Fiction — December 13, 2011 13:55 — 2 Comments

White Cap – Ric Hoeben

Grandma Dorris sat there human with some amount of stillness and the frail.  Her summer hat was a delicate lavender, her bathing suit navy.  She stared out, deep—past her little grandson on the beach—looking over all the merging foam of the restless ocean, and from time to time, she’d pull her neck back in pain toward the beach house behind and hope to come upon her daughter, bouncing down the sandbank with maybe one more cold mimosa for her.

“I want my ‘puter, Mima.”

Dorris looked at the screaming child down there in the sand.  His blonde hair had become streaked over with thin lines of brown wetness, and his little back peeled from a week’s worth of beach living.  All was tanned now save for his ghostly white head.

He had built and demolished the same sand castle for days.  If the resort town at Snows Beach wasn’t so dead for the week, Jackson might have met with some new play friends, but as it was, the skies were overcast and the whole world enveloped itself in a still, gray dullness.  The weatherman, she remembered, had called for violent rain that morning when they were having coffee and saltwater taffies.

“Be quiet, Jackson.”  She shifted to the far side of her beach recliner and gesticulated with finger.  “You can’t have your computer.  Why not swim for a while?”

He was hunched over, drawing lurid faces in the sand.  His tanned bottom peeked right out of his faded trunks.

“Where is your mother, Jackson?  Where is Ma-Ma?”

“She’s dead, same as always.”

“Shh.  Go run up and get Ma-Ma.”

“She’s dead, same as always.”

“What in thunder are you so messed up for?”

“You said yesterday I was a little bit men-tal.”

“Go get Ma-Ma.  Grandma is really tired now!”

“She’s dead, same as always.”


The dirty seagull was at it again, busy plotting it.  He’d made out a course for himself, but he’d have to be spry if he expected to keep using the long sandbars all along the way.  Dorris could not really discern if he was a seagull or an albatross, though.   She tried shuttering her eyes down and then popping them out wide open, fast, very fast, but all the world was a blur, save for Jackson’s small body before her and the foam merging ceaselessly in the expanse of the great Atlantic.

The computer, she thought.  She opened up the black computer over her lap and brushed the beach off of it.  Presently she twirled her white hair through her frail fingers and brained and collected for a moment.

“Jackson, just how the thunder do you get this thing to working.”

“It’s on Grandma.  Just click the green button I showed you.”

“I did, sugar pie.”

“Click it again.”

“Nothing all over.  Come over here and you help Mima.”

“I ain’t seeing why.  It always worked when Ma-Ma did this.”

“Go on up and see where she is, Jackson.”

“Maybe if we prayed about it.  Maybe God would turn it on, yeah?”

“Well, that is, yes, just an excellent idea, Jackson.  Goodness me.  Kneel down here, right here in the sand, yes, and grab onto Mima’s hand.  Yes.  Good boy.  Now, start telling God— .”

“Ah, shh, now you be quiet.”

“Jackson Emmanuel!  Now, you pray to God to make this damn computer work.  I have several things I wanted to get done today.”

Jackson wept.

“Stop it, boy!  Just go on up and get your damned mother, right away.”

“She’s still dead, Mima.”

“Oh, baloney.”

“Try hitting it, like this, Mima.”

“That won’t work.  If God won’t aim to turn on the computer, nothing we down here below can do about it.”

“I reckon.”

“Go on up and get your mother.  And you bring out that orange juice drink I like.”

“The one only grown-up people should be drinking?”

“Yes, yes, button boy.”

The seagull then strutted its way toward Dorris like some expectant lover come down to woo her.  She shifted her eyes but could not identify it from the albatross or the other petrels of the sea.  She knew her daughter would know; she thought of when Laura took the ornithology classes at that giant university.  That was before she was married and Jackson came along, wasn’t it?  Dorris could not remember it very well at all.


He was moving.  She could see the beachcomber man moving closer.

Dorris kept the chilled mimosa glass stable between her veiny thighs.  She’d ended up getting it herself and she intended to savor.

The man was tall, fully burned.  A white beard flecked with blonde and red covered most of his face.  Now, here he was, all a sudden like it all was, and, yes, here he was out-spreading his meat, his sinewy arms, as if for a handshake, and little Jackson, is he screaming out in pain?

Dorris nodded quickly to the shadow of the man and then propped her drawing pad out over her knee so her pen might delicately trace the lines back and forth over her sheets of thick paper.  She hummed a little something.

“Don’t ya’ll folks know the beach is closed,” the man said.  “A hell of a storm’s brewin’.”

His olive T-shirt had a variety of holes throughout, and his khaki pants were much too short for his long, winding legs.  He still kept a hovering grip over Jackson’s naked body, and new crimson tattoos spotted the sinewy arm under the remains of the day’s sun.

“Please let go of my grandbaby.”

“What for and how much?” he asked.

“Why don’t you sit with us a tad and have a nice cold drink with me.”  Dorris lifted her eyes to the gray sky above and said a little prayer to her savior.

“No, see, I intend to take this boy with me and use him exactly how I please.  I’ve been watching him from over there for going on a half-hour now.”

“Well, listen, I’m sure his mother can offer you something.  Tell him, Jackson.   Tell him how Ma-Ma can help him.”

“She’s dead, same as always.”

The man snorted.  “See that, you’re upsetting him, you old dumb bitch.  He’s much better off with me, and now that’s only obvious enough.”

“Figures to me a man like you ought to have a job and a good wife.”

“Oh, but I’m awful horny, ma’am.”

“Please, think of your old Sunday school and Jesus, son.  You be sweet around my little boy and don’t talk that way around him.  You were once a boy; you think about that now.”

