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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction



Love Beyond the Sun

I knew that something had touched me on the shoulder, but didnít yet understand what it was. I knew she had something to do with it, but I couldnít figure out how she was able to touch me so emphatically and yet actually not be there physically behind me. That moment was unsettling and  made me doubt what I had felt. At first, I thought it could only be one of two things, either she was playing a trick on me or things were getting out of control and I was playing tricks on myself. As I thought about it more, I came to the realization that she wasnít something I could explain to an ordinary person. She was someone who was unique to me and would only come to see me, when she needed to. This was a pretty cool thing in my mind. I couldnít quite figure out why she had come to me since at that point in my life, I didnít feel like anything other than an ordinary eleven-year old kid. I walked slowly over the gaps in the creaky boards and reached the end of the pier, standing at its edge, where it jutted farthest out towards the ocean. The sun was still shining, beating down on my back as the afternoon slipped into dusk. It remained a warm fixture overhead, but it was slowly cooling down and shrinking as it slipped under the horizon. Shadows grew longer and the mysteries that presented themselves ran back under the railings, beneath the waves. Submerged but not dissolved, I looked at the waves crashing under my feet. They seemed to flow gently under the pilings and poles, surrounding them with their salty, foamy crests. I stood there and watched them for several minutes, occasionally touching my shoulder to see if there was another hand there. I searched and waited but there was nothing. This was wishful thinking, perhaps, but touching my shoulder didnít capture that moment. I would have to rely on the lesson she taught me, even though it hadnít fully sunk in. I needed to learn how to rely on my faith in her. I realized that I had to look inside to find the things I couldnít see. It was a difficult task but I decided thatís what I would do. Slowly, the pier began to clear up as the frustrated fishers and walkers left for the day. As I looked over the edge of the pier, I could see the entire coast of the beach curl outwards into the water, cresting through to the east curving into the sea gently. Beyond that, I saw clusters of islands scattered from the shore. Once again, I tried to look for our secret place but I still couldnít find even a glimmer of its outline. It seemed to have vanished under the waves, like a lost dream. Still, I wouldnít give up and trained my eyes in the general direction, searching for it amongst the surf.

Even though months had passed, I could still hear their voices mocking me. They didnít understand who I was, and failed to grasp what had actually happened. They continually returned to the same old places with their tired phrases. This could have undermined my self-confidence, but I had a secret no one could take away from me, and that gave me a different perspective. The more I thought of our visits, the less important they became. When I was younger, I explored the world with abandon, finding my own path. I was alone to anyone looking, but I knew it was she who led me there. She was constantly inspiring me to try new things. Most people around me were content occasionally exploring new ground but rarely took many steps outside the predefined path. Everything they talked about seemed to be an echo, an inadequate reflection of an uninspired world. I sat there on the pier for several minutes longer, watching the shadows deepen and decided it was time to go someplace else for a change. I walked down the pier and back onto the solid pavement, turning back for a moment, trying to hold onto the essence of what I had felt, if only for a brief moment. Itís hard to describe, but it was a kind of strange connection, one that I wasnít able to really comprehend at that moment. It would come to me in time, but it was confusing for me at first. I wondered if I was really going in the right direction, or if somehow I had allowed myself to run to the wrong solutions. I walked back over the sandy beach, I felt the sand under my feet and it over ran into my sneakers, creating small uncomfortable mounds under my heels, I stopped and took them off and shook them out, only to find them filled up again after a few more steps. This was getting annoying, so I decided to make the best of it and let it flow enough to create at least an even, though rough surface for me to walk on. I passed the swings and the water fountains and looked across the street as I had many times before, and saw the old arcade there. I decided to walk in and see what was new inside that night.

I looked forward to my trips to the arcade intensely back then, even when there wasnít something new to play. I could always burn some time with one my old favorites. Asteroids was one of the more interesting games that seemed to stand up, remaining quite challenging enjoyable. Despite having been supplanted by more advanced games, it was still one of my favorites even in those early years. I admired the clean vector graphics and loved the freedom to steer my ship around the screen in free-style, working on shooting the rocks from various distances. I loved watching the big ones split into smaller ones when they were shot, and how they seemed to get faster as they got smaller. This was definitely one of the earliest games I remember playing at the arcade. It still held me in its electronic grip, I think its simplicity was its secret weapon. There was something about the game that I couldnít resist. It was one of those landmarks that created its own world. With its minimalist black and white vector graphics, its thumping soundtrack and its straightforward approach, it was instantly recognizable, even from a distance. It was still quite challenging and its simplicity let it hold its appeal against its more elaborate, multi-hued and, increasingly complicated competitors. I cleared several screens and watched my score increase until I reached a decent level, playing until it inevitably got faster and more difficult, seemingly impossible. I watched the glowing rocks on the screen, spinning endlessly around each other, trying to maneuver my ship to avoid them. Suddenly, it was over and I turned to the other games. I looked at them lined up in their rows, tempting me to spend my money on them once again. I felt the summer heat, even at dusk, the heat still boiled the sidewalk, my feet were still navigating the lines and there will still scattered sections that remained hot to the touch. The change was subtle but noticeable, and I didnít need a clock to know it was getting late. Sneaking, shadows lengthened through the oncoming night and I saw the sunlight slowly dissipate behind the trees. I walked out towards the street and looked up towards the sky. I noticed something there and knew I had to get moving. I knew there were bigger things waiting for me beyond the arcade's confines.

