“The Way Things Happen” by Terry Sanville

03Nov09

I. Pete

We left Saint Xavier’s High School before fourth period ended, just walked out on Father Bernard with him cutting us dead with his stare. But nobody stopped us because it was the Friday before our Class of ’65 graduation. Jerry laid rubber and muscled the Chevy wagon from the parking lot, heading south toward Rincon Beach. Cigarette smoke snaked upward from his wide mouth. He fanned it away from his tortoise-shell glasses and passed the Winstons. Eric and I lit up.

The three of us had been schoolmates since second grade and started surfing during our sophomore year. Jerry and I figured that that day’s run would probably be our last. But Eric kept yapping about how we’d be surf buddies forever, catch a flight to Oahu, and ride the North Shore’s towering curls on ten-foot Webers. I let him believe what he wanted. I could never convince that runty little redhead of anything.

At Rincon, the water was glass and the surf flat. We continued down the coast to The Piers, but it was no better. Backtracking, we parked along the highway and watched knee-high waves break across the point.

“It’ll get, ya know, bigger when the wind picks up,” Eric said.

“Yeah, but that’s around five,” I complained. “I’m not waiting three hours to get wet.”

“What about The Pit?” Jerry asked.

Eric laughed. “Hey man, last time we were there, the lifeguard had ta haul your butt out of the riptide.”

“You try swimming in that mess.” Jerry frowned and lit another cigarette. He was the gremmie in our group. But we put up with his lack of surfing skills since he owned the Chevy and drove us everywhere. He never complained about it, even after he started dating Gloria and they began making plans.

The Pit’s parking lot was empty when we rolled in a half hour later, the lifeguard stations unmanned, the snack bar shuttered. We stared into the mid-afternoon sun. There were whitecaps in the channel and Santa Cruz Island hid in its fogbank. A hot offshore wind blew over San Marcos Pass and down across Santa Barbara. It caught the wave edges and they rainbowed in the sunlight.

Cowabunga!” Eric yelled. “This is so boss.”

The waves were six-feet overhead, perfectly shaped, and we had the surf to ourselves.

“Let’s do it,” I shouted, and laughing, we scrambled out. Jerry hustled to the restroom to change while Eric and I stripped down next to the car and pulled on baggy swim trunks. An old guy walking his dog on the beach yelled at us. I waved at him, but not with my hand.

Our surfboards stuck out the station wagon’s rear window, their curved scags looking something like the dorsal fin on Flipper. Grunting, I slid my board out, scrawny arms quivering under its forty-five pound weight, and stumbled along the path to the beach.

Eric and I had built our own boards during sophomore year, just after his mother died of cancer, I thought, but nobody would say for sure. We spent most afternoons that winter holed up in a metal shed behind his trailer house, cutting, gluing and sanding fiberglass sheets until I couldn’t see straight and almost coughed up a lung. His father would come out and watch, pour us lemonade, and haul us out of there when the resin fumes got too strong. Jerry had asthma and couldn’t handle the stink. So his parents bought him a bitchin’ nine-foot Holden. When he lay on that board with his arms stretched out, he’d just about cover it from nose to tail.

Reaching the hot sand, I pulled a square of paraffin from my rear pocket, dropped my board, and hurried to wax it down. Eric was working his just as hard.

Jerry caught up. “Jeez, Pete. What’s the big rush? We’ve got until sundown.”

“A good wave missed is a fuckin’ shame,” I said, grinning.

Stuffing the board under my arm, I charged into the water, with Eric right behind. Beyond the surf line where the sea was oily smooth, we waited for Jer.

“Ya know, man…you’re gonna miss this,” Eric said, scratching a sunburned shoulder, the skin peeling away. “I’ll give ya a couple of months at that miner’s college before ya come screamin’ home.”

I’d heard it all a hundred times since I’d been accepted to Montana Tech. “So what do you want me to do,” I complained, “go to City College? Christ, Eric, that place is just high school with ash trays.”

