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Woman in the Waves

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by Eugenio Volpe

Surfing is one of those things you can't talk about without sounding like a spiritual flake, so I'll just say this about that particular evening…

Gauguin - In the WavesI was hoping like hell she'd get sucked out to sea. I wanted to save her. I had something to prove and she had alabaster skin and a red bikini. She was tall with pointy elbows. Her breasts were holier than thou. She stood waist-deep in the foamy shore surge, her arms flung overhead as if posing for Gauguin. But the colors were all wrong. The ocean was not green and there was lots of sky above. There were some clouds too. Cumulus with a hint of nimbus, or maybe that was just shadow. Her dog beckoned her back to shore with bossy yelps. It was some sort of schnauzer, or maybe Afghan. What do I know? It wasn't the kind of dog that would have died for her. It looked too smart for that, too well-bred.

My father was a violent criminal. My mother a rotten alcoholic. Both were extremely beautiful on the outside, not that anyone in town had ever seen it. I wanted to believe there was good in me, but really there was nothing more than my father inside my mother and then myself coming out of her. I lived with them seventeen years and seventeen years later I was surfing waves from a hurricane some thousand miles off the coast. The hurricane's name was Paul which was maybe how I came up with the Gaugin fantasy.

The waves were much larger than the ones in that Gauguin painting. If you stood on a ladder and measured them with a tape, I'm sure we'd be talking fifteen feet. I was out there alone. The waves were too big for surfers around here. It's never that consistent so nobody has time to practice. When huge swells do come, most are ill-prepared which was why I lived in Hawaii half the year. I'd come home to Rhode Island during hurricane season and act the hero. Luckily, there was a crowd that day watching from shore. Otherwise, all my practice would have been for zilch.

People get stupid around the ocean. They feel soulful and then logic goes right out the fucking window. She ducked an oncoming wave and her shaggy pedigree curled into a ball of resigned hopelessness. It happened just like you see in the movies. The ocean pulled her under. The ocean sucked her out. She paled in its comparison. She struggled for nothing. I paddled her back to shore with relative ease, dragging her onto the sand, my forearms wrapped around her breasts.

She was coughing up water and all that. People cheered and slapped my back. There was an article in the paper a few days later. A witness was quoted as saying, "The guy started paddling towards Mrs. Ondine before she even went under. It's a good thing because otherwise he wouldn't have reached her in time." Whatever. Maybe I willed it. Maybe she didn't want to be saved. The real fact of the matter is everybody in town can now conceive of a Zavattini doing something worth a damn, which has inspired some to finally buy my paintings—Hawaiian seascapes in the pure colors of Gaugin.


"In the waves" or "Ondine" - Paul Gauguin 1889

In the waves or Ondine by Paul Gauguin


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