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Think in the Morning occasionally posts our own short stories and poems. If no other author is referenced, the work is ours and ours alone. Our fiction and poetry is a work in progress.
There is something about living obscured from the world’s view bundled up inside the summer fog that encourages the solipsistic side of life. Combined with the utter silence of an early morning, the filtered light barely peeking through, no bird yet willing to sing or even move in the thick green foliage, the impenetrable fog fits like a glove around my solitary world. It’s like waking up alone in the dark. For one short moment absolutely nothing penetrates the inviolable space of a single self-contained all-encompassing mind. It doesn’t last. That would be madness. Or bliss? Soon the signals rush in all at once. The drip drip drip of condensation rolling off the tree leaves, a distant foghorn out in the ocean, a shy bird’s first tiny peep. The inevitable visual map inexorably defines its space, a space entirely foreign to that which once was all, which once was enough.
Two men emerged through the fog like evil personified walking toward me down the hill. Two men, dark skin, fishing poles and buckets.
“Any good down there?”
“Just been picking mussels. I’m making spaghetti sauce for tonight.”
“Those mussels are full of toxins this time of year.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
We were standing in two lines now, close, facing each other like troops on opposite sides in a war.
The taller of the two, Louie, did all the talking. His brother, Billy, watched stupidly like a dog gazing at a gopher hole.
“Why don’t you come into town this afternoon to watch the parade from our deck? We can get drunk after. Billy and I will fry up the fish and you can bring your toxic spaghetti.”
“Thanks, I’m gonna sit it out this year. You guys have fun. I’ll see’ya around.”
I started walking away, hoping to get away. I knew they would go on pestering me if I stayed.
“Suit yourself, but Margaret will be there.”
I saw the menacing smile under Louie’s black mustache. It was always there. Billy was chuckling quietly to himself.
Golden hair, ivory teeth, eyes blue like robin’s eggs. That was Margaret.
“Yea? I’ll be damned. Well, tell her hello.”
“She’ll be sad if you don’t come, Randall. Come on. Drop by around two. What are you going to do home alone on the Fourth of July?”
“Yea, what’re ya gonna do?” piped in Billy who always repeated everything his older brother said.
“If I’m there, I’m there. If I’m not, I’m not. Don’t count on it though.”
I walked on away from them and they climbed down the hill to the rocky point where they fished. It was a damn shame I ran into them. Now I had Margaret on my mind. My hope for a quiet day alone was ruined. I knew it already.
The time passed like a crippled deer walking through the meadow. I washed the mussels and stored them in a bowl in the refrigerator for later. I cracked open a beer and sat at the kitchen table staring out the window. The apples on the tree outside were fully formed and starting to ripen but they wouldn’t be ready until September. In September I’d be gone. I was finished with this place. I hated it here. I already had a job lined up in Port Angeles. My friend, Jake, was on a job up there and they needed some more men. He was a carpenter like I was. When I finished that job, I’d made up my mind to go on up to British Columbia and just hang out. I’d heard it was beautiful there. I didn’t know a soul. That was just the way I liked it.
I cracked another beer. A robin out under the apple tree was pulling up a worm. It ratcheted the worm down into its stomach in segments. I made up my mind right then not to go to Billy’s. I didn’t want to see Margaret, not anymore. It was finished between us a long time ago. She made the decision to move to the City, to get married, to live the life she wanted. It wasn’t my fault that it didn’t work out. I didn’t have any responsibility for that, or for her. I wasn’t going to get sucked in again, into her life, into whatever she had become.
We went together for a year, maybe two. I can’t remember. Then she met Tom. Good looking fast talking Tom. He swept her up like a broom with his money and his charm. I saw disaster coming and I told her, but she was already lost, lost to me, lost to the girl she once was. Maybe he loved her. She was easy to love. But no. Not Tom. He was incapable of loving anyone but himself.
I remember walking with her out on the bluff above the sea in the tall grass. The look on her face, I’d never seen it before, and I’ve never seen it since. We made love there, the first time, right under the warm sun with the foamy waves crashing on the rocks below. I told her I loved her, foolishly, and it drove her away. She wasn’t ready. I should never have said it.
I first knew it was over that time when she stood on the porch, her hair in curlers, chewing red fire ball bubble gum and talking on the phone with her mouth full. She was talking with Tom. I could tell, tell by the way she smiled, by the way she blushed, that it was over. I couldn’t believe it, not then. Not even now.
Damn it! Why did Louie have to go and say that Margaret would be there?
Once, driving in my car, she told me she wanted to see the snow and so we took off right then without coats or money or anything and drove all the way to the mountains and threw snowballs at each other until we were so cold we had to get back into the car to warm up. She did things like that to me, made me crazy.
A rabbit was hopping around in the vacant field across the way eating the grass. Other than that, nothing was going on at all around my place. The people in town were setting up barbecues and getting ready to celebrate the fourth. A few lone firecrackers had already popped off. Louie and Billy were back home by now. The parade started in an hour.
I cracked another beer. I wasn’t going to go. That was it. I walked around the vacant house from room to room. I kept things pretty well organized. I always had even when I was a little boy growing up with my grandparents. My room was my own special place, my own special world. I gathered up all the dirty clothes and did a load of wash. I congratulated myself for remembering to buy a loaf of French bread to have with the pasta. I got the ingredients ready on the kitchen counter. Then, I went outside and sat in a chair to finish my beer.
