Fall 2018, Volume 25

Fiction by Charles Haddox

The Endless Winter

It wasn’t far from the ocean, the little brick tavern with a neon Olympia beer sign in the window and a redwood shake roof, a friendly-looking place on a quiet, small town street.  Ferd and Craig bolted out of their car and made a quick dash for the tavern’s open door, seeking temporary refuge from a lingering downpour and bleak late winter sunset cloaked in layers of grey.

Months had passed since the day they left Los Angeles on an endless surfing trip up and down the California coast.  Traveling through stormy fall and winter, they found themselves at the doorstep of Santa Cruz, in a new year and a promising new decade.  They had already ridden the waves of Malibu and Ventura, Santa Barbara and Pismo Beach, Morro Bay and scores of spots along the entire length of Monterey Bay.  Sometimes there were trying, interminable days of flat water in one legendary locale after another, leaving them to wonder why they’d ever left home in the first place.  And a little farther on, they would unexpectedly find themselves paddling into the dream surf of some hidden corner, into perfect double overhead waves of a seemingly perpetual swell.  They joined the ceaseless lineup on busy, crowded shores, or sailed unclaimed waters in splendid, vacant solitude.

“Wow.  Sun’s already gone.  I’ve never seen the sun go down so quickly,” Ferd said.

Craig gave the neighborhood a grim impromptu glance.  “It always goes down quickly when you’re in a strange town and don’t have any place to sleep.”

“And this rain’s depressing as hell.”

In the distance, an angry ocean, churned to milk, made its tirade audible through the pouring rain, the obstinate iodine smell mingling with the closeness and the piercing cold.

The tavern was full of college students and beach bums.  A poetry reading was going on.  The crowd eyed Ferd and Craig suspiciously at first, but lost interest after they quietly took a seat at the bar.  A guy standing at the front of the room read a poem under smoky, toned-down lights.  He looked to Ferd like some sort of monk.  A monk who was pushing forty and beginning to turn a little grey.  Maybe it was the long beard and the bowl haircut.  Or his outfit.  A peasant shirt, which probably would have worked a whole lot better on a younger, skinnier guy.  He read in a sing-song voice, and there was lots of rowdy applause, especially from the glass and bottle-laden tables near the podium.  Ferd and Craig ordered coffee and shots of rye.  The bartender wasn’t asking for IDs.  A gigantic swordfish mount filled the wall behind him.  It was framed by a jute fishing net with large, spherical, salt-stained floats still attached to it.

The poet read another poem, a rhythmic retelling of his first time on a horse, a tale both pathetic and only faintly humorous, but there was laughter from the crowd.  Too much laughter.  Way too big.  The kind you could light on fire.

“This crowd’s a bunch of idiots,” Craig whispered to Ferd.

“Too much chemical inspiration.”

The next reader was a woman with short blond hair and a pale, heart-shaped face, who looked to Ferd like she was just a little older than himself.  She was wearing sunglasses.  She read a long poem about drinking a glass of Madeira with a mermaid.  Ferd had no idea what Madeira was, but he liked the sea imagery.

“What’s Madeira?” he asked Craig.

“Hell if I know.”

They both applauded politely.

She read four more poems.  More enthusiastic applause and laughs.  She was the final reader, and the place started to clear out before she finished her last poem, a rambling declaration of love for Jacques Brel.  Ferd thought she looked very pretty in the uncertain, watery light.

She joined Ferd and Craig at the bar as the gathering broke up.  Ferd offered to buy her a drink, and she amicably turned him down.  The rain continued to beat furiously on the roof and windows, like a madman trying to attract their attention.

“What’s up?”

“Jus’ having some drinks,” Ferd said.  “And tryin’ to stay dry.”

“Where are you guys from?”

“Right now?  All over.  I’m Ferd.  This is Craig.”  They shook hands.

“I’m Ami.  With an ‘i.’  I used to be Amy with a ‘y.’ ”

“How poetic,” Ferd said.

