It wasn’t a good day to be at the beach. The sky was grey with clouds and the breeze blew cold. Irvin huddled further in his coat and watched the waves roll in. He didn’t mind the weather, it made things less crowded.
He trudged long the shoreline towards the giant statue made of trash. It was bottles and wrappers held together with chicken wire. It was supposed to look like whalebones. It was a community college project, to raise awareness about the impact of trash in the ocean. The fact parts of it were slowly being washed out to sea was not lost on Irvin.
He stood beneath the arches of the ribs to shelter from the wind. He fumbled through the pockets of his jacket and pulled out a metal tin. Inside were stones, too bright a yellow to be topaz, with black stripes. In among the stones was a cigarette. His last cigarette.
The stones vibrated gently as he plucked the smoke from the box. It took a few tries to get it to light and when it did, he took a long drag.
“I have to stop this.” he told himself. “If you’re not careful you won’t have a daughter, you’ll have an orphan and she’ll have a father in a casket.”
The wind blew his words away and he took another drag. Sighing out the smoke, he reached into his jacket again and pulled out a cellphone. Entering the number he knew by heart, he listened to it ring. Once, twice, three times, and then a voice on the other end.
“Hi, mum,” he said. “Is Alice there?”
There was a brief scuffle, bore a cheery voice took over the phone. “Hi daddy.”
“Hey there, Alice,” he said, “How’ve you been?”
“Good!” she almost yelled the word into the phone. “Grandpy’s been reading me stories cause it’s too icky to be outside.”
“Oh yeah?” a drop of rain fell on Irvin’s jacket. Grampy was usually right about the weather.
“Uh-huh,” Alice went on, “he’s been reading me a thousand and one Arabian nights. It has gin in it.”
Irvin plugged his other ear with this thumb. “Say that again?”
“It has gin in it,” Alice repeated, “Y’know, genies in the lamps.”
“Oh,” said Irvin, “djinn.”
“That’s right!” chirped Alice. Irvin could picture her rocking back and forth on her heels with one end of the phone held to her ear, the receiver held almost over her mouth.
“Daddy?” she asked, “Are you gunna come home soon?”
“Soon,” he told her.
“Okay! Grammy says I have to go ‘cause it’s lunch time.”
Alright,” Irvin said, “I love you.”
“I lo – “ Her voice clicked out midsentence. She must have hung up by accident again. Irvin looked at the phone for a few moments before tucking it away. He felt bad about lying to her. Home was not a place he could go for a long while.
Irvin dropped the butt of his cigarette and ground it into the sand. Then he hunched his shoulders and went out into the rain. He was going to need another pack of cigarettes.