Untitled as of now

Untitled as of now Untitled as of now

Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction

Houses:

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Status: Finished

Genre: Literary Fiction

Houses:

Summary

A man with insomnia goes to the beach.
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Summary

A man with insomnia goes to the beach.

Content

Submitted: March 02, 2015

A A A | A A A

Content

Submitted: March 02, 2015

A A A

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I found my feet planted in the sand, accompanied by the hypnotic crashing of waves, endlessly racing in to shore and back out to sea. 

First and foremost, I must explain that I hate the beach. It’s not that I don’t enjoy nature and the outdoors, its nothing like that — I hate people. They’re obnoxious and noisy and the beach just happens to be full of them. They kick around sand, and insist on shouting back and forth with friends from across the pier as a primary form of communication while blowing their cigarette smoke into the otherwise fresh air. This is why I stopped going to the beach. I gave it up. I’ll drive by and see the ocean on my commute to work and instead of envying those vacationers singeing in the sun, I take solace in the fact that I don’t have to be in their company. 

However, I have issues sleeping, and as much as it pains me, the beach is the closest place to my home where I can get some peace and quiet. Once the moon rises, people evacuate the beach, leaving by the carload. It’s vacant. I can walk down the shore for miles without coming across a soul, without having to deal with street lights and car horns and the other troublesome bullshit that accompanies living in a home within close proximity to a highly trafficked road.

Once again, I found my feet planted in the wet sand, the chill of oceanic waters flowing between my toes. As the water ran out to sea, my feet sank into the sand, slipping into the earth. By the time I shined a flashlight on them, they had already been buried by the tide. I stood there for a second, my soles cemented in the soil, grounded, taking in the space around me. I stared at the moon. From here it was nothing more than a numb light, a vague glow veiled by the thin layers of clouds that rolled through the night sky. They consumed the sky that night because you couldn’t see the stars. On clearer nights you could. All of them. You could look in every which way and your eyes would come across clusters of tiny white freckles, pulsating through the darkness. You could sit on the roof of the vacant lifeguard tower and stare off into the oceanfor hours on end, searching for the horizon, getting lost watching sets of waves as they endlessly crash against the sides of the cliffs. Tonight was not one of those nights. A persistent thick fog had enveloped the coast, such that I couldn’t even see the top of the lifeguard tower from where I was standing. It was engulfed by the mist. I shined my flashlight out to sea, the beam lighting up the mist in the air, but instead of piercing through the fog, it was stopped short, as if I were pointing it at a smoky grey wall.

It wasn’t until the tide approached again that I realized I was almost knee deep in the sand. I lifted my left leg out of the ground, taking a formless chunk of mud along with me. Stepping with my right, I leveled myself with the rest of the land and looked back, illuminating the trail of footsteps I had created, the constant pattern of left, right, left, right now interrupted by two large, blatant divots in the sand. A coat of white foam pushed its way up the beach, filling the holes with water and blanketing the only evidence the beach had of my presence. After drying, it was clear that those footsteps were no longer footsteps and were now nothing more than random impressions in the earth.

I wasn’t used to navigating the beach in these conditions, it was almost impossible to see anything outside of my immediate vicinity, but I sure as hell wasn’t about to head back to suffer in that bed for any longer. It had become unbearable. Living had become something that happened in between dreaming, which I so rarely did now. I hadn’t slept in two weeks. I was keeping track. Those 14 days all blurred into 1, those 336 hours into 24. Television programs started to run together, and eventually I went to work on a Saturday unaware that the weekend had begun. Unable to deal with it myself, I did what any other person in their right mind would do: I threw money at my problem. Each night after work I went to the store and bought a different type of alcohol, hoping that maybe I would come across the bottle that contained the solution to my restlessness. None of them did. Most of them actually kept me up, sprawled out on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, clutching the porcelain base of the toilet. As drunk as I got, my body would simply lay there bored, limp, numb, and tired, but awake. I then resorted to pills. Nothing except the knowledge that I have an intolerable gag reflex. I even shelled out thousands of dollars for a mattress with “Deluxe Orthopedic Lumbar Support” and other cutting edge technology. This mattress, for instance, didn’t have rusty springs protruding through the sides and a whiny squeak that sounded whenever my heart beat. That mattress was certainly better than the mattress I used to have. I sunk deep into that mattress. It was comfortable, like staying up and dealing with crushing insomnia all night on a cloud. A four thousand dollar cloud.

