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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction

The Sand at Noon

The Sand at Noon

In a blistering moment, everything was transformed; the world seemed different. I stood balancing my feet on the edge of  the hill for quite awhile. I couldnít quite believe what had just happened. After feeling lost for so long, wandering through what felt like an endless journey without a destination, I finally discovered my purpose, or at least part of it. All the exploring and searching had a purpose. I had a sense of where I was heading and why I had spent so much time walking around up there. It hadnít all been a waster of time, after all. I looked over my shoulder, and she was still there. She typically didnít stay with me that long, and I was happy, though a little concerned. We stood together, overlooking the forest once again but this time was different. It felt like I had found something that was hidden for a long time down there and I wanted to tell her all about my discovery. I couldnít see any of the symbols or letters from that height, but still knew their location and had an idea of what they meant. Those meanings were deeply imprinted in my mind, but they still remained intangible and elusive, slipping just of my grasp. It wasnít something I could hold in my hand but I could take it with me wherever I went. I felt her hold my hand and I felt a new energy pulse through me, and felt something I hadnít known. At first I couldnít find the exact location where it was coming from. My arms were tingling and I felt a little uneasy as I stood there. I couldnít quite place where this new energy was focused. I moved around and walked in a circle, trying to figure it out. I felt myself getting frustrated, so I went faster. I waved my arms around, trying to shake off the odd and disconcerting sensation I was feeling. She must have thought I looked like a little lunatic. She stood back a little, moving up the hill a little, and seemed surprised by this. I donít think she expected me to react that way. I took a few more moments and tried moving back and forth, twisting around again. Despite my efforts, I still couldnít understand what was happening. I took a deep breath and held my arms to my sides, and tried to stand still, but it felt like the world was rushing all around me. I felt disoriented and afraid, standing up there on that cold night.  

The strange feeling nearly overwhelmed me, but I was able to control it after awhile. As I focused me attention, I noticed that the energy was concentrated in my fingers. They suddenly felt different. They seemed longer, more flexible and nimble. I held my hands together and clasped them and could felt them moving with precision. It a strangely liberating physical change, like some hidden part of me had suddenly come to life. She had released something in me and now each of my fingers flowed toward the darkness with a new purpose. They seemed to be lighting, displaying and examining the world around me in ways Iíd never felt before. Each of my fingers felt stronger, their movements more deliberate. I pointed them around, extending their direction into the night sky towards the moon. I moved my fingers downward and began circling the tree tops below our feet with quick rotating motions. It was almost like conducting an orchestra, the trees seemed to sway with each stroke, though after awhile, it became clear that I was following their movements. It felt strange, like I could suddenly see things that werenít there, secrets long hidden from view became instantly accessible to me with each motion. I didnít understand what was going on. Suddenly, something happened I couldnít explain. I felt a gush of wind come up from below, but it wasnít cold. It felt warm and welcoming, almost like a breeze on a summer day, bringing with it a flood of memories and emotion. The sudden warmth seemed to evaporate as quickly as it arrived, leaving me even more confused.

I couldnít quite understand how exactly I arrived at that point but, I was grateful for her guidance. Initially, I was overwhelmed and it took awhile for all of it to sink in. I was getting nervous and I could feel my hands starting to shake in the renewed cold. I stood there for a moment and moved them around, trying to adjust to the conflicting sensations. I wondered what I could do with them now. The possibilities seemed endless. I knew it was important, but I couldnít comprehend what it meant. She noticed me finagling my hands around and it seemed like she knew what was happening. She walked back towards me and put her hands on mine, steadying them. This gave me a chance to figure out what was happening. We walked away from the edge of the hill, slowly walking up the rickety steps. Carefully, she let go and we wandered around for awhile, eventually returning to the small rocky meadow where weíd frequently encountered each other over the past few months. Iíd been there before but things felt different. I saw things I hadnít noticed before and this made everything feel more alive. I took my hand and waved it around. The clearing felt smaller and isolated, hidden and mysterious than I realized. It seemed hidden and I could almost sense an invisible barrier surrounding it. This seemed to protect it from the outside world, no intruders would come to disturb us. She sat down on a familiar rock and watched me as I looked around, slowly examining the familiar surroundings. I moved my hands around and saw things I hadnít seen before. I walked slowly and paced my steps so that I could feel my feet. It took a few minutes for me to find my balance but once I did, I could feel myself changing.

