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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

Fiction



An Unfamiliar Sun

I found myself walking over the hot sands, but this particular sunrise was different.

It was early morning once again, but the dawn seemed less promising than usual. I had gotten up early that morning, anticipating another hot day. I walked over the warm sands as I had many days before. Arriving early, I tried to secure a decent spot far removed from the crowded locations, and finally arrived at an isolated section. This was my favorite part of the beach, It was the section where Iíd had found that strange metal case with the odd writing on it a few months prior, it felt like good luck. I placed my blanket in the ground but it didnít feel right. The sand no longer felt soft, it seemed to have hardened over the summer, reinforced by the heat. I felt it pushing against my sneakers with each step, a harsher ground underneath fighting my steps. I looked above towards the sun and the clouds no longer looked idle, drifting lazily overhead. They moved defiantly, swirling across the sky, singularly intent on maintaining their position, forming ever smaller circles in defensive maneuvers. They seemed like typhoons spinning around, attempting to forestall the inevitable passing of time. They summoned smaller clusters from around them, merging into each another, converging into vast shapes that seemed intent on preventing the wind from blowing them apart.

I studied their movements above me and they signaled that summer was no longer endless. Gazing across the sound, the mysterious islands I had visited only once for a brief yet memorable night, seemed to have drifted further away from shore, inevitably sliding further out of reach. Their secrets cloistered within, they slipped out of my grasp. Disappearing into the haze, they seemed to be sliding back under the water, closing down and preparing for a long slumber ahead. I outlined them with my fingers, trying to hold onto their shapes and contours. I noted the heights of the trees and the lighthouses and wondered if theyíd grow next year, or if theyíd disappear under a random stormís haughty swipe or suffer an even worse fate.  Despite all that had happened, I wasnít completely convinced. I had gone on several adventures, but in some ways, it felt I hadnít seen enough. There were scattered clues sheíd left for me. It wasnít enough for things to make as much sense as I thought they should.  It seemed that the summer was slowly turning on itself. Looking across the sound, I noticed that the waves were growing larger, forming crests and rising quickly above the currents. They created sharper patterns than usual, crashing aggressively against the shore. The ocean seemed to be resisting time, and seemed to be protecting itself from the unceasing pull of time and space. I looked at the waves closely, despite its best efforts to stave off tomorrow; things were going to change sooner or later.   

As the morning wore on, things began to calm slowly. I took a deep breath, allowing the warm air to enter my lungs. I walked further down the beach, to the section where I would usually set up my blanket to go swimming or diving. The tide was out, making the shallow water too low to dive, and as I watched the waves, they looked especially choppy and unwelcoming. I decided not to let it bother me and instead focused on the shoreline, strewn with rocks, sea shells and, the occasional cluster of sea weed. I watched the tides slowly pull further and further out, revealing more of its submerged secrets as it slipped away. Despite my many visits, I felt strangely out of place. I took off my sandals and walked down towards the water. I tried to keep my balance on the rocky uneven surface, slowly maneuvering over their sharp edges until the waves were covering my sore feet. I turned around and looked to see if anyone else was there. A few more people had arrived, but it was late in the season and no one seemed to have a sense of urgency. I stood there for a few minutes, letting the water wash over my feet and slowly made my way back to the blanket. I sat down and put my hands on the ground and felt them sink into the sand. They didnít sink as much as I expected, but they still made a suitable anchor while I balanced. I looked around and saw that I was suddenly surrounded by an army of other people who had converged on the shoreline. I gave myself the luxury of another deep breath and held it in, not wanting to release the summer, and took a moment and let it flood over me once again. In that moment, I immediately remembered the way it had felt, only a short few months before. In the mornings, Iíd arrive and it would feel like I was coming home, with a welcoming burst of the ocean air greeting me with the summer light. 

Everything felt open those first few months. Iíd arrive in the morning a feel like there was an unlimited horizon stretched out before me, untold adventures and stories seemed to lie ahead. Now, as those moments seemed fewer, there was a strange sadness to it all. The sun seemed smaller, not as stunning and it didnít seem to want to accompany me any longer. Time was spinning forward faster than I wanted it to, and I didnít seem to have any way of slowing it down. I wanted more days under the sun, more chances to explore and find things I didnít know I was looking for. Most of all, I wanted another opportunity to see her face again, which seemed to have faded back into the summer, like a mirage, dissipating without a trace. Like the summer itself, she seemed to be slipping away from me. Perennially unpredictable, her elusive appearances random like the strikes of lightning during a thunderstorm. It felt like the summer was slipping into the ether like a mirage that was slowly vanishing before my eyes. I could fell it disappearing as I tried to hold on, receding as I moved closer. I knew it would happen eventually, but it was still discouraging. I felt a little unbalanced and felt slightly disoriented as the heat gradually intensified.

In order to stabilize myself, I pushed my hands deeper into the sand but it was still almost liquid beneath the surface. My arms couldnít hold my body, they werenít stable and I fell backwards until I was nearly lying flat on the ground. There was nothing for me to hold onto, no evidence of what happened. Despite this, I still felt the echoes inside, and the questions dissolved under the sun. There were memories that no one else could see but it didnít matter. I didnít need confirmation of what I already knew. I looked up in the sky and saw the aqua horizon bending into the distance, far away boats ran up and down the sound, I heard their engines roar, kicking up the surf in their wake. I turned my head back towards the shore and watched people walking around. They seemed oblivious to the things I could see clearly. They walked slowly over the grass and sidewalks, towards to arcade and the pier, behind the boats assembled and ready for their journeys, none tracing the steps the way I did. I let my eyes rest for a moment and they closed, I could feel the sun and my mind dissolved into memories, recalling the summersí gone-by. I slipped into myself for a second, day-dreaming of those memories I couldnít yet understand, allowing myself to hold onto the moment. I felt a warm rush through my body. I felt the waves of heat evaporating back into the sky from the sand, slowly building though each moment. I set myself further back, burrowing deeper into the sand and took a deep breath, letting the warm air into me. Reluctantly releasing the air back into the sky, I felt a sense of relief. I sat there alone, and knew there were things no one else could understand, but neither would they be able to take them from me.