“But it’s true.”

“So where are you from?”

“I’m from Bakersfield.  But I go to school just up the road.”

“Santa Cruz?”


“You have a nice smile,” Ferd said.

“Thanks.  So you’re just passin’ through?”

“We’re waiting for the rain to let up.  We were hoping to sample the waves ’round here.”

“From what I understand, they’re pretty poor right now, even if the rain lets up.  You shoulda gotten here before the storm.”

“There’s another front headin’ this way,” Craig said mildly.  “We’ll see what happens.”  He stared at his glass of rye, momentarily fascinated by tiny reflections of neon advertising signs and red, low-wattage swag lamps in the smoky, golden liquid.

“May or may not be worth waitin’ around for,” Ami said.

“Then we’ll just keep heading north.”

“We’re not in any hurry, though,” Ferd said.

“Then you might as well stick around.”

“Maybe.  So you’re a poet?”

“I dabble.”

“You’re pretty good,” Ferd said to her.  “I like your poems.”  He felt Craig kick him under the bar.  “You were way better than the guy before you.”

“He’s one of my teachers.”

 “How long you been goin’ to school around here?” Ferd asked, taking a sip of his rye.

“Two years.  I started out as a math major.  Now I’m doing English Lit.  I guess I sorta fell in love with poetry.”

“What’s Madeira?” Craig asked.

“It’s a Portuguese wine.  I like the sound of the word.”

“Got a boyfriend?” Ferd asked her.

Craig rolled his eyes.

“As a matter of fact, I do.  He’s up at Berkeley.”

“Hmmm.  I guess I’m not surprised.  And anyway, I sort of have a girlfriend, too.”

“Why do I think that you’ve got more than one?  A rambler like you?”

“A what?”

“Never mind.”

“Anyway, I just have one.  Girlfriend.  Really.  Back in L.A.  I haven’t seen her in a while, though.”


“The call of the sea.”


“You sure you don’t want a drink?” Craig asked.

“I’m sure.”

Someone was throwing uploudly—in the restroom.

“But really,” Ferd said, “even though I’ve been off wandering around for a while, we’re still together, me and this girl.  Her name’s Elizabeth.  I guess you could say we’re just kind of taking a break.  We both needed a little space after high school.”

“Okay.  Got it.  But, hey, if that’s the case, I’m wondering why you asked me if I had a boyfriend?”

“Just makin’ conversation.”

“Sure.  You guys want to give me a ride back to school?”

“You must have come here with somebody,” Craig said.

“I think she’s got other plans.”

“You just met us.  How do you know we’re not maniacs?”

“How do you know I’m not one?”

“What about your teacher?  Couldn’t you get a ride with him?”

“That sound like a good idea to you?”

“Got a friend we can stay with?” Ferd asked.


“We’d really appreciate it.”

“You in a hurry?” Craig asked.  “It’s not letting up just yet.”

“No, I’m not in any hurry.  Why don’t you buy me a Dr. Pepper while we’re waiting?”

“Sure,” Craig said with a smile.  “Now you’ll let your hair down, ’cause we’re gonna be chauffeurin’ you all around town.”

“You’re a bit of a poet yourself,” Ami said.

“Or not . . .” Craig answered.

“Anyway, I’m glad you guys weren’t here to start any trouble.  When I first saw you walk in, I thought maybe you were with these guys who come around and try to disrupt our poetry readings.”

“There’s folks around that want to break up a poetry reading?” Ferd asked.  “Why?”

“They have a beef with one of the professors who reads pretty regularly.  It’s the Wild West out here.  Poetry’s all about factions.”

“Well, we’re neutral.  So who are you gonna try and put us up with?”

“Don’t worry.  He’s this Buddhist guy.  Doesn’t give a rip about poetry, as far as I know.  He occasionally smokes a little pot, but mostly, he just chants in front of a statue.  He’s into the whole nembutsu thing.  Hey, you’ll never meet a guy who’s mellower than him.”

