Wednesday, October 26, 2005


This is a really bad short story I just found I had, but it has a point I was trying to get to, and I am going to put it up here because of that point.

Elizabeth is nineteen, it is midsummer night's eve, she is in love with Nicholas who is also nineteen. Reason enough for her to dress in flimsy white, to paint on a magical face, to pick wildflowers and weave them into a bridal crown. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me... The evening is milk and honey, still young but already unfolding into something more mature, into the powers of full summer.

(Start again: Elizabeth is nineteen and drinking beer in a small motor boat in the middle of the open sea. She and Nicholas are going to spend the night on a small deserted island. They have the boat, the beers, food and a tent. He is on his third beer and beginning to sing. She knows that they will make a fire for their hot dogs when they get to the island. What she doesn't know is whether he'll want to go to bed with her, and if so, whether she'll say yes to him. It would be the first time.)

The ocean is calm, its surface like blue silk. Sounds of music drift over the waters. Elizabeth reaches out and caresses the sea with her fingers. Nicholas smiles at her. The moon is round tonight, a white eye watching over them. They kiss; the whole world is nineteen and in love.

The island first looms as a dark shape in the distance. As they come closer they see its granite spine, a tall bare cliff rising up from the green woods. White gulls fly up from its shore, alarmed by their arrival.

Nicholas and Elizabeth pull their boat on shore, climb to the top of the cliff and set up their tent there. He goes looking for firewood, bringing each branch he finds back to her with a kiss. She lies down on the hard granite surface. The air is still warm and the growing darkness comforting, like a big velvet quilt. She watches the stars being turned on, one by one. She is almost falling asleep on this cliff top, lullabied by the sea and the woods.

(But: She is also groggy and bloated from all the beer and tired from their slightly drunken efforts with the boat and the tent. He picks up not only kisses on his return trips from the woods but also new cans of beer. She is supposed to get the hot dogs ready for roasting, but the uncooked flesh looks disgusting, like dead gray fingers, slimy as they resist being pierced by the sticks of wood he has gathered.)

When there is enough wood they make a fire. It throws bright sparks into the air. Elizabeth sees pictures in the flames, reflected back from the surrounding darkness. They eat and drink, curled up together. The smoke rises dreamily towards the sky. Nicholas sings old songs, Elizabeth leans against his chest. She is perfectly happy, right now.

The night has grown into its fullness. The ocean is a dark mirror cutting them off from everything else. There are other fires in the far distance, more music and laughter reaches them from somewhere unseen. Nicholas bends down to kiss Elizabeth on the lips, then on her neck. Her body sends sparks from his lips down her spine. His hands find her breasts and start caressing them. She runs her tongue down the nape of his neck. He tastes of soot and smoke. She is suddenly hungry, hot with tenderness and fierceness, opening up, crying of deep joy inside. She wants him now, she thinks. He responds and they forget where they are.

(Though not completely: Something presses painfully against her back, she doesn't want to make love in the open, she worries about the awkwardness of suggesting to him that they retire to the tent.)

He pulls her up, holding her hand and leads her to their tent. Inside it is very dark. Their bodies just fit into the narrow space. They meet each other hesitantly at first, then more needily. He buries his head in her breasts and kisses them, she pushes her hips against his and moans. He finds her center and she finds his. They can barely breathe; the air is thick with pollen, smoke and the scent of pine needles.

Somehow they have rid themselves of their clothing. He bends over her, leaning on his elbows, a question in his eyes. His eyes are veiled with desire but she knows that he is asking this question and gives him the answer he wants. She closes her own eyes and waits. She is full of summer and opening buds and honey. She is a hungry predator. She waits, ready to blossom, ready to eat. In the far distance she hears sirens.

She waits. Then Nicholas collapses on her, his jaw hits her cheekbone and air is forced out of her lungs. He snores. He is asleep. She can't believe this. She is stunned.

(She shouldn't have been. She knows how many beers he had had.)

Elizabeth pushes Nicholas aside, not gently, sits up and looks at his sleeping face. It has gone slack, saliva runs down his chin, his breath stinks of beer. Elizabeth gropes for her clothes and gets dressed. She is still excited, aching for him, trying to close her open body with her anger and disappointment. She crawls out of the tent.

The fire has burned down and the night air is rapidly cooling. Elizabeth wraps herself in a sweater and puts her shoes on. She doesn't want to sleep. She isn't sure what she wants to do.

She sits for some time on the top of the cliff, watching the sea, listening to the woods. A mist rises from the earth and at the moment just before dawn birds wake up to sing their shortest songs. Then the colors of the air begin to change, silvery reflections grow stronger on the water and the dark standing shapes of the trees turn into green pines. A slight breeze rises.

Elizabeth decides to explore the island. She climbs down the cliff to their boat and continues along the shoreline. The shore is full of giant boulders, wet from the sea and slippery from algae and moss. It takes all her concentration to cross them safely. Then the ground levels off and trees reach almost down to the water. She walks into the woods, into the green smell and the lush fronds of the ferns that grow under the trees. Her pant legs are wet with dew and her feet cold but she is serene, almost elated. The woods are a temple, she thinks. Something must worship here.

She has almost crossed the island. The ground rises steeply before dropping off to the shore on the opposite side. Elizabeth wants to see it. The climb is hard and she arrives at the top out of breath and scratched by tree branches.

The first thing she notices is the stench. It is nauseating, the smell of death, abattoires, putrification. Then she sees its cause: a large dead seal stranded on the shore. It lies on its back, bloated, its body pale and covered with fissures. The sun touches it and Elizabeth can't help seeing it as a cruel caricature of a fat, white sunbather on the first vacation day.

She feels a little sick, a little ashamed, but also fascinated. She watches the seal, its silence, the waves gently lapping at the silvery skin. It is the first live seal she has ever seen and it is dead. She studies it, trying to reach through its death to the seal underneath, wondering if it knows more than she does. If she squinches her eyes against the sun the seal is a large shimmering tear drop, a silver shield bouncing back sun's rays, almost beautiful.

Elizabeth sits there for a long time. Then she turns back to cross the island, to rejoin Nicholas (is he going to be sick?, is he going to stink?), to have breakfast, to pack up and to go out in a boat on this midsummer's day.