Do not forget this.
Do not forget this, and don't forget too to hold this memory side by side with that time looking out over the ocean--not my first time but my first time after moving into Rebecca's spare room in her house of redwood and glass light-housing above those mutable blues, those fog-gauzed islands, those distant freighting lights--standing beside Rebecca on high blue cliffs plunging straight down because there were no beaches, this wasn't that kind of coast, and I acknowledged the impulse to say the waves were infinite though of course, they're finite, at any given moment there is an exact whole number of waves, a fleeting integer we can never count, and so excited yet inarticulate, I told Rebecca how beautiful it was, how mighty and majestic, our ocean was a cosmos. And Rebecca laughed at me, barking hard and mean, and told me, "This ocean isn't ours."
Taller and leaner yet still no wiser. Still mad at Daddy for tearing apart mountains as if he had any choice, as if the mountains were his to tear down or not. Yet far away and feeling righteous, convinced the ocean was mine. Hold them side by side.
Those mountains are gone but there are other mountains. I can see them. Daddy couldn't get them all. Walking my orchards north of Fresno--my orchards, do you believe it, my apricots and plums--I can see mountains no one's carted away. And though the ocean is a hundred and fifty miles to the west, some mornings--this morning--I swear I can smell ocean. Though maybe it's the canal, misting with sunup and grown salty from runoff escaping this alkaline hardpan. But still: I smell ocean. I smell ocean and see mountains and I am in between among fruiting trees I have the audacity to claim as my own, two times an orphan and still some weird nun, remembering Daddy's voice and remembering Rebecca's voice, each trying to teach me the same thing, teaching what I accused them so certain of not knowing.
This is not your ocean.
This is not your land.
Douglas W. Milliken is the author of the novel To Sleep as Animals and several chapbooks, most recently the pocket-sized editions Cream River and One Thousand Owls Behind Your Chest. His stories have been honored by the Maine Literary Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and Glimmer Train, and have been published in Slice, the Collagist, and the Believer, among others. "Integers" was written as part of a fellowship with the Hewnoaks Artists Colony. www.douglaswmilliken.com
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|Title Annotation:||SHORT FICTION|
|Author:||Milliken, Douglas W.|
|Article Type:||Short story|
|Date:||May 1, 2017|
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