“We’re willing to give him a try.  You sure he’s cool?”

“Okay, you found us out.  We’re a tribe of zombies led by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.”

“Oh, that wouldn’t surprise me at all.  Sorta sounds like a general description of every poetry reading I’ve ever been to,” Craig said, laughing.


Ferd and Craig’s host in Santa Cruz was a balding, middle-aged guy in denim, who was missing a few teeth.  He listened patiently as Ami asked him if they could crash for the night (“They’re really good guys who did me a favor”), a goofy—but charming—smile on her face. 

“Sure,” he said.

His name was Dale Peters.

The place was simple and comfortable, a small apartment furnished with pieces that looked like they had once belonged to Dale’s mother or grandmother.  One of the whitewashed bedroom walls was stained with damp, but the place seemed pretty sound aside from that.  There was an elaborate, candlelit altar in the main room, piled with flowers, and offering bowls, and stone censers, and a miniature black persimmon tree in a glazed ceramic pot that faced a large bronze Buddha surrounded by calligraphy scrolls.

Dale offered them apricot jam sandwiches, and oolong tea, and the lower bunk in his bedroom.  He even invited them to chant with him, which they did for a while, before politely retiring.  Chanting, and keeping time with a bamboo chukpi.  The only thing that was missing was any hint of marijuana.  But maybe Dale had given it up.  He seemed to be having no trouble getting high on the chanting alone.

The two of them, Ferd and Craig, lay squeezed into a single bunk bed.  Dale continued to chant and burn incense in the other room.  The incense was smoky and sweet as a campfire.  Rain was still falling outside; a slow steady rain.  Dale had knocked off the clapping with the bamboo wand, probably out of consideration for them.


Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Butsu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu . . .


Invoking the Name, the infinite sea of compassion. 

“How long do you think he’ll keep it up?” Ferd asked.

“A while yet.  And why not?  It’s his place.”

“Tell you the truth, I kind of like it.”

“Me too.  It’s peaceful.  Dale’s a good guy.”

“Yeah.  Ami was pretty sweet, too.”

“She was.  And what was up with you trying to put the moves on her?”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t think about it?”

“Yeah, but you’re the one who’s supposed have a steady back home.”

“You don’t think Elizabeth’s cattin’ around?”

“Maybe.  You two need to come to some kind of understanding.  Otherwise, this isn’t going to end well.”

“Hey, I’m on vacation.”

“Who are you, James Bond?  I thought you two were for real.”

“We are.  It’s just that things are different when you’re not following a routine.  I thought we came out here to make our own rules.”

“We did.  But that shouldn’t mean ‘anything goes.’  Elizabeth’s my friend, too.  I don’t want to see you hurtin’ her.  She’s been pretty good to you.”

“Yeah, I suppose I should give her a call, man, one of these days.”

“That’s fine.  You can be as confused as you want.  Just ridin’ your board and lettin’ the days go by.  But, hey, in all fairness, you shouldn’t be stringing Elizabeth along, too.”

“Yeah, so why do I think I’m not gonna call her anytime soon.”

“Because you like it this way.  All screwed up.”

“Hey, dude.  Watch your language,” Ferd said.  “It’s kinda like we’re in church or something, you know.”

“Sorry, man.”

Ferd was worried that water was getting into the car.  Worried about his guitar getting wet.  Even though he could only pick out a few notes on it, anyway.  It was mostly just a prop.  And he should have brought in his sleeping bag.  The night was cold.

“This guy’s kind of like a monk,” he said to Craig after a moment.



“What’s it with you and monks?”

“I don’t know.  Tell you the truth, I feel like a monk, lyin’ here right now.”

“Man, I think you just insulted every monk in the world.”

“Yeah.  Maybe.  But it’s been so long since I’ve seen Elizabeth that, hey, I might as well be a monk.”