“But you could still get a student deferment, beat the draft, and surf every day if ya want.”

“You’re right… I’m going to miss this… but… but I’ve got to get outta here…at least try. What about you? You gonna hang around forever?”

Eric grinned. “Maybe. I’ll be going to City ’cause of my grades. I can work at my uncle’s store… make some serious coin… and, ya know, check out the wahinis.”

Jerry finally joined us. “You’d better learn to surf better if you want the girls to notice.”

Eric smirked. “Shut up, you dorky hodad.”

He took off, paddling hard, with me and Jer close on his tail. The wave broke left. Eric had the best spot. He laughed as he dropped down the slope, flailing his freckled arms to keep balance. I glanced right. Jer had already toppled and was struggling to reach his board. The wave curled over and I crouched, following Eric into its green shade. But I wiped out and bounced off the sandy bottom, coming up only a few yards from my board and Eric.

Somehow, he hadn’t been trapped in the pipeline. “Jeez, did you see that, man. Thought I was gonna get locked in. But I shot out the other side and kicked it.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I muttered. “You’re God’s gift to surfing.” I spat grains of sand and scraped bleached-blond hair from my eyes.

The wave had taken Jer’s board to the beach. But at least the riptide didn’t bother him and he made the long paddle out. We waited for the next set and kept at it all afternoon and into the evening, catching every wave we could until our fatless bodies ached. A few other surfers joined us, but disappeared at dinnertime. Finally, the wind shifted onshore and the cold fog bank advanced. The three of us sat numbly in the flattening swell, watching lights blink on in houses scattered across the foothills.

“You’ll be comin’ home between semesters, won’t ya?” Eric blurted. “We can still surf Ledbetter.”

I let his words die in the silence before answering. “Montana’s a long way from here. I’ll probably come home summers, unless I get a job. Why don’t you call up Jer? He’ll still be in town, right?”

Jerry nodded. “Yes, just give me a ring.”

“Nah, man. You’ll be with all the other science brains at the University. A few months of that and you’ll forget all about—”

“No I won’t,” Jerry protested.

“Yeah you will. Just face it.”

“We still have all summer to surf,” I said.

Eric knelt on his board, eyes bloodshot, red hair hanging in a mop. “With Jer going back east on vacation, neither of us has wheels.”

“We’ll get together… if the surf’s this good, I’ll borrow my pop’s car and—”

“Nah, this… this is probably it, man.”

“Hey, you were the one blabbing about Oahu and the North Shore and…”

“No, man. I’m not talkin’ about that. You guys are gonna make it outta here, ya know… to a better place… and I’ll be stuck here with knobby knees and a bad sunburn.”

“But you’ll have the waves,” Jerry said. “You’ll be the old pro, hot-dogging for the chicks.”

“Yeah, sure. But… shit, man… whoever said that’s enough?”

Eric’s voice was almost a sob. Jerry opened his mouth as if to say something, but no words came out. I reached for Eric’s trembling shoulder. He jerked away, spun his board, and paddled out, beating the water with his arms.

“Hey, come on back,” I called. “We can do something tonight.”

But he kept pushing outward to the edge of the fogbank, then into the mist and toward the hidden islands beyond.

I turned my board shoreward and stared at the coastal mountains, as if I’d never see them again, never feel the tug of the ocean, or the seaweed tickling my legs.  For the first time, I felt all those things might be lost.

In the cold wind, Jerry shuddered, crossed arms clutching his ribs.  “We…… we’re not going to just leave him, are we?”

I glanced seaward at Eric’s faint outline bobbing on the swells. “We already have.”

 

II. Jerry

For fifteen years after high school, I didn’t hear from Pete or Eric. And the last time I’d seen Eric, he was straddling his surfboard in the Santa Barbara channel, that day during graduation week. Pete and I had waited in my car for over an hour, flashing the headlights and blowing the horn. But he wouldn’t come in. So we’d left him out there in the dark. Then after all those years, I received an invitation to Eric’s wedding. I thought he’d be working on his third wife by then… heck, maybe he was.

