Fog rushes under the Golden Gate Bridge, annihilating islands, trees and shore. It grabs the sky and swings inland, feathered hands roving. They obliterate Coit Tower. Church-spires fade on Russian Hill. There's no sense of up or down. A horn blasts somewhere and echoes.
Traffic grinds at street-level, roiling the hush. People bend to check for footing. Their talk resonates and lurches. Heartbeats pound your inner ear, as churchbells toll your losses, one, two, three; one foot then another.
Fog probes the lungs, the bloodstream, salts your breath. Fighting it off is like suffocation. It is inevitable, and yet, not. Time fades, taking with it sequence, boundaries, sight, as all dimension slides into gray and vanishes.
People wave phones, trying to catch it.
How it came and gripped the city, and no one could tell night from dawn.
Cliffs drop sheer to the Pacific, the brink before you fall into the sea’s limitless grip. Land’s End, tides come and take what they want, paying with corpses, salted, mangled wrecks robbed of identity. You don't want to be that next, eaten by crabs, shat on by gulls, drenched and salted and noon-sun soaked until you're so dry and brittle, there's nothing soft in you left.
A path winds down to the water's edge, where fishermen have cast lines and are waiting. The sky is a blue dome, clouds so faint, you sense more than see them. Cypresses, broad, flat and midnight-green, spread brooding shadows. They whisper to you: there's a breeze.
It's the whisper that moves you. You hear everything now. Waves shatter, shale clacks, saltwater vaults gulls' sharp cries. Men shout, tensing lines that slant into the surf and vanish.
A civilization teems undersea. The water's surface is a membrane between cultures, a supple, scintillating liquid wall. On one side are the men, with their bait and hooks and patience. On the other, populations swim, distending the membrane, following nameless currents. They don't care about men or names or shouting, unless: they accept the invitation on the end of a hook.
Then, sea-creatures, plants, even shells and stones are dragged through the wall of water and laid out on shore. Fish that can’t resist the lure, their lives over, bone dry, in deadly exile. Their forms are absorbed into new stories. They'll never see home again. Wide-eyed, they gasp for water, suffocating in air.
They fight, their muscular silver bodies wrenched in fatal arcs, throats sliced, black fluid staining the rocks. Guts gush. Eyes stop. Muscles sag. Their eyes become shells.
In the bay, boulders white with pasted seagull scat hunch in raucously foaming waves. Jagged, senseless tonnage set long since, not by chance or design, but a series of inward geologic permutations, possibly observed by seals, whose round slick dark heads bob in the bay. Your daughter points them out, turning, her eyes searching, searching for you. Tides ripple off in every direction. The land's end is the sea's start.
A party boat cruises the bay. It’s a gaudy bauble bobbing on the vast night that sweeps out to the Pacific. White light limns the decks, topped by a big, pink neon sign that defines the boat. It is advertising. It plays music. It has the steady drive of fate.
It's the party boat. The ship of fun. Crowds dance on deck, gasping for joy like fish hauled out, shocked, shuddering, and plopped in a pail. Do they know they’re dying? This bright bubble bouncing on a dark sea. You can take the ride, or watch it pass, convinced you’re glad people are dancing. It sails because of the darkness. Defiance pantomimes in night that crowds the hull, reweaving its hellish plush as revelers skim the abyss. The party boat passes and leaves no trace. It's an event. It's what is.
A tugboat boat crosses San Francisco Bay under a gray sky, in gray water and gray air, it's Homeric, sea and sky merged, faintly lit by dawn. The boat creeps, dogged, black hull and striped chimney dim in murk. The prow peels back white rolls of water.
The sky is heavy with sleep. Fog drifts, clogging spires. On steep slopes, roofs huddle, red clay, blue slate, pebbled tarpaper daubed battleship gray or egg-yolk yellow. Arrow-slits stand open to the air and broad bay windows, squat glass-block and singing, free-spirited casements. On the street, brake-lights spark and disappear.
Alcatraz squats silently on its rock. Angel Island waits.
Currents flex the ocean's skin. The tugboat labors closer, lifting the noise of the engine. Tides surge against it; this is the toughest slog.
Waves slam the boat. It hesitates, backs and stalls. Motor raging back to life, twin folds of water veer, focusing oceanic force on the little boat that hammers its way again closer and closer, reaching deep for drive, powering forward, spending all its fuel, fighting for home.
WENDY NARDI'S work has appeared in RHINO, Crack the Spine, Eclectica, 360 Degrees: Art and Literary Review, Skyline, Dance, The Boston Globe and other publications. She was a staff writer for the Kerouac Romnibus, (Penguin USA) and received a Connecticut Artist Fellowship in fiction writing.