As the waves climbed to the gunwales, the sharks circled. The sun was high in the sky, and Arthur squinted into the light, watching gulls dive. The last of the seagull he had managed to kill was gone days ago. This was day 19. He had been alone since the tenth day when Johnathan went mad and took his last swim. He was sunburned and starving, but he knew he could make it. Keep floating and eventually you will pass by land. Stay alert and someone is bound to find you.
He never should have accepted the offer. This is the thought that plagued him. He was raised to think in numbers and percentages. The call to sea was a siren song all along.
When they found the boat, it was empty. This does not mean that Arthur died. It means the boat was empty. To his family, Arthur was king of an island somewhere. He was eating coconuts and laughing. He was building civilizations from driftwood and palm fronds. His sons would become sailors eventually and traverse the world, wondering. They would look at the old, weathered men they saw in sea ports. They would hope for some flash of recognition.
They never guessed that Arthur saw his salvation as a new start. Freedom. He was tied to no one and nothing. He saw his sons occasionally from afar, but never spoke to them.
There are many things that happen on the sea. There are mysteries that will never be solved. There are ghosts that slip the valleys between waves. There are lives that blossom in salt water. There are pitfalls and disasters.
You look at the horizon and you see an invitation, but that is reckless innocence. The sea takes what the sea wants. The boats bob on the waves, but we know nothing of the worlds underneath. But go ahead and join them. You might as well go to sea. The ocean is calling you. And you might survive, or you might be lucky and be spared the torture of starvation and madness. The sea gives you what you need, whether you want it to or not.
Da-aaamn, did he have a basketball, tho? Just the terrifying thought of being surrounded by more water than I could drink,would make me take a last swim. Let alone, the thought of being alone in it.ReplyDelete
Your stories always keep me bouncing on a solution.
Whelp,I'm gonna believe Arthur made it and he's king in his world.
Ahhhh... Arthur wound up as king wherever he went. And his best bard is JD Mader.Delete
That's beautiful! I love the last line especially.Delete
So much going on here. Arthurian legend and tales of the sea. "Arthur was king of an island somewhere." Avalon? But I love above all else that this is a coherent tale.Delete
Nice! The narrative voice is so strong, flawless.Delete
The vase was cobalt blue. One of a pair, it was purchased for fifty cents at Petersen’s Five and Dime Store in 1944. A wedding present for your mother.ReplyDelete
After she died, you found the pieces in a box. Why did she keep the shards of a broken vase?
You recall the other vase, the one unbroken, holding flowers you brought her; dandelions when you were a child, then daisies, roses, sunflowers, and even bachelor buttons from the garden you shared with her.
At her funeral, you put a simple yellow rose in the unbroken vase.
Your father, may he rest in peace, had a temper. Was it he who had broken the vase? Was there a fight? Or was it an accident? You’ll never know.
You empty the box of the broken pieces onto the table. The August sun sends a shaft of golden light on the table. You try to fit the pieces of the broken glass todether. A jigsaw puzzle, but in three dimensions.
The shaft of light moves as the afternoon grows older.
You sigh in frustration. Even if you could fit the pieces together, you have no glue that works on glass. You close your eyes, trying to remember if you’d ever seen the two vases together.
When you open your eyes again, the sun beam is shining on the pieces, and you see a hundred indigo rainbows on the white walls.
You find the other vase, fill it with water, and you race into the garden, and you see the only flower still blooming: A sunflower. You cut it and bring it inside, heedless of the two ants on the flower.
You stare at the heap of crumbled glass and the rainbows it brings forth and at the flawless vase now filled with a radiant sunflower.
You cannot decide which is more beautiful, the broken or the unbroken. And maybe that was why your mother kept the broken vase after all, for she had two sons, one broken.