I got a colleague to teach my Friday morning lab, picked up Gloria from her job at Stanford Research, and drove south, arriving at my parents’ house by late afternoon.

Mom met us on the back porch. “I just got a phone call from one of your high school friends.”

“Who?”

“Pete Owens. He said he was a surfing buddy of yours.”

“I was just thinking about Pete.”

“He said he’s going to Eric Swenson’s wedding and needs to talk with you. Said it’s important. He left a number.”

“What else did he say?”

“Nothing. But he sounded… a bit tipsy.”

“Huh.”

Leaving Gloria and Mom in the living room to catch up, I grabbed the kitchen wall phone and dialed the number. It rang a dozen times before a man answered, his voice too loud.

“Yeah, who is it?”

“I’m calling for Pete Owens.”

“Jerry, is that you? I just called your mom and—”

“Where are you, Pete?”

“I’m in the bar at the Brown Pelican. You know where it is?”

“No. I was barely old enough to drink when I left Santa Barbara.”

“Well, you should know. It’s where the old snack bar at The Pit used to be. They’ve built this awesome restaurant and bar.”

“No kidding. Boy, times have sure changed.”

“Can you come over? We need to talk…”

“I just got into town and haven’t seen my folks in months. Can it wait?”

“Not really. You’re a smart guy and I need your advice.”

That comment was a real surprise. In high school, it was Pete who seemed to have the people skills and both Eric and I had leaned on him for help. But he might have changed, or maybe my memory of him was imperfect.

“You sure you need a physics professor’s advice?” I asked.

“Yeah, yeah. Just get your bony butt over here. I’m buying.”

“All right, I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

On my visits home, I’d purposefully stayed away from The Pit; memories of Eric saying goodbye and us leaving him in the dark kept me away. I’d gone over and over in my mind how I’d handle that situation differently… at least speak up. But it just made me feel stupid.

The Pit’s beach and parking lot looked about the same. But a large sprawling restaurant and patio replaced the tiny hamburger stand that all us surfers had frequented. The bar was located in the back. As I ducked inside, a stocky man with a mustache rose and came toward me.

“Jerry, how’ve you been?”

“Pete, you look…”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. Lost my hair a couple years ago. But haven’t you heard, ‘Bald is Beautiful?’”

“I hope you’re right.” I patted my own thinning crop.

“Bartender, a pitcher of Millers,” Pete called.

We sat at a side table and just stared for a few moments. Looking at Pete after not seeing him for so long was eerie. The mop of blond hair was gone, the sea-green eyes a bit duller. It was like he wore a semi-transparent body suit that only partially hid his old self. He looked tired and out of shape.

“You can probably tell I haven’t surfed since high school,” he said.

“Neither have I. My board is stashed in my parents’ garage somewhere. But I heard you were employed as a geologist in Saudi Arabia.”

“Yeah, just got back… made a shitload of money working for the A-rabs. They’ve got more oil than they know what to do with. How about you? My Mom said you’re teaching somewhere up north.”

“Stanford. Been there five years… and I do some consulting.”

“Huh. I always figured you’d do okay… even though you sucked at surfing.”

“No argument there.”

Our beer arrived and we sipped in silence. The evening crowd hadn’t shown up yet and only two old guys sat at the bar, watching a TV soap opera with the volume turned off. Pete fiddled with his wedding ring, obviously trying to find the right words to start. Finally, he gulped his beer and began. “I suppose you got invited to Eric’s wedding?”

“Yes. I’m surprised. Wonder how he got my address?”

“St. Xavier’s has an alumni list. He probably sweet-talked the secretary.”

“Sounds like Eric.”

“But listen,” Pete said, leaning in close, “I got into town a week ago and went to see him. He lives on the west side, off Valerio.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“Well, I met his fiancée, a pretty Vietnamese woman with curves in all the right places.”