“That’s your choice, dude.  Though it probably won’t be for much longer, if you keep lettin’ things go on the way they are.”

“Tell me somethin’ I don’t know.”


“Okay.  I’m done with that topic.”

Dale finished his chanting and joined them in the bedroom.  He took off his pants, and climbed into the top bunk without turning on the light.

“You boys still awake?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Ferd answered.

“You know, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”

“Thanks,” Craig said.  “I think we’ll be moving on pretty soon.  But we appreciate you puttin’ us up like this.  For real.”

“Don’t mind having the company.  I’m here all alone.  But I’m out most of the day, so you’ll have to find your own stuff to entertain yourselves, I’m afraid.  I don’t know if Ami told you, but I work at the university.”

“We’re hopin’ to spend our time here surfing.  If the rain lets up a little.”

“This time of year it can hang around for a while.  But it’ll eventually clear.”

“What do you do at the university?” Ferd asked.

“I work in the maintenance department.  I’m an electrician.”

“How long have you been doin’ that?”

“Too long.  But I’m good at it, and the pay’s okay, and I get to be around young people.  I love the open-mindedness and honesty of young folks.  Wish I could say the same for the ones who run the place.”

Ferd had surmised that Dale wasn’t a teacher, but he didn’t seem like a janitor, or gardener, or common laborer.  A blue collar type, to be sure, but one with a craft skill.  It added up.  Ferd also guessed that Dale had lived with his mother in that apartment until her death or relocation to a resting home.  Without a family of his own, living within the same four walls his whole life, with his chanting, and his vegetarianism, and his amiable disposition; he was inert—in seeming contradiction to the Buddha’s doctrine of impermanence—but at ease with the anonymity of the passing years.  He reminded Ferd of other men he had known, who lived solitary, commonplace, dignified lives, and did so without apology or excuse.  There was something exceedingly admirable about him, about his style of living, the courage and self-reliance it exemplified.  Like the others Ferd had known.  The auto shop teacher in his high school, a young man who instinctively avoided the petty internecine faculty quarrels surrounding him, and who was renowned for his equilibrium, and his ability to teach with passion and enthusiasm on a daily basis.  He lived alone, and had no family, but was kind, and friendly, and open with his students.  Those students gave him their grudging respect, in return for his patience and evenhandedness, and in gratitude for his skill at dealing with their adolescent restiveness and inattention.  They trusted him.  Or his Uncle Clay, who worked as a newspaperman in cities across the globe, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, unattached fellow, generous and full of fun, fond of cleverly mocking the sacred cows of the domesticated middle class, and shocking everyone with heavily-embellished stories of endless nights at the poker table, or running with wild, exotic women.  Men whose only rudders were their wit and natural affability, but whose temperaments assured that they would always be outsiders.  Ferd sometimes imagined himself ending up like them.

“How do you all know Ami?” Dale asked.

“We met her at a poetry reading.”

“Huh.  A poetry reading.  I hear the poetry readings around here can get pretty uncivil.”

“We heard the same thing,” Ferd said.

“Poetry’s supposed to bring serenity.  It doesn’t matter how eloquent you are, if all you end up with are these bunches of folks fighting among themselves.”

“What started it all?” Craig asked.

“I imagine it started the way these things always start.  It started with passion.  Passion instead of concentration.  People want to turn everything into a competition.  People want to exclude others, to make themselves feel special.  It’s just piling illusion on illusion.  There’s no space for compassion, for a mind that can accept the gift of liberation without worrying about, or even caring, what other people might think.  I can go on and on about that sort of stuff, on and on, so maybe it’s better if we just say goodnight.  See you in the morning, and peace be with you, brothers.”

The rain intoned outside the window.  Softly.


Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Butsu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu  Namu-Amida-Bu . . .






BIO: Charles Haddox lives in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.–Mexico border, and has family roots in both countries. His work has appeared in over fifty journals including Chicago Quarterly Review, The Sierra Nevada Review, Folio, and Concho River Review.