So lovely. All the symbolism, the afternoon growing older. and the metaphor of the broken vase and broken son.Delete
Yes, lovely beyond words. The second person works so well here. But more than that, the lyricism and the exquisitely told tale works even better.Delete
Thank you kindly!Delete
I agree. I like the 2nd person. Especially because you can't tell from the first sentence. It has an arresting quality. And the language and imagery is beautifulDelete
So wonderful,Leland. The last flower, everything...But hey you had me at cobalt. :)Delete
Wait. Rewind. Take the chablis instead of the pinot. Scream from the Shed End not the Kop. Deep fry the fiddleheads don’t steam them. Purchase don’t pirate. Rehabilitate don’t shame. Kill don’t maim.ReplyDelete
We narcissists enamoured of minor difference. Our oil-smeared glories.
You damn well wear me out.
We gather here on a darkling plain, you and me and your girlfriend and my roommate and my twenty-seven rabid first cousins, plus half of Europe under gawking Polaris. Friends and those we think we should have met. Loved even. That batshit horny aunt we wish we’d never fucked, though glad we did if only for wank fodder, though we were only twelve. Muslims and Jews. Bent cops, craven officials, a legion of weak and stupid fucks. The pointless inarticulate rage of white grievance. Aimless spleen. Doltishness in celebration of itself. Vicious dimwits. Old cunts we wish would die; yeah, fuck your feelings indeed. Those conspiratorial priests, milling like cormorants on pilings, spreading their robes lasciviously, fake as puppets coerced onto sweaty laps, shot through with voices and breath, the same breath moving the tide over stones, hissing and hitching and asthmatic under austere skies, heralding war but mostly unheeded, mostly unheard.
I’ll give you Dover beach, you absolute fucking weapon.
This is nineteen sixty-one. A flower already scorched. A film begun. The wolf that knows which root to dig. My life entire. Go vent this.
We wait while the elephant gets to her feet. The matriarch. She once considered stomping us to death. Now she watches as we wait. And we wait, and she backs away, swaying like vines and hammocks, ropy and weighty and arthritic. Her breath is the surface ripple of the Nile, by the banks, igniting a flock of cranes. Igniting or anointing, what’s the difference? Flames or oil? All falls down to one or both. When aphids die the ladybugs follow. When the salmon won’t spawn the whales can’t eat. When corals bleach anemones die. We leave with fingers miming silence on our tight lips, and I can’t get the theme tune from The Walking Dead out of my head. What is all this? Are we in some awful tale? Are we the thwarted salmon? Or are we the dying orca? Are we frail and ill-starred jewels or hopelessly mundane?
We escape. We think we escape. We hope.
But we know something else, some true thing.
She damn well should’ve stomped us.
Wow... and the rhymes... and the visceral inevitability of it all... "oil-smeared glories" is a perfect title for your forthcoming book, by the way.Delete
Damn. That is all.Delete
Thanks, you two. Apologies that my POV character succumbed to her rage in such a profane manner. ;)Delete
I like that title idea, Leland!
I love this. I found a title, too: Aimless spleen. Or a punk rock band? There is SO much here. Jesus. And it's awful and lovely.Delete
It was pushing six when Artie heard his mother’s chunky heels on the stairs of their apartment building. But her footsteps were slower than usual. Not a good sign. He hurried to clear his schoolwork off the kitchen table and get a clean glass for the cold Coke she liked after work. His left brace felt wrong as he moved; he tugged on the strap to straighten it but that didn’t help. Neither leg felt right; he knew it was because he’d had a growth spurt and might need a new set of braces but he didn’t want to worry his mother about that. She had enough to deal with.
She came through the door, her hair in messy flight from her usual tidy bun, and tossed her purse on the living room sofa. Artie took the shopping bag out of her arms. She smelled of talcum powder and sweat.
“Mom. I said. I don’t mind doing the shopping after school.”
“Artie. You have homework. You shouldn’t be doing that, too.”
She followed him into the kitchen and flopped into a chair. He set the bag on the counter and got her a Coke from the icebox. He could feel her eyes on him as he served her, as he put away the groceries. More particularly, he could feel her eyes watching the way he walked. He endeavored to walk normally, without favoring his left leg, the way he’d been practicing. But it was so slow to move like that, and surely she would notice.
“How was work?” he asked.