“And?”

“Eric met her in Saigon when he was standing guard at the Embassy. You did know he’d joined the Marines?”

“You’re kidding me. Eric, a jarhead?” I started to laugh but Pete scowled, so I shut up.

“Yeah, he signed up after finishing at City College.”

“Why’d he—”

“Don’t know. But it was at the Embassy that he met Hyunh. Eric told me he lived with her and her family in downtown Saigon, almost went native.”

“So, what’s this big problem that’s getting you drunk in the middle of the afternoon?”

Pete grinned. “Hell, I get wasted whenever I want. No big deal.” He finished his beer and started working on another. I waited. Finally, the story came out.

“I was in Nam a year before Eric. I’d dropped out of school for a semester to get married. That’s when the draft got me and five months later I was busting my hump in Newport, on the Saigon River, unloading freighters. At noon our stevedore gang hung around the docks and bought shit from the baby-sans. Eric’s girl was one of ’em.”

“Really? Are you sure she’s the same—”

“Hell, yeah. She’s got this cute little scar along her left jaw. And there are other things.”

“So what was she selling?” I knew the answer before the sound of my words died.

“She was a taxi girl, a numba one whore.”

“Are you absolutely sure she’s the same woman? There were thousands of civilians on those bases and—”

“Damn it,” Pete barked, “I’m sure it was her.”  He pushed his chair from the table. “I was her favorite GI and… and she was the best piece of ass I’ve ever had.”

The old guys at the bar twisted around and stared. I waited for Pete to spill more, but nothing came. I lowered my voice. “So what do you want me to do?”

“I… I need to know whether I should tell Eric?”

“What the hell do you mean, tell Eric?”

“When I saw Hyunh last week, I know she recognized me. And here’s Eric going on and on about how it’s taken him ten years to rescue the love of his life and bring her safely here.”

“It’s not the first time an ex-GI wanted to marry a… a prostitute.”

“Yeah, but Christ… wouldn’t you wanna know? Maybe she’s just screwing with him to get her citizenship?”

“Look, Pete, those women were desperate, sometimes supporting their whole families. I wouldn’t judge her too harshly. Besides, Eric might already know.”

“Shit, I doubt it. That guy is just as clueless now as he was in high school.”

“You sure it’s Eric you’re worried about?”

Pete glared. “What do you mean?”

“Does your wife know about you and Hyunh?”

“Never told her. Not exactly something you share. But that’s not the reason why I need your—”

“Hey, if Eric is happy with this woman, why should we care?”

“Easy for you, Jer. You’ll go back up north and probably never see him again. But my wife and I have just paid cash for a nice place up Mission Canyon… and now Eric wants to start surfing with me. You know, secrets like that are gonna come out… it could get nasty.”

I stared at Pete. “You sure you don’t still have a thing for this woman? Getting her to leave town would be… convenient.”

“Fuck you,” Pete muttered and gulped more beer.

Of all the kinds of problems I had to deal with, I was never good at the personal ones. And my own stint as an Army officer in Vietnam didn’t help one bit.

I leaned toward him. “So why don’t you go back to Saudi Arabia for another tour? Make a few more million. Rent out your house, then come home in ten years and retire. It’ll all be worked out by then.”

Pete set his beer down and stared. “I buy a house and finally make it back here… and now… I’m the problem? What the hell, Jer? That’s your fuckin’ solution?”

“Yes… and don’t show up at the wedding. Telephone Eric and tell him the company’s called you back overseas. You can write him later.”

Pete sat shaking his head. “I’m supposed to go back to that… that hellhole of a desert so Eric can get happily married?”

“If you’re right and she’s just conning him, their marriage won’t last and you can return. If not, you’ve got to give them a chance… we owe Eric that. We were his best friends. We left him behind once… we should do it again… but this time for a better reason.”

