||[Sep. 14th, 2003|08:24 pm]
|||||Nat King Cole - L-O-V-E||]|
Well - I better put my money where my mouth is - so here it is - my talent.
Perhaps it’s the way light reflects off the water, maybe it’s the wind tossing the sand like chaff, whatever the reason the night silently, but forcefully demands attention. He combs the beach, his rough hands and fingers jammed tightly into his pockets, hiding from the light. His wispy white hair caught by the wind, white flames dancing in the night. He walks every night, no reason. Just walks, not walking anywhere, not getting away from anywhere, just walks, not fast or slow. Just walks. Old shoes with toe holes fill with sand, he walks on. His quick, darting eyes see the waves crash, see the pipers dash into and then away from the waves, like little children. He smiles, revealing gaps and less than white teeth. Cracked lips recede again. The old man continues walking, over dunes, around pools, walking. His gait is regular, the rise and fall of his legs, like pistons.
He stoops suddenly, his quick eyes caught by the moonlit flash of sea glass. He places it in his already bulging pockets, full of broken clam shells, bits of glass, a sand dollar, and bits of rock and driftwood. He reaches the crest of a dune, piston legs still churning. He turns to watch the sea, as the sun rises. He stands, watches the sky brighten, bright swaths of purple and pink lighten the navy sky. The yellow orb of the sun, first an arc, then a chord, then a semicircle, and just before the Orb breaks free from the ocean it hesitates, a tendon of light still attached to the horizon, as if the surface tension of the water holds it there. Then the sun breaks free. The old man smiles in the sunlight, his face warmed by the morning light, polishing features, his less than perfect teeth and cracked lips glow brightly.
He walks towards the water, still slowly, still calmly. His ankles are immersed, and his khaki pants cling to his legs, as if they are another layer of thicker, yellower skin. He’s in waste deep now, his abdomen tightens from the touch of the cold water. Pistons still churn, slower, but no less deliberately. His shirt clings like his pants. He walks on, then swims, slowly deliberately out to sea. Propeller legs slice the water in an infinite chopping motion. The shells and the sea glass and the scallops trail from his pockets, ribbons of browns and tans and purples and greens fall to the sandy bottom, to be lifted again by the currents, their shreds spreading over the sea floor. The old shoes become heavy, and are pulled away, their weight over coming the strength of the laces. He churns onward, still not pursued and still not chasing. Calm isn’t the right word, but it’s the first that comes to mind.
He turns back, still unhurried, towards shore. Reaches standing depth and his propellers return to pistons. Upon reaching the beach he makes a sharp right turn, and walks again, retracing his steps, over dunes, around pools. As he dries, the water leaving behind a briny after texture, the old man’s expression changes from blank, at first the frozen facial muscles contort, as if they’d forgotten how, but then they relax into a look of satisfaction and complacency. The man sings to himself, the old baritone still clear in the morning air, “Over there, over there . . .” It hits him fast, first the smell comes back. The acrid smell of diesel fuel and saltwater, mixed with sand. Then the sound, the crash of waves, the ping of metal on metal, over and over, like a tin roof in a hail storm. The silent prayers, the tears, the fear, so thick it could be tasted on the tongue, like stale bread. The sensations were next, the once cold steel now warm and clammy from being gripped too tight, the feeling of weight on his back. Thick leather boots separated him from the corrugated metal of the boat. Then he sees it, first the dull green of the helmet of the man in front of him. The steel ramp falls down and they’re on the beach. The helmet in front of him runs, then stops, and slowly falls. The roar is deafening now, the sound of rifles firing mixed with the thud of the larger shells. He runs, making his way to the twisted hulk of a steel barrier. Ducking and weaving, like he was being stung by hundreds of wasps. The old man breathes hard, takes a seat on the boulder he has found his way to. He wipes his brow with his forearm, clenches his teeth and shuts his eyes tight against what he sees. The man, now young, breaks from his position up to a steep earth wall. He waits, more green helmets converge around him. They cut the toothed wire and are through. Still running, still being stung the man goes onward, helmets around him fall to the ground, some helmets are familiar. Rage builds inside the man. He is upon the enemy, his rifle firing, hitting, killing, shattering bones and in an instant ending lives. He comes upon a young man, younger than himself, no older than 16, an early conscription, and fires. The boy terrified, and shocked for a moment looks from his wounded abdomen, at his hands, back at the soldier, and cries. Cries for his mother, for his father, cries for one more day of life. The soldier fires, fires again and again and again into the body of the boy. The body twitches with each consecutive shot. The man, still firing, stumbles, his right leg slammed out from under him. His thigh, first numb, then the pain hits, it' white hot and burns terribly as though his skin were pulling itself away from him. He tumbles into a pile of pain and anger.