I turned around and saw her watching my tentative motions and defensive movements. Her eyes seemed to be tracking my every step and I paused for a moment, trying to understand what her purpose was. Her expression seemed to approve of what I was doing but it was always difficult for me to see what was exactly going on under the surface. I walked back towards the rock and sat next to her, stretching my arms until they were at my side. This gave my tired fingers a chance to rest, and I took a moment to breathe the cold air. I was feeling strangely invigorated but I held back a little, since there was still much I didnít know. I waited with her and closed my eyes. It took a few minutes for my mind to clear and I began to focus once again after I felt more in control. Finally, after several minutes I allowed myself to emerge from the fog. I opened my eyes and looked around. The meadow and its trees took on a different personality. As I moved my hands around, I saw what seemed like small sparks coming from their edges and I could feel things echoing around me. There was too much happening simultaneously and I couldnít quite focus on anything initially. It took some effort for me to break through the clutter and clear my thoughts, but as I focused, one day from the previous summer that I had nearly forgotten about gradually emerged and stood out from the cascading memories.  When I remembered that warm day, several weeks before we met for the first time, it took on a completely different meaning.

It had rained the previous night. This wasnít enough to stop me from going to the beach, as I usually did during summertime. I decided to leave earlier than normal that on that morning since it was going to be a hot day. It was the middle of summer and this was the kind of day where early morning fog and mist would quickly evaporate under the sun. Hurriedly walking over the jagged sidewalks, jumping over the cracked concrete and sneaking through short-cuts, marking my well-worn path, I took a quick route through the nearby park, then edging along the waterside path and its small marina. Most of the boats were still moored on the docks and I could see some small puddles on the walkways as I passed by. The tides were slowly coming in, but still low enough that the bottoms of the boat engines were only partially submerged. I was nearly alone aside from the scattered seagulls clustered around the breaking waters, pecking their heads under the surface, apparently looking for their breakfast. I walked around the long bending part, walking past the closed up shops and took a short cut through some of the nearby streets.

As I walked closer, I could smell the salty ocean air this gave me an immediate sense of freedom. I arrived at long last and could do anything I wanted. It seemed like the whole world was at my finger-tips. I arrived early enough to have my choice of spots and put my blanket down towards the water, so I could be closer to the ocean. I sat on my blanket and as the morning sun wasnít very strong, the ground was still mushy from the rain. Wet clumps seemed to have formed making the surface uneven. My feet sank into the ground and its uneven surface make running difficult. I put my duffel bag on the blanket to hold it in place and walked down to the edge of the ocean where the waves were beginning to rise. I waded into the water, just over my feet and let the currents wash away the sand. Surveying the horizon, I could see the clouds overhead beginning to thin out, revealing the eternal sun over my head. I stepped a little deeper into the water, until it reached my knees and felt its cool icy relief start to lift. A few more steps further and I began to feel the currents moving right to left, the waves slowly growing with their foamy edges circling around my knees and waist, rising and falling in gradual rhythms.  I took a few more steps and dove into the water, kneeling at first then taking a few steps down towards the deeper water. I ducked my head under the water and began to move my arms and kick my legs, slowly swimming over the waves. I lifted my eyes and kicked my feet faster, hastening the journey towards the deeper waters. As I expected, there was no one on the diving platform when I arrived at long last. I pulled myself up onto its wooden planks and looked around. I could see the beach in the distance, the shore unfolding like a jigsaw puzzle, jagged round corners connected to themselves, as the coast bent eastward.

Gazing across the sound, I saw a few boats beginning their daily tours, slowly awakening as they plowed through the yawning waves. My focus returned to the task at hand. I got up early to practice my jumping and diving moves, I had it all to myself so I wouldnít have to wait between jumps. I got off to a fast start, running a few steps then jumping high into the air. I plunged down into the ocean, deep enough to feel my toes the ocean bottom for a brief moment and quickly shooting back up to the surface. Catching my breath for a moment, I felt the air surge around me as I looked up towards the deck. Quickly jumping up and climbing onto the boards again, I made a second dive, trying to jump a little higher and farther out, I caught a break in the waves, plunged downward and went a bit further, going deeper into the water, this time my both feet slammed hard into the bottom, creating an impact that was stronger than I expected. Using this opportunity, I pushed down hard and propelled myself in a much more deliberate fashion. I launched upwards like a rocket, and jumped almost half-way out of the water the second time. It was exhilarating, and I found myself going in for jump after jump, launching up, plunging down and rising again until it became almost routine. I felt myself growing more confident with each jump, slowly building my energy until I was twisting and turning through the waves, plunging into the water using increasingly elaborate techniques.

