Thursday, October 30, 2008
The Old Man and the Sea
A woman sat on her front doorstep sweeping pine needles into piles with a small handheld broom. Her eyes looked down at the copper piles, saw them blurry and unfocused. She looked up at the blue sky, a swatch of blue, of small white patterns of clouds. She was waiting. Her shoes needed mending. The brown tongue hung over the broken laces like a panting dog, it moved when she moved and she rocked back and forth. Humming.
When the piles were made she brought a hand full of berries and set them circular around the pine needles. Red ringed copper. Satisfied she moved off the stoop onto the dirt in front of her house, a little cabin at the edge of a wood and pushed herself upright. She was a large woman, bountiful, her wide skirts over wide hips and her apron hung snug at her middle. She had large breasts and a ruddy complexion. Her eyes were soft, unfocused, her hair was brown and smooth, reassuring. There was something peaceful about her, this woman who spent her days on the doorstep in simple hope and prolonged waiting.
"I've realized this has become a story," the woman said to the trees around her.
"I don't like stories," she said with her hands on her hips.
Her lips were berry red and warm.
"I won't sit on the doorstep today," she told the few birds perched in the trees.
"I've had enough of your judgements, I am not a character, I will not become a story, I will not wait, and I will not wait somewhere else."
She struck off southerly, down a dirty and overgrown path, watching the brown become shadowed as the trees became more dense. Humming was resolute, her large body cut a swath, trees trembled in her wake. Becoming red-faced, pounding along the dirt down the path into deeper darkness. The truth was that she hated waiting. She exuded calm, radiated peaceful satisfaction, but she was turbulent, her large stomach churned with more than indigestion. She was ravenous, unsettled, her eyes and their soft focus seemed to propel her, she was tunneled in by them, looking forward always to that thing that would happen, if only she knew what. It was waiting that made her anxious, though she never seemed so. Waiting made her irritable though she was placid; her face was becoming lined with the strain to relax her features, always working against the tension in her muscles. Poor woman.
She walked on, her big boots stamping through fallen leaves, over rocks and breaking branches. A deer lay at the side of the path, its carcass hollowed out. Briefly she raised her hand to wipe away the flies that came, attracted to her sweat. She passed countless trunks and as the leaves grew thicker, the branches lower, the sky grew dim and patchy, soon to be blotted out completely. After a long time walking she came to rest at a fallen log. Ants plodded on their path, shifting the trail to run over her large fingers, her heavy hands. Her stomach clenched so she buried her hands in her apron. Several ants came with them. She dug out some rolls and a pad of butter. Some ants stayed in the pocket. After eating, refreshed, angry, she stalked off further into the woods.
Was night falling, or was it the darkness from the trees? She couldn't tell, her anxiety had swept her off her feet and she continued to follow the path, muttering to herself.
"I've had enough of this story, I am not a fool. I am not inelegant, I don't have to listen to her. If I had my own way, I would not be sitting on the doorstep waiting. What am I waiting for? It leaves me dry, I have nothing more to say. I have nothing to do, this waiting. A thief. The best days of my life spent baking rolls and sweeping the pine needles and they just continue to fall. Nothing, nothing."
The squirrels thought she was nuts, animals gave her booming hooves a wide berth. She was fuming, raging, pushing branches out of her way as she moved on and on. After a time the woman reached a cave and its dark mouthlike entrance enticed her. Here she would rest before moving on. The cave smelled like lemons to her, it was pleasing and it made her hungry. She sat at the mouth of the cave and looked out. Just brown and trees and rocks here and there. As she ate more rolls with butter (how the ants made a pop in her mouth!) she brought pebbles that lay around her to her hip. They collected, little piles of silver and blue. When she finished her roll she swept the rocks from the back of the cave, from outside and brought them in. Eight piles stood at the mouth of cave, stacked like pyramids in the dark.
Thus stated, the woman fell asleep. The ground was hard and though leaves and twigs lined the path remaining quiet was easy. The man didn't need to step or break anything. His feet were rough and small, they were able to pick their way nimbly around any fallen objects to avoid a clatter. He swung his arms as he walked. By the time he came to the cave entrance he was aware of the bulky woman inside, her sonorous snores rose and multiplied from within, her mass heaved in dreams and in waking. He padded softly over. He noticed ants crawling around her chin, they hovered over her ears, seeming to sniff or feel out the hair around them. How now, fallen lady, he thought to himself. How easy it would be to fall at her feet, clutching. To make her rise and walk with him beyond the wood. It had been a long time since he last saw a woman, the woods remained lonely and uninviting, he had half turned feral but recognized the gentleness in her sleeping form. He came close and sniffed at her hair, fondled the brown strands in his thick hands, they were long nailed and white.
The woman groaned, woke up, startled screamed and reached her hand grabbed rocks and made a fist with them, pounded on his shoulders. Howled, jumped up, startled ran around the cave, pulled at his hair, grinned at her, jumped. She was stricken in his wild display.
"What are these acts?" she said. "He dances the fool, and I marvel at him. This is surely a plot device, I must surely be going mad. Or else he is."
The man thought to himself, no not mad, we are not mad, the woods are mad, this darkness, prevailing. Let us flee. He thought, and he ran.
She wondered, following tentatively and he stopped and beckoned her. After his shambling gate, his limping jumps, heavy sided, she followed her bulk shifting one way then the next as he swayed along the path.
After a time they came to a clearing. They moved beyond the woods, in to a dale, walked on till the sun rose again and all was yellow and warm. They walked on and on down a small hill, scaling an old worn path down a cliff. The ocean spread out before them. It was new, blue, they had neither of them seen an ocean before; the sprawling expanse of it, the glitter of it, the rushing sound it made, striding and purposeful. They walked on, into the blue and it was cold and it was wet but it was welcome and the woman laughed and the man cantered and they were swallowed up by the lips of it, and buried beneath the hands of it.