The old man takes a few collecting breaths and then continues walking. Haunted isn't the right word, but it’s the first that comes to mind.
The old man is back in his small flat. The rectangle rooms hold rectangle furniture with rectangle books and videos and picture frames. The pictures are mostly old, and faded. Young men in crew cuts and old army uniforms stand together, boys trying desperately to look like men. These same men, but a few missing, a couple years later, men trying desperately to recapture their youth. There is a wife and children, all grown, all flown. He lives here, by the ocean, alone. He walks and swims every morning, for exercise so he tells his friends, but really he walks in the hope of finding that beach, of finding that boy, of finding those helmets. When he can't find them he swims out to sea, trying to find his comrades still on the boats.
He feels the weight in his chest. The waking of so many emotions numbs him, as if his heart was asleep, and now he was feeling the pins and needles. Hatred, sorrow, joy, guilt, laughter, the sunrise, the feel of the ocean, land sickness, lost shoes, all pile up in his heart, the old man takes a breath, and lies on his sparse couch in his sparse living room. The man still lying, his limbs not moving, no sign of life except for the faint rise and fall of his chest. Every few seconds he blinks but continues to stare. The goose bumped ceiling appears to fade in and out, as the old man fights to fall asleep, but is awakened by the boy, screaming for his life. Tired isn't the right word, but it’s the first word that comes to mind.
The old man is walking again. At the beach. It's morning, but clouds block the sunlight. He walks, pistons churning, but now, with a purpose, chasing or fleeing, getting there as fast as he can. His pockets are empty. He runs to the water’s edge and throws himself into the water, attacking the surface with every stroke, slicing his way through the water, beating it with his club-like forearms. He dives under and opens his eyes, the salt water stings for a moment, then his eyes adjust. He sees the dark green, tastes the salt on his tongue. He wants to fall, to become apart of the vast ocean, to be swallowed and forgotten. He realizes how old the water is, the water that has been since the world was formed. Water that has been through animals and people, Einstein’s water, Ramses' water, Ghandi’s water, Jesus’ water. The water remembers all the old secrets of the world, knows of sins greater than his own. He stretches for the ocean floor, every fiber stretched to its utmost. He strains, and then, shoots upward, and breaking the surface of the water like a slave from bondage, he breaths, breaths the air. Feels the fluidity of it, as it flows down the front tube, above the collar bone and around his back. He floats, supported by the water.
Drained isn't the right word, but it’s the first that comes to mind.
Slowly, he swims back to the beach, and makes a turn, this time less sharp. His piston legs flow more easily, fluidly.
The transformation comes slowly, peacefully. The smell is first. It's the smell of clean cotton, of lace and old wood. Incense and candles. Then the sound. A boy soprano sings sweetly, caressing notes he wont be able to hit with extreme effort in a few months or years. “Gloria in excelsis, glory to god in the highest.” The man thinks Amen. He feels the clamminess of his hands, feels the way the tuxedo rides on his shoulders, the cool breeze from the open, heavy oak doors in the back of the church. He opens his eyes, he is in a beautiful church, but his eyes immediately focus on the woman in front of him. She shines with a divine light, the light of all the love he could pour into one human staring back at him, returned and somehow magnified. The dark ringlets of her hair, hidden behind a thin lace veil, frame her delicate features, and her eyes, deep pools, windows to a soul of extreme compassion stare him back. “Eternity is not from now to forever” the preacher says “but rather the infinity of nows that stretch to the horizon. Now . . . and now, and now are all yours to share together.” The old man lies down on the cool morning sand and smiles, and shrugs into it, creating for himself a cocoon in which to enjoy his memories. The young man lifts the veil and kisses his bride, pouring out all of him for her, into that one kiss, into that one moment, but instead of finding himself empty finds himself fuller than before. He takes her hand and walks down the aisle, out the door and into the waiting limousine, her shoes clicking down the stone steps. The old man smiles, and still smiling, drifts into sleep under the ever brightening sky on the cool sand. Fulfilled isn't the right word, but it’s close enough