I walked across the road and towards the ocean once again. I walked over the sands and felt them squish under my feet. I looked towards the pier where Iíd felt something I couldnít quite define. It was deserted now, not a soul was present. It seemed to rise against the waves. I waited to see if there was another sign, but I didnít feel anything. I looked around, across the waves and towards the distant islands. I didnít see any sign there, either. I thought I had dreamed all those events and meetings for a moment. I didnít want to think I was slipping under the waves, but somehow, I knew there was more than anyone could see. I wasnít able to prove it, but I could definitely sense something was up once again. As the skies darkened further, the clouds began to overcome the sky, hiding the moon from view. This made it more difficult to navigate the beach, so I decided to walk back towards the street. It was now entering dusk, twilight settled in slowly, and my vision was a little less clear. The streetlights had begun to turn on which helped a little but I still felt a little bit frightened. As I moved back onto the road, a few cars drove past me, there headlights blinding me momentarily. In between, there was silence and darkness. which was a little unsettling after the noise and saturation of the arcade. I walked across town for nearly an hour. The streets began to close in on each other, becoming more congested as I walked towards the center of town. I walked east and up the hills and things broadened out once again. I walked and suddenly, trees began to predominate once again. I knew where I was going, and while it took a lot of courage, I had decided to return to the sanctuary. After many months, I finally returned to the mountain where we had met those many times. It was a bit of a haul, and my feet were beginning to get sore. I wondered if I was really doing the right thing, and something was pulling at me to just forget the whole thing and go home. No one knew what happened except us, there was no one to impress, Sometimes, I wondered if any of was real. My doubts increased with every step and I kept fighting the temptation to turn around. It took awhile, but something kept pushing me to persist in my quest. I walked down the sidewalk and found myself at the bottom of the hill once again.

As I looked up, the familiar paths unfolded in familiar patterns. I saw them twisting up towards the hill-top where we had encountered each other a few times. It was strange being back there after all those months. It looked different in the summer, brighter and fuller. The trees felt very much alive and they protected the place from the outside. It was an oasis of calm. I began to enter the pathways and looked and saw several things I hadnít noticed before. Some of the paths I had used seemed to have vanished under the grass, which made it harder to navigate through them. As I walked, I felt the familiar rocky, uneven surface under my feet. The steps seemed to grow increasingly steep as I made my way upwards and each step put some strain on my already tired feet. I walked and noticed the darkness beginning to take over now more fully than it had before. Under other circumstances, I would have been afraid, but I felt incredibly safe there. Her presence still permeated the hill and it offered me a level of protection that wasnít going to be breached. I walked up the steep path walking under the group of rocks where we sat for hours during the rainstorm the previous fall. I remembered how long that night had seemed while it was happening, and then how quickly it ended as the morning came. I began making the long turn back towards the clearing. I was still looking for her, even though I didnít realize it. She seemed so close to me, but I couldnít understand how she seemed to be able to follow me. My memories of all the events on the mountain came back to me. I recalled how cold the wind felt when I was standing on a ledge on the other side, stranded momentarily. Then, how warm and strong her hand felt when she pulled me up to safety after what felt like forever up there. The way she looked at me on those occasions, a kind of love I didnít really know how to explain. I walked and finally began to reach the top of the clearing. The trees began to spread out as the ground leveled off, making for a clearing. I had seen it during the winter, but in the middle of summer, it seemed different. Now, it was covered in green grass, overgrown in spots and rough, but still giving it a much more natural look. It was easier to walk across, without the mud dragging my steps. This made it much smoother. As I reached beyond the trees, it seemed to brighten as the moon came into view, illuminating the night and giving me some visibility as I walked deeper inside the mountain.

