzzes and I check the message.  COME TO THE CONFERENCE ROOM 911 it says in all caps.  Shit.  I guzzle the Miami Vice and, with a brain freeze, throw my blue cover-up around my shoulders, tie it at neck.   911, huh?  No time to change, but that’s ok, I’ll be more svelte and agile in my bathing suit.  My blue cover-up catches the breeze, and unfurls in waves, and shimmers with oceanic iridescence as I turn to face the glare of the frozen robot. 
       I barge into the conference room only to be told by some ditzy temp secretary with jangling bracelets that I must report directly to the penthouse suite, but that she needs to take my conference pass first.
       I don’t have it, of course, and she tries to make a stink, but in the end gives me the elevator key to the private floor anyway.  I think she backed off when I told her it would take and hour or two to locate the pass, and that there was no time to lose, there was an emergency here, and with a flash of my bikini through the swirl of blue to prove I had nothing to hide. She slips me an adamantium keycard to make the elevator go to the penthouse. I resist the urge to leap to the top of the building, calm the lurch that beats in my chest, try and stay calm riding the elevator like nothing’s happening, stay low, undercover, as the bell chimes up, 5.15.18.and normal citizens come and go.  Could this be promotion time?
       The private floor is swank, plush shag carpet, fabric wallpaper, leather sofas all in white with the floor to ceiling panoramic windows showing off views like bling, Everything’s hushed to a pin drop, and it smells like a new car.  It feels strangely perfect being barefoot up here.  The door to the penthouse is like the door to the tip of the world right smack on the oceanfront, and it opens magically as I approach like they’ve got me on surveillance or something.
       A security guard guides me to the deck where I find none other than Mr. Big, as we employees call him, the head of All-Story Productions.  He smiles, his teeth all white, his grey Armani jacket flapping gently in the salted air, his barrel chest puffing out of his pearl linen shirt. “Nice work on the label,” he’s saying, “We’ve got an offer on your book from Time.”
       “Time Warner, and we’re going to change the Comic World.”
       “That’s Thrilling,” I say using his favorite word.  I angle at him with one shoulder and sweep my blue cape across my waist so it won’t fly open in the sea breeze up here on sky view pinnacle. I’m ready for his next move.
       “You cold?” He asks sweetly, eyeing my wrap.  He smiles a big mouth grin, and squints his beady eyes in the glare.
       “No, just nervous, heard there’s been some big changes.”
       “It’s a New Phase in the Industry,” he starts. 
       “That’s the buzz,” I say chummy like.
“We can only take the products, not people, and you helped us eliminate some dead wood, and we’re grateful, but now the task falls upon me to give notice to you.  It’s unfortunate we can’t keep you around, not even in a temporary free-lance capacity, you’ve gotten expensive, Cal, and budget is budget, and new management is tough, no room, not even for our best creators.”
       “I can’t keep you.”
       “Wait, you’re taking my product?  You just said it yourself, it’s my book, your book you said.”
       “We own the rights to your book, you worked for us…we keep all the labels you did for us.”
       “You mean my Sea Adventure Stories, Serpent Men of the Deep, Giant Squid Woman, all those?”
       “All those, and Wonder Science Tales too.”
       “What?  Those were collaborations with like, giants of Science Fiction, you’re taking Lab Rat Inventions, Electro World?”
       “Yes and the Under Current,” he informs me buttoning up his big grey expensive jacket slowly, one button at a time, Bing, pause, Bing, pause, Bing and it’s closed.
       “What? He was the best Nemesis of all time, the first Hero Nemesis; he was totally, totally mine.”
       “The Under Current and the rest are Intellectual Property of All-Story; that’s standard business practice,” he says with a proud smile, an I’ve got you smile, a you lose-I win smile.
       I feel my whole life unravel, all my childhood days and nights reading comic after comic, my pro years, my eight years of mental obsessions rolling story after story in my head, thinking of nothing else day and night but those super arch villains, those power possessed heroes in defense of the little people, those all consuming characters who would make me leap out of bed at midnight, make me scramble half naked through the dark to the keyboard, make me sing their songs, clutching me, speaking to me, coming to life through me.
       I stagger backwards.  Mr. Big nods to the security guards and the two of them appear on the deck in a flash.  They escort me to the elevator banks and take my penthouse key.
       I’m furious and crushed and I stomp awkwardly in the unforgiving sand back to my chair, whip the cover closed and curl up and begin to cry, but no sooner have I worked my whimper into hysterics when the Cabana Top moves back slowly on its own and standing before my recliner is none other than The Swimmer. 
