Its Pulse

Taken by a tide pool, Shannon had been calm a while now.   She’d learned to toss rocks recently and did so here, watching ripples reach round the rim before plunking in another, then again. Perched arm’s length above her, I’d finally calmed too, watching waves lilt into crevices, re-aligning flotsam as they did. We had a beach-length view, sun-bathers, a thousand or more, Newport’s purpose, but the still water at Shan’s feet and inexorable swells at mine were all we could manage.

Life – all life – keeps going in the hope that things will get easier. I suppose that’s true. At that point, at any rate, Karen and I were certainly in line. After Shannon’s diagnosis months before we simply assumed the therapies would extinguish most symptoms, re-birthing her as it had for others in popular books we’d read. While progress had been made, though, it was sporadic and slow and to-date non-functional, only indicating some hope among piles of data, though even that was erased by moments such as these.

What spurred this one was as mysterious as the rest, though it lasted far longer. We’d been walking in and out of shops, negotiating downtown’s summer crowd with Shan squat in my crooked left arm where she always was. Her usual commotion-stirred bemusement, though, pivoted inside a breath, with the only antecedent a body-length clench before the explosion. Whispers and gentle squeezing normally contained such eruptions, but flailing limbs and primitive screams accompanied this burst from the outset. She was small enough that passersby squirmed to the side, opening gaps for one more pampered brat and her feloniously appeasing parent. Unable to secure her, I grasped her ankles then hung her upside down along my back before breaking into a trot. We hit the curve where Thames becomes Memorial and jogged over the hill to Easton’s Beach, cutting back across the sand toward the rip-rap protecting the Cliff Walk. The ebbing tide had left the pool, and she’d been engaged with her stone throws for half an hour now, with no outward remnant of the tempest that sent us here.


Parenting has no preparation. Walls can be knocked down or erected, sheet rock hung, paint slathered on with cribs and changing tables put in place. Nothing, though, prepares you for the battering hurricanes and stultifying doldrums to come, along with the unique shocks each child endows. Shannon was thirty months old now and hadn’t uttered a word. Twelve hours at a clip in such isolation – with the long, stutter-step sleep to come – has effects, and here, unable to breach the space between us, I simply verified her well-being with a peripheral glance before re-focusing on the surf.

Not much life was here, just its remains. Schools of see-through silversides ghosted clear water while a spider crab ambled the bottom, but the husks of other creatures provided the chief animation. Rhythmically tumbled, a set of crab legs waltzed to the tide’s recession, while just above them a rapidly re-hydrating sea-bird – dark, a juvenile cormorant – slapped about the surface like a lumber scrap. Similarly desiccated Canada Geese – winter-starved, retrieved and abandoned by successive tides – had disappeared only weeks before. Shan began giggling now with each splash. I was lucky. A skein of rocks surrounded her, and I wouldn’t have to bother finding more.

Pushed into a crevice, the crab legs sucked out with the next wave, somersaulting again in the turbulence, while the bird carcass glittered among mats of marooned kelp. Out deep, edging in, something new appeared.

Fish don’t often make it in whole, and this one certainly hadn’t, but enough remained. Flapping from the vanished gill plate to drape a few vertebrae pegs then back again, the dark, lateral lines of a skin patch marked a striped bass. With the lower jaw gone and eyes gull-plucked long ago, the skinless skull provided scale. This had been a large fish, filleted at sea days before or cut in half by a mako further out. Maybe it simply succumbed, but the cause hardly mattered now.

Water does things to people. For a moment, within the waves’ ever opaque energies, there was only that skull, that skin, that bit of spine. Caught by a crest, the head rotated, splaying the skin in the aftermath, with the sun revealing it as more gossamer now than former organ. Pirouetted by the following rush, the flap braided, slowly unwinding in the ensuing calm. That was the only time I’d ever felt it, the ocean, its pulse, and it stilled me before something tugged.  Shannon pulled herself into my lap, wrapping my left arm around her torso.

Benching her, I dropped to the beach below, where yards away the bass vestige nudged onto sand.

“Ok, Shan,” I said. “Ok. Let’s go.”