On the surface of the hill, I experienced a strangely relaxing isolation. It might have seemed like a lonely place to anyone else but, the isolation allowed me to think and gather my thoughts together peacefully. I had often thought of her and wondered who was behind all of this, It had gradually become less important over time, with some of our memories taking a back seat once events of ordinary life came together, conspiring to shrink their importance, playing tricks on me. I walked through and remembered some of the lessons she taught me. They made sense individually but I still hadnít assembled them into the larger picture she was trying to show me. There were many questions I couldnít answer, and many answers I figured out only led to others. It was a kind of strange to find myself, after looking for so long, to still feel a little bit lost. Despite all that had happened, I still felt like I was still just beginning to find my way. I walked up the path and noticed something sticking out from behind the one of the trees. It wasnít very large, but as I looked closer, I saw what it was. I knew it couldnít have been left there accidentally. It was black and heavy, tightly wrapped in rough, knotty strands of rope. I picked it up and as I examined it, the book looked surprisingly new. There was no title anywhere on it, the only indication were a set of initials scrawled on its lower right side. I tried to open it and look inside but its pages were tightly bound together and I couldnít remove them individually. I knew it contained something important but something told me not to look deeper inside or try to open it. Some secrets needed to be kept. I returned it back to its original position, carefully restoring it and walked away from it slowly. I wondered why someone would leave something like that outside in the open where anyone could find it.

It was a strange thing to see, and while I had my suspicions, I couldnít verify them from what I had seen. I walked over and examined the book again. I couldnít unlock its mysteries from its cover alone, so I decided not to push into it deeply. I put it back down behind the tree, hiding it so it would sit unobtrusively. Most people who walked by probably wouldnít have noticed it, but someone familiar with the place would have seen it out of the corner of their eye and it would have seemed out of place immediately. I thought about why it was there, who might have left it and what was inside. I remembered the elaborate gift box sheíd left for me for the previous year, and wondered what it could have meant, Instinctively, I had a feeling of what was inside, but precisely why or how it got there was something that eluded me at the time. I always felt the hill was a secret place and it was easy to feel safe up there, far above the fomenting waters that never ceased. As I looked up and saw that I was surrounded by a wall of trees, that sense of isolation overtook me. There were no storm clouds forming in the sky, there wasnít any wind, or rain. It was for the moment, a peaceful, silent where I could sit. I took it in, knowing that the refuge I had achieved wouldnít last as long as I wanted it to. I decided to just relax for a moment. I closed my eyes and stood there under the trees where time seemed to stop, I rested my bones and kneeled down and sat on the ground. It was still warm from the heat of the day, and the grass was soft and permeable, making it easy to sit on. Stretching my arms behind my back, I looked around towards the side where I had entered. There was no one here. If she was there, I didnít see her, though if she had shown up, no one would see us. I was surrounded by a forest of silent witnesses; there was no one else around. I couldnít see or hear anything resembling civilization and it was a strange place to find myself. So much had happened over the past year and I was relieved in some way. I wanted to see her, but on the other hand, it was always a bit strange that it might have been a relief that she wasnít actually there beside me. I knew she was, even when she wasnít, so it didnít bother me too much. She would show up when I needed her. Instinctively, I knew weíd meet again, but that moment hadnít arrived.

At that point, It didnít bother me as much as it had, since I already figured things out. I sat there waiting, guarding our area, protecting it for the both of us, as dusk slowly gave way to night. The sun reluctantly slipped under the shadows, going under cover and sleeping for the night. I watched the stars light up, each one coming to life as the night settled in for its reign. I thought about everything we shared over the past year. It meant a lot to me, even though it wasnít anything I could prove. Everything was effectively hidden from the rest of the world, which made it feel even more special and important. Most of all, I thought of our night on the island and how we danced together. It seemed magical and even then, all those months later, there was still a beacon that pulled me in. I stood up and watched as the moon ascended to the center of the sky. It was as if she was still calling me for one last round. The light beamed down on me, and I began to dance and sway alone underneath it, returning to the movements and steps we shared that night, dancing alone to the songs till resounding in my mind. After a few minutes I realized I was still alone, which was strange. I looked around and felt a bit weird, but an odd calm seemed to have come over me, too. I knew there was something there that would last for a very long time, going beyond the summer night we shared, over many days and nights, lasting weeks, then months and, years, through thick and thin. It was the strangest feeling, one that I hadnít really appreciated until that moment. It gave me hope, there was someone on my side, I wasnít alone and it was unmistakably good. While this wasnít something I could articulate, I knew she wasnít ever truly going to be that far away from me. No matter what happened or how much time passed, nothing would ever stand between us.

- Michael Palisano

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