I left Pete muttering to himself, climbed into my Beemer and sped out of the parking lot, wishing I still had my surfboard stuffed in the back of that Chevy station wagon. I could catch the evening waves at Rincon, where there was no riptide to carry me away. That night, I realized my own passion for returning home was growing. I needed to escape the Bay Area’s snarled freeways and the academic life where all fun is smothered by department politics and the push to publish. I used to suck at surfing, but it connected me to Santa Barbara, and I wanted to connect again. Besides, I wasn’t a total science geek anymore, at least I didn’t want to be. Gloria, on the other hand…

 

III. Eric

I knew I was over the effing hill when my chest hair turned gray. Then the freckles on my arms started growing together. Hyunh had caught me checking myself out in the bathroom mirror and cracked up. When I glared at her, she turned all china doll girly on me.

“You beaucoup dinky-dou!” she said between giggles. “But you still ma numba one GI.”

“Yeah, yeah. And you’re still my numba one baby-san.”

I was jealous of her ’cause she looked so damn good for 59, what with only a few gray hairs at her temples and a smooth face. But I loved it when she talked Pidgin English… which was rare, since she spoke better than me with hardly any accent.

In 2007, I’d quit the day-to-day at my Santa Barbara stores and was thinking about retiring to Hawaii. Pete, Jer and me used to talk about riding the North Shore waves. Well… maybe it was mostly me doing the talking. We were lucky we’d never tried it, would’ve gotten ourselves killed. But ten years back I started surfing again and it was great to feel the blood pumping through my veins. My old board from high school hung on the wall of my West Side store, a forty-five year old antique. I’d replaced it with a sleek single-finned long board that was half the weight and lightning fast. Twice a week I’d meet up with a group of ’60s geezers and we’d paddle out for a couple hours. Afterwards, we’d lunch at Carlitos on State Street before going home to nap.

In the beginning, Hyunh came with me to Ledbetter. But it scared her to see me hot-dogging and after a couple times she stayed at the house. “You’re going to break your neck,” she’d said, smirking. “Besides, I have no time for watching elderly men acting like boys.”

Her cheap shot had got me to thinking about how I’d acted in high school… probably a first class douche bag… probably the reason Pete and Jerry had been my only real friends. I’d talked to Jer at my wedding, but he’d disappeared afterwards and we never did connect. Pete sent short letters that said nothing, from Saudi Arabia, from a backwater station on Sumatra, then e-mails from somewhere in Polynesia. But they’d stopped a year or so back and his address died. I thought maybe he’d died… probably pissed off one too many tribal chieftains.

Then Pete’s father kicked the bucket, it was in the newspapers. From out of the blue, I got an e-mail from Jerry. He told me to meet him and Pete at The Pit on Sunday afternoon and to bring my board. I could just picture what Jer looked like… Ichabod Crane with Friar Tuck hair, hobbling across the beach dragging his fifty-pound clunker. Made me laugh just thinking about it. But I hadn’t seen Pete since high school. He was never in town for the reunions… not that I went to many.

Around two o’clock on Sunday, I rolled my cherried El Camino into a parking stall and sipped a beer wrapped in a brown paper bag. A CD blasted oldies. The Pit’s surf was crap… which was perfect for us. A Crown Vic with two boards strapped to its roof rack pulled up next to me. One look and I knew it was them. Nobody rode boards like that anymore, with rails as thick as my thighs. I got out and joined the daring duo at a picnic table.

“Christ, you got old,” Pete said grinning, and extended a hand.

“Yeah, man. Same to you,” I said. “What’s that around your waist? BF Goodrich or Michelin?”

“Go easy on him, Eric,” Jer said, laughing. “He’s used to the Polynesians who revere fat as a sign of prosperity.”

“Well, then, here’s to prosperity.” I raised my beer, then offered them bottles from my cooler.