She took a long sip of Coke, closed her eyes at the coolness he imagined going down her throat. He’d wanted one himself, but he was content with tap water and chose to save the Cokes for her. She then leaned back in her chair, her face and narrowing eyes a question mark deciding what to tell him. He knew some ladies had been laid off from the telephone company; he knew there’d been rumors of more.
“It puts food on our table and keeps a roof over our head. That’s how’s work. What’s wrong with your leg? Do you need an adjustment? I’ll call the orthopedist in the morning.”
He set down the can of green peas. Maybe harder than he should have. “Mom. I’m fine. We don’t need to spend money on—”
“No. No, no, no. You don’t get to decide how we spend our money. It’s very sweet how you help organize our finances, keep track of it all, but I’m your mother and you’re my child and it’s still my job to decide how we spend the money. And you need new braces. Case closed.”
“Mom! I’m sixteen. I can help. There are jobs I can do. Uncle Manny says I can work at the deli helping him keep track of orders and schedules, and he’ll pay in food. So that’s less you’ll have to spend for groceries. And the guys at Dad’s factory said there’s stuff I can do where I don’t have to—”
“You are not working in that factory.” He flinched at the anger in her voice. But it was his own fault for bringing it up. “You are never to work in that factory. Case. Closed.”
But sometimes he visited that factory. He didn’t believe in ghosts. He didn’t believe the spirit of his father compelled him to visit the place where he, and five of his coworkers, had died in an explosion. But Artie was a strong proponent of fate. Fate gave him polio so he could better appreciate his life. The braces he needed to walk served as a constant reminder of that appreciation, and of his father. Dad didn’t care for the way his first pair of braces had been designed, so he took Artie into the machine shop at the factory, measured his legs, and he and one of the other machinists had designed and built him a new set. The orthopedist had grudgingly approved.
After the accident, his father’s coworkers took up a collection for Artie’s mother, and that machinist, a short but powerful Scotsman named Walter, gave Artie a wink and said he could come by any time he needed spare parts or even just a chat.
“Hey, laddie,” Walter said that next afternoon, when Artie’s feet took him by the factory on the way home from school. “How’re those legs holding up? Seems you got a bit of a limp.”
“I got taller,” he grumbled, and sat down on the wooden stool in the machine shop.
“Oh. Now most lads your age would be glad for that.” He put his fists on his hips, examining Artie’s braces. “But I can see why you might have issue with it. Here. Let me take a look at those.”
Walter wiped his hands on a shop towel and knelt before Artie, pulling on hinges and testing straps. They weren’t the braces his father had designed. He had already outgrown those, and the next set had come from the orthopedist, and Artie would bet anything he had that his father wouldn’t have liked them.
“Yeah. As I thought,” Walter said. “You’ll need new. Luckily you’ve come to the right place.”
Artie opened his mouth to protest about the cost, but Walter shut him down right away. “Your money’s no good here, lad. We’re family in this shop, and so are you. All I ask in return is that you be kind to your mother, and don’t be a stranger, yeah?”
When his new braces were ready, he still offered money that Walter refused, and he was so proud to walk home without the usual discomfort that he stopped at the butcher, then the greengrocer, then even bought a bottle of Coke for himself.
He was drinking that Coke and making dinner when his mother came home, and she looked at his legs, then back up to his face, the question mark stronger than ever.
“I appreciate everything you do for me, Mom,” he said. “But there are some things that I can take care of myself. One day, you’re going to have to let me.”
She stared for a few seconds more. Then let her shoulders fall. “We’re still keeping that orthopedist appointment.”
“Of course. I’m due for a check anyway. But can you help me with one more thing?”
She got herself a Coke from the icebox. “Of course, Artie. What?”
He poked at the chops in the pan. “Show me how to make these like yours.”
Ah, how I love these characters... how they protect each other, how they love. Your character building skills always amaze me.Delete
Yes, and to do it in such a short time is truly magical. I agree with Leland. It's already a whole world spinning off from ours.Delete
Yup. Agreed. The amount of character development and tactile detail is astounding for this short of a piece. You must have a million novels in your head. <3Delete
Yes, the characters got me right away. You really gotta feel for them. Tough, never sentimental and yet so loving.Delete
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Very postmodern. ;)ReplyDelete