I was beginning to feel connected to the ocean once again, and I could feel the sun beginning to heat up the ground, slowly the wooden planks dried and radiated the heat. I watched the beach in the distance. Slowly, other people began to arrive. A few people began to wade into the water tentatively as the morning wore on. I still had the diving board all to myself, but I knew it wouldnít be mine forever. I turned to make another jump and felt a renewed focus. I took another big leap off and plunged downward once again, using extra force to propel my feet as they touched the bottom, I pushed myself up and broke through the waves, taking a deep breath, soaking in the air. It felt like a triumph, a mission completed and conquered. Swimming back to the board once again, I saw a few other kids swimming out towards me. I decided that would be my last big jump for the day. I didnít want to show off and embarrass myself. I stood on the boards and watched as the other kids arrived. They climbed up and we slowly began our usual typical routine, taking turns and watching each other. Once it was my turn again, I walked to the edge and made a standard plop into the ocean, laughing at my own apparent clumsiness as I seemingly awkwardly fell into the water making a huge splash as I landed. The pressure to top myself was gone, all I had to worry about was having fun. I waited on the dock and waited my turn watching the other kids jump and swim around laughing and playing together at the edge of the ocean. After an hour of this, I felt my legs getting a little tired. I decided to swim back to the beach and take a break. I  slowly paddled my way back and turned my head around to take a look. Swimming back, I felt the calm water around me and its stillness gave me a barrier from the world. I paddled slowly and methodically back, and enjoyed the quiet moment when I was alone again. Looking around, everything seemed so far away. There was no one else close to me, and I finally had some room to swim again. I thought of the different techniques I had used earlier and tried to dive from the surface a few times, but I was tired and the lack of height meant I couldnít go down too far. 
 
Instead, I used the little dives to mark my journey as I slowly swam back towards shore. It seemed like it took longer to return than it did to go out, but I eventually persisted in reaching the shallow section, I stood up and walked my way back. I reached the breaks and felt the small waves going under my legs, washing over my feet. I stood for a moment and looked around. For a moment, I couldnít locate my blanket thanks to the larger crowd which hid its position. I remembered the general area and started walking in that direction. The sand felt a little different, it was harder and didnít seem as cold or mushy. I could feel hot sun directly over my head, and nearly burned my feet looking for my section. It took a few minutes of searching but I finally found it and sat down, taking my sneakers from my duffel, which provided instant relief. I laid down on the blanket and took a moment to soak in the sun. I felt it coming through the sky, warming my entire body. After a few minutes, I rolled on my side and felt a strange bump down towards my feet. I didnít notice it when set the blanket down, but there was something sticking out from the sand. I moved my feet around and it felt hard. I got up and pulled the blanket back and saw the outline of something sticking out from the sand. It was very odd, I hadnít noticed it before. There was a strange box that had been partially buried. I pulled it out from the ground and cleaned off its surface with my hand. It was surprisingly light and colored blue. I looked closer and it was somewhat metallic and covered with odd circular bumps on its surface. I took it in my hand and tried to open it up, pushing it around clumsily looking for some kind of door or latch with no luck. There were some odd symbols printed on the bottom of it, but I didnít understand what they meant. Holding it up to my head and waving it around did nothing and I didnít hear anything rattling around inside. It looked oddly out of place under the sun on that hot day. Examining it closer, it seemed to glow under the sun acting as a kind of reflective mirror, pulsing back the heat and light of the hot summer day. I didnít know exactly what it did or who might have dropped it, but I knew it was something I needed to hang onto, though I had no idea of its origins. No one else seemed to be watching, and its relatively small size made it easy to hide. I put it in my duffel bag underneath some other items and decided not to tell anyone else about what I had found.

I put my head down on the towel and closed my eyes. I could feel the ocean air flowing from the water, and its salty scent washed over me, coating the beach and the sand as I soaked in the sunís rays. Directly overhead, I saw the skies a deep blue, warming and blowing through the sky far above. I took a deep breath and took in the world around me. A radiant summer afternoon slowly took its place, and I let my mind wander, circling through things I couldnít yet understand. Opening my eyes, I could see the islands in the distance, withholding their secrets, remaining a mysterious presence. I wondered if someone lived out there, what they held. It was something I wondered about, and Iíd occasionally dream of swimming all the way out to them, and thought about what I might find there. It was idle thoughts, something I wasnít even capable of doing Ė I wasnít nearly strong enough and just going out to the diving boards was enough. I looked over towards the pier and began to walk, slowly onto the sands and up towards the sidewalk. I took another deep breath and felt the sunís heat intensifying. It was getting warmer by the minute. Stepping over the hot sands, I walked further towards the edge, and slowly walked onto the pier. It was a bit rickety and I had to be careful of the gaps in its boards. I looked down and could see the water below, gradually going father out into the water until I reached the end. It was still mostly empty, aside from the fisherman who was there almost every day. He was making his futile attempts to catch something. Every once in awhile, heíd succeed, but for the most part, Iíd usually see him leaving late in the afternoon, carrying his empty buckets and clattering poles behind him. I didnít see anything for him that day, but I did notice that the air was still. Looking between the gaps, I could see that the usually rambunctious waves seemed to have been slowed by the heat. Their foamy surfaces lapping lazily underneath the pilings, reluctantly swirling in subtle currents flowing between the anchoring poles as the tides slowly ebbed out towards the ocean.