I continued walking, flicking my flashlight on and off, whipping it around in my grip like a child would. Without anything to look at to distract myself besides fog, and not enough energy to let my mind wander, I cruised on autopilot for a couple of miles. I passed the occasional rock, or, seashell, or other washed up ball of tangled sea crud, but I didn’t give any of them much thought. I could finally let go.

***

It wasn’t until I came across a pair of footsteps foreign to my own that a single thought entered my brain: “whose are these?” They were faint imprints, but imprints nonetheless. It was apparent that the person attached to a pair of bare feet had reached a certain point in the sand, and then decided to arc around in the opposite direction, shuffling over their own steps. Upon further investigation, I noticed the footsteps starting to cross over another in random directions, meandering and wandering in circles and tangential paths on the shore. There was no obvious explanation. Who in their right mind paces the beach in the middle of the night? I was preoccupied enough by the possibility of someone else being out on the beach this late, but the fact that said person would be the type to erratically wander and pace worried me. Nobody feels comfortable with uncertainty, which is why I was hesitant to follow my desired route into the field of footsteps, carved out by thin, weightless toes. But, I had been down this path, I had never not continued down this path, so i felt inclined to venture further into the thick layer of fog.

As the scattered footsteps started becoming more and more prevalent, my eyes began to catch something through the fog: the vague outline of what appeared to be a man in a robe, standing completely still, rooted to the floor. In that robe, it could have been the grim reaper himself, waiting to whisk me away into the land of sleep forever and ever. But as I grew nearer, my outlandish fantasy became even more implausible, as I determined that this man was not made of bones. Plus, the grim reaper did not sport weathered pajama bottoms and a poor excuse of a bathrobe, the kind riddled with miscellaneous holes, tears, and stains that you’d find on a rack at a thrift store, week in and week out. The grim reaper did not have aging, wrinkled skin, and a tangled mess of grey and white hair sitting on his head. But his curdling, varicose veins running up his calves, to his lifeless, bony hands sure as hell made him look like death. I couldn’t tell long he had been out in the cold, but by the looks of it, he was destined to be a filler piece on the 6 o’clock news under the tagline “beached geyser dies of hypothermia”.

Before I was curious, but now I was wary of this man. I had assumed that by shining a light on him, tracking it up and down his body to get a look at him, I would garner some type of reaction from him, some small acknowledgement of my presence, but I was met with complete stillness. I sent a half-hearted “hello” his way, the type of greeting that usually merits a response, but to no avail, my words could have quite possibly fallen on actual deaf ears. I waited a couple of seconds in case he was just being slow to respond, but only heard the coiling of the waves. 

He was dead. I was sure of it. He had to be. And with my luck, I would be caught at the scene of the crime and taken in as a prime suspect, my innocuous walk down the beach a questionable alibi, and his cold, lifeless body evidence. Maybe I would be able to sleep soundly in a jail cell. Positioned in front of the old man’s face, staring at his shut eyes, I realized that he had been asleep the whole time I had been watching. That’s right, I can’t get a quick power nap in while i’m drunk on a tempur pedic and this fucker has the audacity to fall asleep while standing straight up at the beach. The nerve of some people.

With the light now in his face, his cracked lips separated and his eyelids slid open, revealing his glossy silver eyes.

“Sir, are… are you alright?” I stammered. His eyes met mine. He eyeballed me from top to bottom then looked around, reorienting himself. “Excuse me, —“

“huh” he breathed at me.

“Are you lost?” I asked him.

“Nuhh, nuhh” he managed to get out of his mouth. “I’m just…” he paused. “I’m fine”

“It looks like you’ve been pacing around a bit. Are you sure you’re alright?” 

“Yea” he muttered, “I’m just uhhh… heading home.”