       “We can defeat The Sharks,” he says.  “I’ve got a plan.”
       “A plan?”
       “Yes but I need your help, I can’t go it alone, I need a team.”
       “The Sharks are taking over the under water world and if we don’t act now there’ll be no more independence for any creatures of the sea.  The Sharks will control our every move.  We’ve got to act now…can you create a team for me?”
       I look at him up close for the first time.  He’s tougher than I thought.  I can see his skin isn’t ordinary skin, its actually scales, fish silvery scales overlapping one another up his muscular thighs, rippling abs and chest like interlocking armor plates of pearly titanium.  His hair wasn’t just slicked back, that was an illusion in the sun, it’s actually a bony helmet forming a sharp razor on the top and spiked to a point jutting out from the back of his neck. 
       “How many do you need?”  I ask him.
       “At least three.  I need a Penciller, a Colorist, and an Ink Man.  You and me will execute the concept I’ve got and go live.”
       I look over at the pool scene and Marco, Jeremy, and Ralph are still over there pounding drinks in the heat. 
       “Don’t move, I’ll be back,” I tell The Swimmer.
       I throw off my cover-up and walk bikini-clad through the South Beach pool scene, past all the tanned boob-jobs and gold-chained pimp posers to my three henchmen Marco, Jeremy, and Ralph.  It takes no time at all to convince them of the urgency of the situation with the Sharks.  They agree to help me out if there’s money involved so I must bully them into believing in talent over bucks, that money follows brains not the other way around and its hard to get them to abandon their self-centered egotistical foolishness, but since they’ve got nothing now to lose, I’m proven, and they can’t turn me down when I’m in a bikini, they relent.  I’ll give you super powers, only one condition, I tell them.  At first they laugh at me.  “Women? So we are like the Gay super-hero’s fag hags?” 
       “Yes, that’s it – there’s never been a gay, openly gay super hero, and the girls are just how he likes them, over the top, beautiful, powerful, creative.”
       They look at me skeptically.
       “ Ok, I say, don’t believe me, and I turn to go, leave them there alone without jobs.  Seeing as how they’ve got nothing to lose they agree to take on the female personas.
       We stand as a team before The Swimmer. 
       “May I present to you The Aqua Girls…Margarita, Roxy, and Jamima,” I say. 
       “Aqua Girls?  What are their powers?” he asks snobbishly.
       “Domination.  All three can grow to any size.  Margarita can turn water into poison, Roxy can change ripples into tidal waves, and Jamima can create hurricanes out of the calm ocean breeze.”
       “Let’s go,” The Swimmer says.  “We’ve got no time to lose…The Top Shark is out of water right now, but soon he’ll be joining forces with a giant school of his own kind, and we’ll be helpless to defend the under water creatures who need us.”
       I turn back to the girls, “You ready?”  I ask them. 
“We’re ready,” they chime with the best unison of any of the hit back-up singers in Motown.  Right before my eyes they transform.  Margarita’s eyes turn yellow and her hair evolves into a black mane of Medusa cobras.  Roxy’s breasts become voluptuous bursting out of her tight little black bathing suit top triangles and her thighs grow to warrior size barely covering the tiny black doily over her crotch.  Jamima’s fingernails morph into blades the size of pirate swords and her high heels automatically unravel stainless steel speedboat propellers.
       The Swimmer’s yellow snorkel turns into a giant pipe, a bright nautilus shaped shell-pipe, and he blows into it, calling a siren song that makes liquid come alive, a centuries old call to the endless waters, making the entire ocean shimmy to his rhythm until finally the Atlantic parts itself in half.  His blue webbed feet grow to giant proportions so he can walk straight into the open void where there once was a fathomless deep.  Girls swoon as his tight butt inside his pink neon Speedo sways gracefully into the open canal down the middle of the ocean.
       “Grow,” I command the Aqua Girls, and they begin to mutate in size until they are giants.  Pounding the beach they follow The Swimmer into the parted sea.  I take a seat back in my Cabana Chair to watch them perform.
       The Atlantic loses its calm.  It turns Pacific.  With the help of Aqua Girls, great Maverick waves start to hurl upon the shore.  Bathers run to the hotel for cover.  The Palm trees swirl their fronds violently in frenzied circles until a virtual hurricane is formed breaking all the hotel windows.  The Mavericks grow and grow until they are forty-nine stories high like the resort.  The water turns a putrid yellow and reeks of cyanide.  Suddenly the ocean pulls back and a symphony of glorious fish dance on the newly exposed virgin sand while behind them, out on the horizon, a monstrous tidal wave is forming
       I press a button on my armrest and an inflatable raft unfurls beneath my lounge chair and fills with air.  After the tidal wave wipes out the hotel and kills The Top Shark I’m floating peacefully atop my Cabana lifeboat, drifting quietly on the cool Atlantic.  Soaking up the last rays of sunset.  Dreaming up new worlds under a candy coated sky.