Despite the waterís proximity, the afternoon heat was unrelenting. It brought some relief but not nearly enough. It was a burning fire that couldnít be placated with sea water alone. I needed to find a counterweight. I walked back towards the beach, dodging the occasional loose board and headed back onto the more solid, though still uneven surfaces. I walked a bit faster, almost recklessly on what had become my single-minded mission. I turned onto the sidewalk once again and spotted the old snack shop and raced towards it, the heat becoming almost unbearable. There were a few kids in front of me already and I had to control myself, standing still while they ordered and grabbed their cold relief. Finally making my way to the front of the line, I ordered an ice cream cone, grabbed it with both hands and gulped it down without thinking. I felt it melting inside my hot mouth and it gave me a welcome release. I closed my eyes and imagined it was winter again, allowing myself to escape the heat, if only for a moment. Summer returned seconds later as I looked around and felt the heat again. It didnít bother me nearly as much. I walked through the sprinklers but this relief was temporary, and I quickly felt over-heated once again. I hadnít expected it to be that hot. I knew what I had to do, there was only one sure way for me to escape its grip.

I walked down the beach once again, took a right towards the ocean and walked by my blanket, to see that it was still in the same place. Taking off my shoes, I decided to take another swim in the ocean. It was crowded at that point, and I had to navigate my way through the throngs of others to find the pathway back to the shore. The tide had come in fully at that point in the afternoon, so I didnít have as much distance to walk. It also meant the shallow end of the beach wasnít nearly as long, so I could dunk myself into the ocean that much faster. I took a running start and dived down into the water, covering myself only to resurface fully wet and relived from the heat. I took a few laps in small circles around, not wanting to go all the way out in the distance, since I was already a little tired. Instead, I split the difference and swam almost half-way to the diving boards and looked around. There was no one else nearby and I had given myself some distance and space. I felt the sun beating on my head but it didnít seem to have the same power it did on land. Floating there in the water, I felt satisfied that I was able to out-smart the heat without retreating back inside and surrendering to the sunís relentless attack. I took a deep breath and dived down, this time plunging head first down into the water, kicking my legs. I was trying to touch the bottom. Quickly descending, I put my hands down and came close, but the currents propelled me back up, pushing me back towards the surface. When I came through, I looked around and saw the beach in the distance, shimmering under the hazy sun. I saw people in the distance and felt the waves going around me, and I slowly let myself float back towards shore. I felt a large wave come from behind me. I closed my eyes again and felt a sudden chill. In a moment, I was transported back to our secret hill and I suddenly felt winterís icy grip again, the ground was cold.

I wasnít sure how long Iíd been lost in that odd flashback. It was strange how quickly I was able to remember that day. I thought of how little I had known, even a few months prior, and how far Iíd come. I thought about the many long walks and explorations. For a long time, I didnít know where I was heading, but as I looked up and saw the moon at its apex in the night, it reminded me of that day, in its position and appearance, it almost looked like a gray sun, the dirt below almost felt like sand. Iíd taken a step out of time, transposing myself into a different force. I walked back towards the edge of the meadow, away from the clearing and back towards the trees. I found my back pack and opened it. I knew exactly where Iíd left it. Hidden in the bottom, the small metallic case was wrapped, nearly undisturbed all these months later. I removed it from the plastic bags and held it in my hand. It looked different, somehow smaller and less intimidating but still mysterious. I turned it over and looked at the symbols, which I could read now thanks to all she had let me know. I saw a series of circles on its sides and realized that they were buttons. Looking over the symbols again all these months later, I discovered that they showed me how to open the box. I pressed the buttons in the order described. Nothing happened for a moment, then slowly, it opened up, silently revealing its contents under the moonís gaze, I peered and used its light to peer inside. At first, I couldnít see what was inside, but once I did, I knew why it was there on the beach and who it belonged to. I didnít want to leave it open for very long so I closed the lid and walked back across the meadow where she was sitting. I knew she was expecting me and I began to walk in her direction. She began to come towards me at the same time. As we got closer, she saw what I was holding. She stopped in her tracks almost immediately when she saw it. I walked closer towards her and I could see how relieved and surprised it made her. Without a momentís hesitation, I gave the box back to her. She took it in her hand and put it close to her side, gripping it tightly with her fingers. She looked at me and seemed grateful and strangely happy that I had been keeping it safe for her all those months. After everything that she had done for me, it was the least I could do.

- Michael Palisano

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