“Alright then, you have a nice night, okay?”

This man was obviously not a threat, but if anything, somebody who needed to be taken care of. I watched him from a little ways back for half a minute to make sure he started making his way home, but sure enough, he began pacing in circles and looking around, confused as ever.

***

“It’s white with two trees in the front yard… and a car” he said, proud that he was able to provide me such a detailed answer when asked where he lives. He had given me no good reason as to why I had found him asleep on the beach in the middle of the night, but I took it upon myself to try to get him somewhere safer. I had walked him into town, just to get us headed towards civilization, assuming he lived there. He looked at his wrist, to check his watch, I assumed. But he wasn’t wearing a watch, he was wearing what looked like a hospital bracelet, but it was very shoddily made out of tape and paper, with neat, cursive printed on it: 

My name is Arthur. If I appear lost or confused,

please take me home: 13639 Darkwood Lane.

Thank You.

He looked up at me. “My wife made this for me” he chuckled, “she always worries about me, she does but… ya know, I’ve loved her ever since the first date.” For the first time in our encounter he cracked a smile and his glassy eyes lit up, as if he were falling in love with her in his head. It was sweet but it wasn’t going to get him home, so I began herding him in the general direction of Darkwood as he continued to ramble.

“Haven’t seen her in a little while. She’s always out getting groceries, getting the hair done — she don’t like it when I go out though, she thinks I’ll get into trouble or something on account of I don’t walk too well with them…” he trailed off, “she stuck with me all the way until I got back from the war, wrote me letters back in forth, they nearly took my leg off there!” He raised his robe and pants to show me a blue and purple scar across his knee and unfortunately a good portion of his inner thigh, wrinkled as ever. He was old enough that he could have been in both World Wars and Vietnam for all I knew. “they’re tough over there, a strapping young fella’ like yourself would be good in the army, they make ya’ work and you come back strong… like a bull thats what I was, heh!”

***

Arthur was telling me about his friend Big Del who was a pitcher in the minor leagues with a “hefty swing” when we walked past the grocery store. It tends to stay open late to support  alcoholic insomniacs like myself. “He woulda been the next Babe Ruth but his ankle gave out, he never really was all that good after that he wasn’t — Oh!” he exclaimed, looking through the window, “I almost forgot the flowers for your mother.” I asked him whether or not he really needed to buy her flowers at this hour and he insisted that he did. “I gotta surprise her, I got… ya know… they said chivalry was dead but my blood’s still pumpin’!”

Once we reached the register, Arthur’s cheery expression and demeanor disappeared. Frantically searching his wallet, opening flaps and folds to find nothing but crumpled receipts and coupons, Arthur looked as terrified and lost as he did on the beach. Not a dollar, not a coin, no driver’s license, credit card, nothing. Defeated, he let out a big sigh and put the flowers on the counter. I eventually convinced him to let me spot him. He gave me his word that he’d pay me back later — with interest. He told me that I’m a good man, that more young folks ought to strive to be more like me. I certainly hope they don’t.

With a dozen red roses, and a memory filled with experience, Arthur hobbled down the street, eager to tell me all the stories he could remember. He told detailed stories about his first kiss, about accidentally setting fire to the abandoned house down the street as a teenager, about how his wife liked to cut his hair before he started balding, but he could not, for the life of him, take in any new information. Every time he asked for my name I eventually resorted to telling him a new one. Elliot. James. Derek. Calvin. 

“You oughta meet her, she’s a peach. Can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees this, maybe when you see her you’ll go out to find your own” he exclaimed. Sometimes it was hard to tell what Arthur was saying, at times he would slur his words and stammer and omit context crucial to the story being told. Whenever it got to that point all I could do was politely nod and say “uhh huh” while mirroring his facial expressions. He would sometimes raise his intonation and let out a long winded, exasperated laugh, and thats when I would shoot him an amiable smile and chuckle alongside him. It was fine that I didn’t always understand his jokes or even the words in the jokes, but even I knew that you don’t deny such a friendly man the joy of laughter.