Both Pete and Jer looked like they’d been attacked by a flocking machine at a Christmas tree lot… face hair and what little was left on top was snow white. At least Jer had ditched those dorky glasses. But his eyebrows had grown into little white bushes. Pete was wearing a lifeguard’s hat. I lifted it to admire his chrome dome. “Not bad, Mr. Clean. We can play connect the dots with your scalp freckles.”

Pete shot back: “Look who’s talking, freckle freak.”

We sipped our beers and stared at the surf, the silence growing. Finally, I nudged Pete. “Hey, seriously man. Sorry ta hear about your pop. How old was he anyway?”

“Eighty-seven.”

“Huh, now that’s old. Mine only lasted to seventy-nine.”

“That’s old enough.” Pete stared at me for a moment. “I’ve… I’ve got something I’ve needed to tell you for years. I’m sorry I missed your wedding, and… and there’s more you should know.” The color drained from his face. He looked like some of my alky surf buddies, trying to go straight but wiping out most days.

“What? What is it, man?”

“It’s about your wife. I… I knew Hyunh in Vietnam.” Pete shivered. His shifting eyes scanned the horizon.

“Ya mean, in a biblical way?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

Pete nodded.

Nobody said anything. Squawking seagulls and surf filled the silence. Finally, I reached across the table and grabbed his shoulder. “Hey, relax, dude. That was a long time ago… and Hyunh’s told me all about you and her.”

“What?” Pete barked, his eyes wide.

“Yeah, that day ya came over before the wedding. After you left, Hyunh told me about you two.”

Pete started to shake. “Then you knew about her being a… I mean… her history?”

“Most of it. She’s still too ashamed to give me the details. But yeah, man, I knew.”

“Shit,” Pete muttered and glared at Jerry.

Jer struggled to control his laughter. “I could have told you that I was no good at giving personal advice.”

Pete continued to glower. “Christ, I coulda come back here years ago.”

I didn’t know what they were yapping about, figured it was just something between them. But Pete sure perked up after that. We sipped Miller Lites, exchanged family photos, and bull-shitted about our lives. Pete and his wife had just moved back to their Mission Canyon home while Jer was living alone in his parents’ house. They both gawked at a recent photo of Hyunh wearing her two-piece, not believing she was just two years younger than me. The hours passed. I couldn’t shake the feeling we were still high school punks, sneaking beers and telling lies. The afternoon wind picked up.

“If we’re gonna go out, we’d better do it soon,” I said. “Have either of you guys surfed since high school?”

Pete grinned. “A little, when I was on Fiji.”

Jerry shook his head. “Not a wave.”

“Don’t worry, Jer,” Pete cracked, “we probably won’t notice any difference.”

In the restroom we changed into spandex shorts. I could tell Jer worked out ’cause his muscles were taut underneath chalk-white skin. Pete… well, Pete would just float better.

Paddling out went easy enough, although Jer fell off his board and had to pull for shore. He was still a good swimmer.

I didn’t like The Pit as much as Ledbetter, not sure why, except maybe that last time the three of us were there, things weren’t exactly copasetic, with me playing the oh, woe is me, I’m gettin’ left behind bit. The stunts I pulled when I was young, pushed around by wild-ass ideas, peer pressure, and hormones.

The waves started to pick up and we tried a couple waist-highs. Pete managed to stand on his board but Jer could only make it to his knees before wiping out. The water was August warm and the wind slightly offshore. We were catching our breath when Pete pointed to a new set rolling in, the first wave a steep slope of green. Jer started to paddle, followed by Pete and me. I didn’t like the looks of it. The wave wasn’t breaking right or left, but came on like the Great Wall of China. I tried to kick out, but caught the crest and fell backwards into the wave face. I heard Pete scream as we all disappeared in a thunderous roar of white water.

The shore break slammed me against the bottom. Somebody’s board caught me in the ribs. I struggled to hold my breath and not gulp water. Pushing upward toward the light, I broke surface, gasping. I looked around and got creamed by another wave that pushed me shoreward.