The fog was lifting but it was still grey and overcast. It felt like winter but it was summer. That’s the way it was on the coast this time of year. Hot as hell inland and drizzly on the coast. Sometimes I missed the heat. Sometimes I drove to the valley just to sop it up like a sponge, just to sit out under the stars at night feeling as warm as I did when I was in front of the fire at home. I’d even sleep out under the stars sometimes when I was over there just because I could.
Nobody was around. Everyone was at the parade. In this small town, the Fourth of July parade was a major social event. Local groups built fancy floats on the beds of trucks, large and small. Logging trucks with enormous redwood logs floated by like lonely whales. Old fools and little kids dressed like cowboys riding horses. Marching bands went through their drills with drums and horns and reeds while young girls in boots and shorts pranced in front, batons twirling. The fire engines were there with all the boys in full gear. The weirdos showed up with tattoos and colored hair just like on TV. There were politicians but most came just for fun. Loud speakers announced each passing entry. Patient judges made their choices diligently. Everyone went off happy at the end, usually. I was missing it all. I didn’t care. I went back inside the house.
I poured some cheap white wine into a pot and dumped in the mussels with a handful of bay leaves and set it to boil. In a saucepan I sautéed the garlic then added the tomatoes and some saffron. The mussels were boiling. After they had all opened, I strained the broth into the saucepan and added salt and pepper. I was getting hungry. I switched from beer to a bottle of red wine.
I drank the first glass straight down. Then I put on the water for the pasta. That’s when I heard the knock at the door.
The fog had burned off. The sky was opaque, the sun was hidden behind a solid bank of pure white cloud. A breeze was blowing. It was chilly. I couldn’t see her face against the bright background, but I knew it was her.
“I heard you were making spaghetti. You always make too much. Do you mind if I join you? I brought some good red wine.”
What could I say? I don’t want to see you, I wish you hadn’t come?
“Thanks. Come on in, spaghetti’s almost ready.”
“Hold up for a bit. Let’s take some time to catch up first.”
How do you catch up after three years?
I turned off the pasta pot and filled two glasses with red wine, my cheap wine not the expensive bottle.
“No girlfriend yet?”
She looked around. It must have been obvious from what she saw that I lived alone.
“No point now. I’m leaving.”
“Leaving? When? Where?”
“Next month. I’ll end up in British Columbia, I guess.”
A bee landed smack in the middle of my wine glass. I helped it out with my finger and it flew away. The harsh cries of the blue jays rasped at us from out in the trees. I noticed a slight quizzical look cross her face. Her hair was still like spun gold and her eyes as blue as I remembered. But, her smile looked a little hollow.
Her wine glass was already empty so I filled it again and topped mine off.
“You know, my father told me I should’ve married you instead of Tom. I was so blind, Randall. What a mess.”
“That was a long time ago, Margaret. I’m sorry things didn’t work out with Tom. I really am.”
She looked sad.
“Wow, British Columbia, that’s a long ways away. For keeps?”
“For keeps. I’m ready for a change. Lived here long enough. There’s nothing here for me now. So, how’s San Francisco?”
“Lonely. I’m really lonely, Randall. Oh, God! I can’t do this.”
She started crying. She came over and sat next to me and put her head on my shoulder.
“Oh, Randall. Hold me. Just this once, please hold me.”
What could I do? I put my arm around her and she melted into me. I could smell her hair and her skin. I felt the same little fluttering in my heart that I used to feel. Then, it disappeared, all of it. I was just sitting there, hungry, wishing she would leave quietly.
“I guess I’ll make the pasta.”
She didn’t move. It was like being stuck with a sleeping baby in my arms and not being able to move for fear of waking it up.
We sat like that for maybe ten minutes. I couldn’t even drink my wine. My arm was getting stiff. Finally, she got up. She knew. I didn’t have to say a thing. She left without even eating, quietly. I wanted to say something, I’m not sure what. I opened my mouth. She put her finger to my lips.
I didn’t see her again for a long time, ten years maybe, I’m not sure. All the memories came back. Funny how that works. She was with her husband, I guess, a guy who looked just like Tom but wasn’t. She’d changed, looked a little worn, but I recognized her immediately.
She didn’t see me and I didn’t make any attempt to say hello. I just went out of the mall into the bright sunlight and walked away.
Last year I ran into Louie and Billy in the old bar back down in California.
“Hey, Randall, you back?”
“Just passing through.”
Louie still had that mean little smile. Maybe it wasn’t evil. Maybe that was just the way he was.
“You really pissed her off that day when you didn’t come by.”
“Yea, you really pissed her off,” said Billy.
“She just split and went back to the City. I heard she became a high end hooker. She only does rich guys.”
“Ooo Eee! A high end hooker. Ooo Eee!” said Billy.
That’s when I punched Billy and knocked him clean out. Louie pulled out a knife but I kicked it out of his hand and broke his nose with my fist. The bartender called the cops, but I got away before they came. The cops in that town could never get out of their own way.
I’m back in British Columbia in my little squatter cabin hidden down in the Cove. I’m staying. I live alone and I fish and I take care of myself. Sometimes I work to make a bit of dough. I don’t need much. I’ve let my beard grow and my hair has gone wild. Not much goes on around here. I like that. I can close my eyes whenever I want and make everything disappear. I do it all the time.
Hell, Margaret wouldn’t even know me.