 

***

In front of us towered a grand white house, complete with two withering maple trees spouting out of yellow patches of dead grass and dirt. It looked as if the only watering this front yard received was from morning dew, and the rare times when it rained. A dusty Volkswagen sat in the driveway, oil dripping out from under it.

“This is the place?”

“Yup.”

We made our way up the driveway and to the door. There was a basket on the ground laying in front of the door. Underneath the pink tinted wrap, it looked like it had some pre-cooked meals and baked goods. At Arthur’s request, I carried the basket inside, as his hands were busy with the roses. I also didn’t trust that he would be able to bend down to pick it up without falling over. The door was unlocked. The inside of his house was embellished with paintings, the counters, lined with fine china and framed pictures. Upon taking a turn into the hallway, I was met with a very large print of a woman that I could only assume was his wife. 

“Where should I put this down?” I asked. 

“What?”

“The basket, where should I put the basket?”

“Yeah…” he paused. “The kitchen is fine.” He slowly made his way up the stairs as I walked into the kitchen. I blindly guided my hand across the wall for a light switch in the pitch black room, with no success. I took small steps and slowly made my way across the room, hoping to find a lamp of some sort. I bumped into something hard and heard glass shatter. I stood still in the dark, intent on not breaking anything else.

“Arthur?” I called. A minute passed before he got down the stairs and into the kitchen. He stepped into the room and I heard two unconvincing claps.

“Shoot” Arthur muttered. Two more claps, and the overhead lights switched on, revealing Arthur, now robeless, the folds of his gut hanging over his pajama bottoms. We both looked at the plate of cookies, broken on the tile floor.“Don’t worry about it” he told me as I kneeled down to gather the pieces, “I’ve got plenty more.” He gestured towards the kitchen table, cluttered with gift baskets, tupperware containers of food, and other desserts. “She wasn’t upstairs, she must have drove into town to get her hair done or see her sister.” I looked at the clock on the microwave. 4:37. 

I managed to find a small amount of free space on the back corner of the table where I was able to prop the basket up against some of the other items. I was able to collect the shards of glass and the stray cookies in my hands, and take them over to the trash can in one trip. As I lifted the lid of the bin, I noticed, under some other miscellaneous garbage, shades of purple and red. The trash bag was filled with wilting red roses, held together by plastic and rubber bands, identical to the dozen Arthur was holding in his hands. I reluctantly dropped the cookies on top of them, shutting the lid. I looked up at him, an innocent, unassuming, smile on his face as he perused his gifts. “Great neighborhood this is. The people are kind, very friendly… bring us food like they’ve been doing recently. Wife’s a great cook though, sometimes I miss a hot meal. She’ll be back soon though so maybe I could have her cook us up something once she gets back.” I told him I’d appreciate that. He made his way to the living room. He sat down in a large, plush sofa chair positioned directly in front of the television. “Get yourself a drink, come on over and have a seat” he implored. I really had nowhere I had to be and, seeing as this man looked like he could use some company, I decided I’d sit and wait with him for a while. I poured myself some water because based off its smell and chunky consistency, the milk in the refrigerator had perished much earlier in the week. I added the curdled pint to the collection of dead roses and stale desserts in the trash can.

I laid down on the couch adjacent to Arthur as he narrated a couple more years of his youth to pass the time. I phased in and out of attention at times, but that was because Arthur soon began repeating himself. He got up to go to the bathroom a couple of times, and I would take those times that as an opportunities to refill my cup and look around. Then he would sit back down and continue to speak. Some stories would change slightly after a couple of iterations, but only one of them remained altered, and it always ended the same way: “and I’ve loved her ever since.” 

With my eyes feeling heavy, and my mind beginning to wander, staring at the furniture and the pictures in his house. The last image I remember staring at before I fell asleep was one of a young man in a suit. His hair was a shiny dark brown, and very broad shouldered. He had a wide smile panning his entire face, and a beautiful woman dressed in all white in his arms. She looked happy too. One of her arms was around the young man, and the other was grasping a bouquet of white roses.

 


© Copyright 2017 Daniel Cole. All rights reserved.

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