When I finally could stand, I spied Jer at water’s edge, on his knees, barfing his guts out. I turned seaward and caught sight of Pete getting hammered by another breaker. Pieces of his old homemade surfboard floated in the slush. Two lifeguards hustled into the water after him. He was face down on the surface. A crowd gathered as they dragged him to the beach.

After a couple minutes of mouth-to-mouth, Pete vomited seawater and beer, then sat up.

“What… what the hell… was that?” he choked, wide-eyed and trembling.

I draped a towel across his shoulders. “Shore break, man. Ya went over the falls.”

“Shit, let’s not do that again.”

The lifeguards went back to their lonely towers and the crowd scattered.

Jer sat next to Pete, shivering. “I think that’s enough for me this afternoon. I still have a… a cat at home to consider.”

“Jeeze, you guys are pussies,” I kidded. “Remember the last time we were here? We surfed ’til everybody split, and then some.”

Pete looked at me soberly. “You know, I’m… I’m really sorry we left you out there in the dark that night.”

“Yes, me too,” Jerry said. “We were all so excited about going to college and leaving home. I felt bad that you had to stay behind.”

I grinned. “Bad? Why the hell should you feel bad? Most people would kill to live in Santa Barbara. Except for my time in the Marines, I’ve been here all my life.”

“Yeah, yeah. You don’t have ta rub it in,” Pete complained. “I’ve been trying to get back here for years. You’re the lucky one.”

“Nah, man. It wasn’t luck. It’s just, ya know, the way things happen.”

We sat watching pieces of Pete’s board wash onto the hard sand. A little girl grabbed the broken nose section and dashed into the sea, paddling in the shallows.

“I’ll tell you another thing,” Pete said, “I’m gonna need a new surfboard.”

I fingered my sore ribs. “No sweat, man. I got a real beaut’ hangin’ on the wall of my West Side store that’s just your speed.”

 

Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and one fat cat (his in-house critic). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, poems, an occasional play, and novels (that are hiding in his closet, awaiting editing). Since 2005, his short stories have been accepted by more than 100 literary and commercial journals, magazines, and anthologies (both print and online), including the Houston Literary Review, Birmingham Arts Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, and Underground Voices. Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist—who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.


To read Terry Sanville’s comments on Ilan Herman’s “Chan Kim,” click here.

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Notes from K. Anne Unger, Editor
“The Way Things Happen” shows us simply that despite our best attempts at trying to control our circumstances or manipulate the outcome of a situation, things have their own way of working out and our efforts can easily be foiled. Sanville tells the story with such ease and grace, through three voices—men who shared a seemingly unbreakable bond during their high school years and struggle much later in life for it—that we are instantly drawn into their lives and carried through their journey, asking ourselves the same questions the characters ask themselves. Had they done the right thing, made the right choices? How might things have been different if they had taken another path, made a different decision? Aren’t these the questions we so often ask ourselves?

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Comments on this story by Ezra Fox, author of “Going Down”
The three scenes of Terry Sanville’s “The Way Things Happen” cover a lot of ground. We’re treated to teenagers playing hooky and surfing in the ’60s, estranged 30-something friends dealing with consequences from Vietnam before a wedding, and reconciliation and mortality.

We begin the story thinking that it’s just a coming of age piece with a surfing backdrop. But as soon as that section ends, we jump to a new perspective and we leapfrog over more than a decade of our characters lives, including the entire Vietnam war and meeting the woman that a character’s about to marry. We jump another few decades and our trio is old, and in passing, reference dead parents. But the sting is gone from these revelations because even though it’s the first we’ve heard of it, it’s ancient history.

In the space of 5,000 words, we’ve aged over 40 years with our boys, and the last section is poignant because they’re aware of how many years they’ve lost with each other and how few they might have left. But by this point, the characters and the reader have learned something about life. Time moves quickly, but if you’re with people you like, doing something you love, it might be enough. And even if it’s not, you’re sure not getting any younger. You might as well get back in the water and enjoy the ride.




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