“I’ll tell you something different, you nasty old bitch.  You take that pad there and you draw me exactly to my liking and I’ll go off out of here just as quick I as came.”

Jackson played with the cream seashells underneath his legs.  Dorris could tell he was getting restless from the man’s dirty hand that was becoming a frequent vise around his neck.

“Honest trouble is, pal, my eyes are aching me silly.  I don’t know well how I could draw you right off.”

“Well, either this boy become mine or you’re gonna get down to drawing me.”

“Ptthh.  And what you intending to do with this portrait anyhow?”

“All right.  Enough is enough.  You’ll excuse me, but I’m not into any kind of patience today, not a single bit. You got to feel a thing like patience, and I’m not feeling anything today. And I am taking this boy with me now, just like I said I would.  Be back in maybe an hour, check over your progress, but more than likely show you all your mistakes.  You had better know how to draw.”

Dorris wept silently and wished Laura would come bouncing down the sandbank at any moment.  If she were there, she would know what to do directly.


A tough-set lemonade boy was pushing his white cart effortlessly through plumes of sand.  He nodded his firm head toward Dorris’s direction.  She sighed and estimated just how beautiful he was; she thought of how he looked like her Charlie before he died in the war.  If she had thought to bring her spare change bag, she would’ve bought some iced lemonade for Jackson and some for herself to have.

She stirred a bit then and worried over her precious grandson.  All the columns of the ocean were getting higher and closer and the skies were darkening into a funereal gray.

Presently she tried to etch out the tall beachcomber as best as she could remember him.  Did he have a black beard, like a swarthy pirate would?  She could not recall.  She would make him without a beard then.  She would make him exactly the way the whole closed-up coastal town had forgotten he could be.  A green necktie would suit him.  And then a fine blue blazer.  Yes.  Oh, but where was her blue shading anyhow?  She reached beneath her recliner and felt for it in the warm sand.

He must have had blue eyes, too.  Yes, she thought, they were blue like the ocean in the early mornings, when she took her peaceful walks.  He was a handsome man after all, behind all that mask of sin and sex.  He was a preacher and a god under all that, and she would do her darnedest to make him see all of that, all of that variety alive now in her abundant revelations.  If Laura would only come bouncing down the sandbanks with a new mimosa, she could help her mother with the man’s hair.  Laura was excellent at sketching out a man’s hair and she did very well with background scenery.  She could likewise work on the seagulls or albatrosses or whatever they were anyhow.  The man would be able to find hope in what she and her daughter were making now, what they were creating for him.   He would smile a winsome smile like he must have done when he was a boy himself, and he would undertake to give Jackson right back over, because he would know, and knowing that kind of know was everything in life, wasn’t it now?

Dorris sighed and worked her best on his long locks of hair.


He was without little Jackson.  He did, however, have a 12-gauge shotgun stretched out before him, and he held onto it clumsily like it was a bothersome rattlesnake discovered in the corner of someone’s lawn.

“What do you intend to do with that gun, honey?” Dorris said.

“Aim to blow your head to hell and back, like I did with the boy.”

“But I made this portrait of you.  Sit on down.  See how you look like one of them old Greek gods—a real live god, you know?”

“Shh, that ain’t me.  That ain’t me at all.”

“Well, that kind of thing is really a subjective matter.  You really do glimmer to me, son.  So I let you in this portrait the way I felt it should be.  It don’t take no genius to make genuine art.  God intended things one way, and some things the other way, and you have to go along with Him, most times.”

“What are you blathering about?”  He stroked his beard and wiped the sand from his dark eyes.  “Listen, I tell you I blew your little scamp to hell and you turn me into this—this damn unrecognizable beast.  You may need some serious, serious professional help, lady.”

“Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow…”


“Praise Him Creatures Here Below.”

He prepared the gun and his shells.  He drew a good bead on her forehead.

Dorris was covered in lines of perspiration, but she went right along with her hymns.  She sang like she thought an angel would do in the great flanks of heaven.

The seagull/albatross had come near again; he circled the dark skies above the man and Dorris.  Suddenly, he relieved himself and flew on to somewhere else.

“Shit,” the beachcomber cried.  “This is shit.”  He wiped the streams of white from his eyes.  “I can’t see a damn thing.”

“Neither can I, honey,” Dorris sang.  “Nothing but a haze now.”

“Damnit all.  I’ll be seeing you later; I’ll see your ass in hell, and that’s a fact.

“Precious.  Peace be with you.  Peace, son.  True peace.”

Dorris returned to his picture and made the final strokes of green in his necktie.  She would wait on Laura to do his hair and she would let Jackson color in some of the ocean scenery if he wanted to do it.


In time, the grayness all around her permitted a crack of sunlight and Dorris got up for the first time in some hours.  She creaked and edged her body down to the encroaching water foam.

Behind the bubbles and mounds of dark sand were masses and masses of dead jellyfish.  Dorris knelt down to examine them as best as she could amid the in-rush of dirty water.

Beneath these masses, two tight pilings of seaweed stayed fast among the incoming remnants of the surf.  These pea-green bodies—beaten by the eternal waves—moved only at their very outer edges, only from time to time, as they began to glisten now in the new awakening sun.  Yes, there were certainly two different versions, two different bodies of a similar stringed being, huddled together under the spreading sky, huddling in their firmest green harmony.

Dorris knew without question, then, that they were worth a day’s painting.


Ric Hoeben homes it in eastern South Carolina, holds an M.F.A. from the University of Florida, and hopes his recently finished literary-crime novel, Oceans of Gold, will be a real smash.


  1. Rob Thompson says:

    Is the reader suppose to get this? I did flash on the last scene from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

  2. Harry says:

    Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

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The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney