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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction

The Outside World

The Outside World

As the winter dragged on, I began to feel a little bit confined indoors. Iíd spent a lot of time at home and things were getting claustrophobic during the day at school. Things felt like they were closing in on me and I needed an escape from the inside pursuits. Having played with my games all the time, they became predictable once I memorized their patterns. The other toys also began to lose their luster. The one thing I overlooked at first remained important to me and I didnít lose track of it. I kept the doll she gave me hidden and didnít play with it much after the day I decided to stay away from school. I did look at it a few times, but it didnít work the way I thought it would. It caused me to doubt things. Did someone find my drawings and decide to play a prank on me, planting the doll behind the bushes to make fun of me? It didnít help that I wondered if I had actually seen her on the street those few days, or if I was just going crazy. These questions built up over time until I didnít even want to look at it, so I kept it in its box. Going out on my own became more difficult as the winter progressed, though it did keep my thoughts busy. When I walked around, I felt vulnerable and exposed. I was mostly worried that someone would find out about my secrets, or even worse, that someone already had and was using it against me. Keeping her secret from the outside world became a constant pressure that drained a lot of energy from me. I was becoming tired of worrying about it while things that didnít matter seemed to take precedence.

Unfortunately, the cluster of trees and bushes I typically escaped to wasnít accessible during the winter months. The ridge offered me a refuge during the fall and winter but there had been a huge storm a few days before which blocked its safer entrance. The side where I had to climb up the rocks wasnít an option, since the ice covered cliffs made safely navigating upwards an unworkable impossibility. I decided I could seek another form of shelter by going in the other direction. It was a much longer walk towards the beach but I decided it was that or nothing. I hadnít been there in several months and I wondered what it would be like there. Unlike my visits in the summer, the beach wasnít as crowded during that time of year. It was a strange place to find yourself during winter, without the crowds running around, the beach transformed into another world. When I looked up, and saw the sun it almost seemed like it was still summer for a moment, but it only gave off light and there was no heat. The wind blew right through me, and I felt the chill, still present no matter where I turned. It was empty at that time of year, but the cold and isolation gave the place a completely different atmosphere.

It seemed safer with no one else around, the cold worked against any inclination towards the frenetic energy of summer. I walked past the trees, shorn of their leaves they loomed over the snow-covered sands like silent, stoic guardians. Their fragile arrays of branches were saturated by the cold winds, conversely strong and delicate. The snow beneath my feet seemed to change with each step, feeling less frozen thanks to its proximity to the sea, it wasnít as harsh on my feet as the snow I encountered earlier. It felt smoother, with less resistance. My feet didnít drag in the drifts as they had earlier on, and the upper layers had melted, making it less deep and easier to traverse. As I walked closer towards the ocean, I could see the waves were churning beyond the icy edge of the land, but they didnít seem as powerful as they did during the previous summer. Their calmer motion seemed to rely less on the moment and was calmer. Without the hot sun accompanying them, their tidal movements resembled a slow waltz with a slower, more deliberate motion. As I stood there, I let the calmness soak into me. The rest of the world seemed to fall further behind me as I walked down the snow covered land and reached the point where the waves met the frozen fortress. There was a small patch of sand that stayed unfrozen thanks to the constant motion and as I walked on it, it felt quite different than I was expecting. It was harder than it seemed in the summer and felt firm, somehow stronger than it had. It wasnít wilting under the warmth of heat and becoming mush. I looked past the buoys towards the area where my brother and I had gone diving and saw the ocean moving calmly. It was strangely serene, completely unbothered by the racing boats that clogged it during the summer. I took a deep breath and soaked the cold salty air inside me, feeling cleansed and refreshed at the same time. 

I had developed a kind of transitional peace as I walked through the beach side. The many worthless things that consumed everyone else faded and I was left alone to clear my head and organize my conflicts. I thought of all the things I had been through the past few months. No one else saw or knew what had happened, but I did. I was still looking for answers and I knew they wouldnít be found in the usual manner. They couldnít be corroborated, wouldnít stand up to scrutiny or challenge the status. Most of all, no one would comprehend what they had meant to me. I decided that in order to discover what I was looking for, I would have to set my sights on a different kind of truth. The winds blew right through me as I walked towards the other side of the beach. I was naturally drawn there and headed towards the old arcade. It was closed for the season with its doors and windows locked-up to dissuade most visitors. The nearby golf course was covered and I could barely see its signature pirate mascot hiding, submerged under the snow banks. Next door, the game room where I had spent so much of the last summer was completely still. I could see inside it, and vaguely saw the machines standing there in rows, The machines hadnít been touched in months, and stood there like statues, silently awaiting someone to power them up and return them to life. It had seemed so open and inviting the previous summer, but now with its doors locked and the wind blowing through my body, it seemed forbidden and dark. Its awnings were drawn, since there was no need for shelter from the heat. I walked past the mini-golf course and back towards the ocean, its unassailable silence effortlessly protected me from the world outside.

As I walked back to the beach, I noticed the clouds were beginning to gather in the south, darkening the skies, portending another storm. I didnít realize it at the moment, but it was also a sign that something else was happening. I looked up and saw the tree branches beginning to rustle together at a faster pace. The sun was slowly beginning to fall back towards the ocean but there was still plenty of light. I continued onward until I reached the edge of the sea once again, almost to the point where the waves began to encircle my boots. Not enough to cover my feet, but I still had the sensation like I had in the summertime. I looked around me and the place was still deserted. I was accustomed to the solitude and found it reassuring. I walked around the edges of the ocean and suddenly felt something around my boots. There was a patch of seaweed that had washed up tangled up with me feet. I bent down to unwind it and It smelled pungent as always and I decide to pick it up. I looked at it for a few moments and thought it was strange to find something green and seemingly fresh in the middle of winter. I put it back in the water and as I stood up, I gazed on the distant islands with their isolated lighthouses, luring me across the water. I thought how cool it would be if I could swim all the way there. That would have to wait until next summer. Standing alone at the waterís edge, I was transported for a moment, feeling time out of sequence for a wonderful instant. My mind felt free and wandered around mentally, allowing most of the worries to wash away and dissipate like the surf under my feet. As I stood there, the world I knew felt distant and irrelevant as I became lost in the rhythm of the ocean. I was transfixed by it and slowly let it all permeate my mind. While the waves slowly washed over my feet, the pressure and fear that undermined me drained away. These were replaced by a precious calm. This came to an unexpected end when I felt something on my shoulder.

She always had a way of showing up at without any warning, going back to the first time sheíd appeared. It was always a little startling. It felt like someone had been watching me the whole time, waiting for just the right moment to find me. That day, I wasnít expecting to see her at all. She seemed angry at me the last time I saw her, and I thought that meant somehow I would be alone for awhile. Sensing her standing behind me, I didnít even need to turn my head. Our connection was immediate and this was something I canít explain. I felt a strong rush of emotion as we came together once again. She wasnít far away or distant, and while I like being alone, having her nearby was something that brought an instant sense of relief. Any of the doubts in my mind evaporated. At that moment, I knew she was there for me. It wasnít a joke. She wasnít a figment of my imagination. Everything I thought I saw actually happened. I took a step back away from the water to get closer to her. At first I only saw a shadow outlining the icy ground behind me. She seemed taller now than in our last encounter, but somehow a bit less intimidating. Somehow, she knew that I wasnít afraid any longer. There wasnít the need for immediate protection as had been the case when I was dangling off the side of the cliff.

I felt older and I was a little bit stronger now, at least emotionally. I was still a small stringy little kid but I didnít feel as vulnerable now that she was at my side. We stood together, the ocean at our feet and watched the waves come through in waves. They began to become a little stronger as the wind picked up and the storm approached. The sun gradually faded under the clouds as we watched together silently. Slowly, I took a step backward and stood at her side. I saw that she was in her familiar black dress with tiny black dots. In the sun, it seemed to shimmer and flow with the wind. Her hair was long and black, exquisitely curled in a unique fashion, enhanced and obscuring her. She looked transcendent, with an otherworldly presence no one else seemed to approach. Her shoes were strange, with elaborate laces and patterns like Iíd never seen. Her presence was beautiful but somewhat out of date, with her shimmering dress unfolding into rolled sleeves and an odd shape that enchanted me and while keeping her mysteries inside.  She looked like someone from another place, but this didnít bother me, since I was didnít feel like I fit in anywhere either for the most part. We stood there together for the longest time, not saying a word to each other nor needing to. Light began to dim and she reached out and held my hand, gripping it gently to guide me in the right direction.

We moved slowly back towards the west, letting the waves wash over our feet as we wandered towards the distant setting sun. I felt her becoming closer to me with each step until she seemed to almost hug me as we walked together. Her feet almost became entangled with mine but slowly we became almost a single unit. My thoughts became much clearer as I walked with her, the fears dissipated. I knew that there would always be someone standing with me no matter how strange or odd my path would seem to others. It wouldnít always be easy, but I wouldnít have to travel alone. My steps became more confident and she didnít need to say anything. This wasnít something transient, it was deeper. It was an almost magical feeling to have someone who completely understood who I was. As we walked, the snow began to fall, a few flurries at first, then a few minutes later, they became more intense. I felt her get closer to me with each step we took, and we got even closer as the wind tried and failed to break our bond. The winds blew stronger and she took her other arm around me and put me into her full embrace. As the storm surrounded us, it tried to break through, but its external pressures only drew us closer together. The world outside attacking us wasnít going to break our bond no matter how hard it tried to. I felt her heart beating and I knew she could feel mine. We protected each other from the storm, taking strength from each other. We stood together in the middle of the beach, just letting the winds and snow slowly surround but not conquer us. It was then that I discovered something about her that I hadnít noticed before. Weíd never been this close and that moment revealed something Iíll never forget. Hidden underneath her long black hair, I looked into her face and saw the most beautiful pair of violet eyes Iíd ever seen. They were not of this world, indescribably divine in their enduring compassion and unmatched magnificence.

In that moment, I knew she loved me.


-Michael Palisano

> Previously

An Unlikely Combination

While the trees slept
We Left Together 
Our Secret Code

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