       I hear a rap on my Cabana cover.  I pull it back.
       “You OK?”  Teresa the waitress asks.
       “I’m OK,” I answer. 
       “Can I bring you anything?” she asks.
       “Another Miami Vice,” I say.  I stretch my legs, eye the men back at the bar, and smile.
       When she brings it back I walk over to the bar in through the hot sand with the drink.
       Marco is hunched over, both elbows on the bar, head in his hands.  His jacket’s draped over his barstool, collar unbuttoned, shoes are off, cast under the barstool and his socks are tucked into his shoes.  He’s got three empty glasses in front of him.  Ralph’s leaning back on the bar eyeing the girls, and Jeremy’s standing eyeing the top of the silver hotel.  They turn to me listlessly, nothing to say.
       “I was just up there,” I say to Ralph.  Ralph started as a penciller; his drawings had that balance of reality and fantasy, oversized fists but tame muscular structure, chiseled expressions.
       “Up where?”
       “The penthouse where I saw the Big Man himself and he out and fired me.”
       “What?”  Marco says coming out of his funk.  Marco came in on Ralph’s tails, doing the ink around his figures until he could carve the frames like a sculpture into three dimensions.
       “I’m out too, out with you guys, only they don’t even want my input; I’m out cold.”
       “No shit,” Jeremy says turning away from the rainbow of bathing suits.  Jeremy started first as the colorist, the outlaw once, going only by Jigsaw, his tag name from the streets when his graffiti was part of the underground in the inner city.
       “Just kidding, but I imagined it, and I want out, it’s not me,” I admit.  “I’ve been thinking like…who knows when they might fire me, you know, and then they’d have everything, why play into their hands, why not start over now, start my own label, own my own stuff, remember those days?”
       “Dream on,” Marco says.
       “I plan to, but I can’t go it alone, I need a team,” I say.
       Ralph’s still mesmerized by the building behind us. 
       “Ralph,” I start in, “Remember good old Yankee ingenuity:  the greatest heroes aren’t those guys, they’re the creators and inventors.”
       “She’s right,” Ralph says.
       “Aren’t you cold?  You want my jacket?”  Jeremy says.  “Are you saying we are gonna be like Henry Ford? Build a whole new kinda car?”
       “Thomas Edison, or…”
       “How ‘bout Andrew Carnegie, heard of that one?”
       “How about exploitation, like say how many hundreds of years from now after the earth has been completely exploited?  What’s left?  The land’s all exploited to death but naturally since the earth is 70 percent water, someone thinks up a scheme to exploit the oceans, only…”
       “Only they find out they can’t right? Cuz like Giant Squid Woman is there?”
       “No this is different, more epic, there’s already been that battle at the beginning of time, and it was won, and never challenged until now…now that force that controls the oceans is awakened.”
       “I’m seeing something non-human”
       “No, part human, only in essence, in emotion, in that sense of not wanting to be exploited.”
       “I can feel that emotion pretty strongly.”
       “Me too.”
       “I’m all over that.”
       “It’s all I’m getting right now.”
       The sun’s almost gone and the band picks up.  Some Latinos start to salsa nearby.  The resort changes color and shrinks to black.  The flames on the tiki torches dance in the evening wind, and four new sailboats are anchored near the shore, bobbing gently behind the white buoys.  The tip of an orange snorkel is coming up like the periscope of a submarine from behind the counter at the Tiki bar.

Catherine Segurson

Catherine Segurson is the founding editor of Catamaran Literary Reader based in the new Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz. Catherine has worked at two major literary magazines, Zoetrope All-Story, and ZYZZVA. She has worked as a visual artist exhibiting and selling her paintings in galleries in San Francisco and Santa Cruz. She has worked as a professional videographer for 6 years, covering fashion for agencies GettyImages, Wire Image, and FashionStock. She worked as AVP, financial analyst in Corporate Treasury and Merchant Services for Bank of America for 7 years. Her writing has appeared in Coastal Living Magazine, Slow Trains, Taj Mahal Review, Monterey Poetry Review and others. She has an MFA from California College of the Arts in Creative Writing, and a BA in Economics from UC Davis.

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