“In the bedroom, laying, looking up, I watched as the sea moved in from one corner of the ceiling gradually filling the frame. A moderate breeze, small waves, becoming larger: fairly frequent horses. A memory floats across the ceiling in bits and pieces, along with the other drifters: the By-The-Wind-Sailors, the violet sea snail floating on its bed of foam, and the shipworm burrowed into a piece of wood. In their midst a whale bone floats to the surface, and on it a engraving made by an idle whaler during his leisure hours, struggling to battle the soul shattering monotony of the open sea by keeping his mind occupied with the work of his hands. And on it he carved a picture of an unfinished heart shaped room, and painstakingly rendered every tiny detail the he could remember. He worked on it for thirty years.”
What does this sea remember? At times, by the sound of it, the sea remembers quite a lot. At times its good memory does not make for a good story because it goes on and on with long lists of things that have passed through it, or troubles itself with correctly pronouncing the sound of every wave. Hereʼs what itʼs saying:
A red toothbrush, A set of encyclopedias with pages folded over at the corners, An Umbrella, A wooden chair. Sand. Sand. A Building built out of sand as if it were stone. Unread letters. And the parish churches of: St. Leonard, St. Martin, St. Bartholomew, St. Michael, St. Peter, St. Mary, St. Patrick, St. John, St. Nicholas, St. Felix, A Hankie, Laurel and Hardy, Morecambe and Wise, Gilbert and George, Tree.
His heart beating to a memory:
a quiet night after work,
away from the sea,
The Sea, now deep in sleep, mumbled something about when it was little, many years ago. Its mother a glacier, and its father the sun. Its twin, the desert (fraternal), and its godfather the moon who continues to look after it.
I closed my eyes, looking for sleep myself, and tried to breathe quietly. I let my body float belly up, my nose and mouth above the surface but my ears just below it. I listened to the now deafening sound of my quiet breath and my mind was full and moving frantically from one thought to another. To calm myself, I decided to make myself listen to the stories in The Sea (instead of me), and count them. Stories told by all the stuff people have given it, or that it has taken. All the things forgotten in it or thrown to it for losing. Innumerable cast-offs, messages, and yesterdays gone off on an adventure; those things finding some rest in its methodical movements and temperate depths.
These things and their stories drift by in the current, like clouds in the jet stream, headed somewhere the ocean is taking them. They are quiet, but you can hear them if you tilt your head just right and listen for the sounds of the water. I want it to be a lullaby, a drifting cloud atlas of things that once were, or things that are headed somewhere else with the delusion of purpose. Stories of doing things, making progress, something to look forward to. I counted the objects and the stories they told.
The shaved off whiskers belonging to a wrinkled face, remnants of sideburns grown reaching for a remembered gait.
Had I forgotten where I started? Itʼs been so many years and Iʼve gotten good at getting by … but where was I headed when I started this? Now, the things that rile me, the things that seem to draw out the most of my tired emotion, are the things that have to do with how people are to me. Not about whatʼs said, or whatʼs done. I enjoy outright offense and let it pass for low, but search for offense and in those moments where it isnʼt clear enough, where I can pounce on it. Perhaps this is now my only skill? Pouncing where I can point to the slightest whisper of disrespect? Perhaps I would be further along in this if I instead suffered quietly. Instead bit my tongue and knew better. There is a pleasure in that. There is pleasure there?
All three skipping stones you skipped.
Picnic, family, little ones, passing on the art of the skipped stone.
A bingo card with two almost bingos, both needing the number 12.
A last dollar, a last hope. A delusion perhaps, but it seemed possible. It needed to be possible and things that need to be possible sometimes seem as if they are inevitable, that for the story to end right it must be the way itʼll go. Deux ex machina. The way things end. But, of course, the world is harsher than that. Rather, our delusions donʼt allow us the reality and so make it seem harsh, when really it is mechanical. It is. Our perception of it is the thing that is relative to our want. And money can help you make the world seem to be however you want it. One last shot, a last dollar, but the number 12.
A watch inscribed, “In honor of 50 years served. Thanks.”
End of a pier. Tears remembering a life adding salty water to salty water. A remembrance regretted from this new solitude.
A box of childhood things. A floating casket of what was.
A doll, forced on me by my mother, then loved because of a perceived kindred suffering. A gum wrapper from a piece of gum that Tony (TONY!) gave me at recess one day (still smells of grape.) A magazine picture of a Backstreet Boy that had been in the back pocket everyday of grades 6-8. Half of a friendship necklace heart bought to share with Sheri Ross, the one I stopped wearing without explanation to Sheri, who only noticed a few days later in the lunch line. A matchbox time capsule made at school in the 5th grade. Nothing in it. Wanted to save the moment. Dad left that day. And mom was happy. And my older sister too. Everything was going to be okay.
The rock you used to keep your book open that day.
The novel was a mystery, a who-done-it, and the day was partly cloudy. Clouds floating overhead, sometimes blocking the sun, making you chilly, sometimes not, making you sweat. You were half reading, half watching your lover out of the corner of your eye. Feeling lucky. To be here. To be here with them. To be happy. To have a fish to cook tonight. To have The Sea in front of you, plodding along at your toes.
A worn and rubbed icon of St. Michael Archangel. Or maybe St. Anthony.
A Spanish sailorʼs gift from his mother, set off on an adventure as the sailor sank in the hull of a frigate. He was thinking about what heʼll miss, about the couch, about the smell of the garden in summer, about the way the bed sheets feel after a day spent with hands in soil.
Boots, soles worn through. Money enough for five pair stuffed in the insole.
A bit of a breather. To see wind in their hair with sunshine. A little bit of sunshine. A few days time lived without soot on her face to mark my kiss. A few days time where she doesnʼt mention whatʼs needed, whatʼs been bought, and what isnʼt left. A few days time when they arenʼt embarrassed by their clothes, to see them look at the sky instead of the ground, to get to see the way the Big Wheel makes their eyes big. A few days where we can wake up together in the morning, and get some breakfast, together, no whistles telling us weʼre late. No Bolton sun rising and spreading us out. Something to look ...
Sleep found me there. Then there was the zebra, again, and an anxious search for the drain at the bottom. The place that leads somewhere else. My body was there floating, a By-The-Wind-Sailor, and my mind to, in the flotsam and jetsam of my mind. Was I looking for new happiness, or replaying old trauma?
I woke up and there was sun. The Sea was moving more than last night, but not violently, a sort of slow swelling and contracting that lifted me straight up and then gently dropped me straight down. I kept my eyes closed for a while. Feigning sleep. Wanting to continue this moment. Not wanting to break it.