Time seemed to blur, twisting and turning around me like waves on the shore. I felt something buffering my body but couldnít quite understand what it was. At first, I thought it was another noise from afar, it felt like a car in the distance driving away from me. It continued buzzing, and circled around. I felt it move closer towards me, scrambling forward into the daylight right in the middle of the beach. It sounded like interference on the radio, scrambled noise, I couldnít understand what it meant. I tried to focus on it, but it dissipated before I could decipher whatever message it was trying to convey. Slowly, it fell into the background, until it was a low whisper, just behind my ears. I turned to look around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary, just people slowly walking around under the hot sun. I gestured into the sky, trying form some sort of function inside the clouds, but they slipped through my fingers, undisturbed. I put my arms back towards my side, and slipped back once again allowing the sun its temporary dominion. I closed my eyes and the whisper seemed to grow louder, creating an undercurrent beneath the seemingly calm surface. I looked over towards the islands and they seemed strangely affected, in some sense transformed. They seemed to be calling me, but I couldnít quite understand why. I sat there for awhile. I tried to think of something else Ė I knew what was beneath the surface, but I didnít really want to know. I wanted to relax, knowing the warm sun wouldnít last forever, and resolved to enjoy the moments I had. Things would start again in a few weeks and I knew that things wouldnít be the same. I remembered all that had gone on between us, some of which might have actually happened, and decided not to push further. I had no idea what lied ahead and didnít want to know, at least not at that moment. I got up and walked back towards the long side of the beach, and took a slow tour of the pier once again, navigating its creaky boards. I acted as normal as I could, but I still heard the whispers. They distracted me enough that I felt myself losing my balance as they ricocheted back and forth in my mind, I began to feel a bit dizzy and had to grab onto a railing. These werenít particularly sturdy but they gave me enough grounding. I took a few deep breaths and resumed walking towards the end of the pier.

The waters had become choppier as I walked out there, and I could feel the currents buffeting the pilings below. The shaking made each step uneasy but I continued, slowly looking below my feet, unsure if the wooden pier would withstand the waves. The tides were coming in strongly and the waterís violence seemed unusually sudden, like something had set off an alarm. I wasnít entirely sure I was in the right place. Perhaps the whispers were trying to warn me. I took a left reached the piersí end. I sat on the warm bench for a moment and took in the warmer, salty air. I looked up towards the sky and saw the high clouds swirling around the seemingly endless summer skies. In a moment, something came to me that I had nearly forgotten, I watched and the seas seemed to calm. I walked back towards my blanket and avoiding the rocks, saw things I hadnít noticed before. There were shadows on the ground that hadnít been there, covering up the hot sands, creating slightly cooler spots where I could walk without burning my feet. I looked around and saw that the afternoon beginning to fade away. The tide was beginning to recede back into the ocean, and it was getting too shallow to swim around. I noticed people wandering around in the distance. They were beginning to leave before darkness arrived. I watched the sun turn down and make its final descent into the night. It looked very strange and sad, like it had been abandoned, a little lost and disappointed, Another seemingly tranquil summer day was winding down, another short night was coming. I sat on my blanket and felt the winds picking up once again. They were cooler than I was used to, seeming to push me away. I closed my eyes and tried to hear the whispers once again but I found only silence. I stared out towards the waters and islands and felt something inexorably pulling me away. I didnít want to leave but felt I had little choice, just like everyone else.

I decided to pick up my blanket and tried to beat the shadows which had grown longer and longer, seeming with each passing minute, slowly moving back toward the grassy surface, watching another summer day slowly trickle away before my eyes. I reluctantly returned to the sidewalks and stared into the clouds one last time, watching the last clouds surrender to dusk, illuminated by the slimmest sliver of the sun, they looked like they were burning, almost like they were on fire. It was strange to realize how quickly things were slipping away. I walked slowly towards the cars and awaited the long journey home into the night. I sat there for a moment, and stood against the fence. I looked towards the street heading away from the beach. It seemed uncertain and curved away. It was an unsettling feeling and I felt that important things were slowly slipping away. I watched the sun go down, cascading under the western sky and caught on last glimpse before it receded firmly into the night. Soon, there would be no more summer days to explore. Before I knew it, everything would become only a memory. I felt a strange melancholy come over me, like there was something lost, the night would hide secrets that no one else would ever know. I tried one last time to listen, to hear the whispers once again. I tried but quickly disregarded their slight, rapidly fading signals as meaningless noise. It was getting late, and I didnít feel like entering that space again. I tried to clear my head and closed my eyes and tried to wipe it away, not wanting to deal with it. I tried to clear my head of those thoughts but they kept coming through. As I stood there, feeling the summer slip away, I felt something on my shoulder, for half a moment. It was both familiar and strange. Immediately, I remembered what it was; in that moment, I knew the summer would be ours forever.

- Michael Palisano

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