10 January 2009

Between Water and Sand - Cat On The Beach

Heart sat with his back to the dunes, staring blankly out over the empty water. Nothing in sight, no seals, no boats, or even birds. Unusual, Heart thought, where did they all go? As far as he could go on the island, but not that far. He breathed deep, lungs full of damp and the iodine tang of seaweed.

Probably they all ran away from me. Hell, I’d run away from me if I could. Hard to be sociable carrying around a cloud of sour. “Bubble boy” of the anti-social set.

Heart shrugged to release the tension from his shoulders. He ran a hand over the stubble on his face. It surprised him more that he hadn’t taken a drink in longer than he hadn’t shaved. Probably for the better, he told himself. Not drinking, that would do his liver good. Not shaving, well, that made less likely he would get a date. Cirrhosis and one night stands were headaches he was happy to do without. The sun was starting to set. The air was still warm enough, but it was getting cooler. Heart thought about leaving but his body had other plans.

Heart scanned the horizon again. Still no boats or birds. There was a dark object bobbing in the water out past the breaker line. Heart hoped it might be a seal; he liked seals, liked to come out here and watch them swimming. Especially on foggy days when you couldn’t see the horizon. The mist distorted sounds, turned them back in on themselves and the barking of the seals was almost like the voice of his brother, back home on the other side of the bedroom wall.

Wish he was here to see it, thought Heart, he would like this. His eyes dropped down to the gun in his lap. He allowed for the possibility that he had bigger problems than a bad liver or ending the night alone. Fuck me. What do I do now?

There was a double whoomp as two breakers hit the beach, one after each other. Heart jumped a little. He felt the feral bass growl of the waves through the sand under him. Nature’s subwoofer with a boss beat and tricky to dance to. Heart hung his head, smiling as he heard Jim Morrison crooning “…with a backbeat narrow and hard to master…”.

Shouldn’t I be listening to ‘The End’? Seems more appropriate.

Heart rubbed his eyes hard to scrape the grit from the corners. His eyelids and fingertips tingled from the effort. His vision cleared a bit. Scanning the beach from one end to the other, it was still empty of people. There were what looked to him some gulls further to the south, hopping slowly down near a line of sea wrack. One of the gulls was tussling with the remains of a large fish. The gull lifted his head and let out a series of thin shrieks, a torture of rusty hinges. The sound stabbed heart behind his eyes like an ice needle. Grimacing, he closed his eyes and laid his right hand on the gun. The cool metal felt smooth-greasy under his fingers, like caressing a small and heavy viper. The rhythm of the waves lulled him into a half-sleep, the slow hiss of water over sand a voice whispering in his ears.

Boy, what are you doing?
Gramma, is that you?
Yes, and it’s been too long since you and I talked, kid.
I know, Gramma. I’ve been…busy. And stressed.
Heart, I know that. You forgot, hardhead, that I keep my eyes on you. (laughs)
Yeah, I suppose you do. Then you know how fucked up my life is now, don’t you?
Watch your mouth, damnit (laughs) I’m still your grandmother. (pause)

Heart grinned. He knew what that pause meant. Gramma was leaning back at the kitchen table, in that tattered housedress she always wore, and was lighting a cigarette. He could hear the click of the lighter, see the tip glow as she took a drag. Between them on the table lay the remains of the fried fish dinner they had just finished. Gramma had a glass of tea, half full. Beads of condensation oozed slowly down the sides. Heart had a glass in his hands, nearly full. The tea was cloudy with all the lemon juice he had squeezed into it, obscuring the ice cube. Grammas’ house was the only place in the world Heart used the little plastic lemon-shaped container to squirt lemon in his tea. Gramma always had one, it never seemed empty. She leans back in her chair and waves some smoke out of the way.

Boy, what do you think you are doing with that gun? Your Grandad would be pretty angry, you carrying that thing. All that sand and saltwater.

I don’t know why it ended up with me. When you died, most of the stuff was split up between mom and the others. This and that skillet you just cooked dinner in ended up with me.

Another pause. Firefly glow and the smell of burnt cornmeal. Gramma sighed.

So you lost your head. So you lost your job. So you can’t take the thought of going back to the way things were. Grammas’ eyes burning like the cigarette between her fingers. You aren’t planning on doing something stupid with that gun, are you?

The tone in her voice told Heart exactly what she was thinking: you pull that trigger for any reason, and you are guaranteed stupid for eternity. He suddenly felt hot with shame.

Gramma, I…don’t…know. I don’t even really remember exactly how I got here. When all that shit, sorry, I mean CRAP hit the fan I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like I was starving before, and I feel like I’m drowning now. I don’t have a job, I feel like the ass end of suck, what I want and what I need are two separate things. I feel so goddamned, sorry, lonely I feel like my heart could burst and no one would be there to hear the boom. I don’t know what to do.

Another pause as she dragged on the cigarette. Kiddo, you’ll be alright. I know you will, your head is as hard as mine. I made it out of the Depression, out of apple picking and coal mining and that filthy bar your great-grandaddy had. It was damned hard (she grinned) work, and I didn’t have half the brains and talent you have. Or you would have if you’d stop being so afraid of using them.

Gramma leaned forward and took his hands in her own. Heart felt the heat burning into his palms, the calluses on her fingers dull points pressing hard against his flesh. She was looking at him with those slightly sad eyes. The cigarette lay burning in the ashtray at her elbow.

Stop being so afraid, Heart. You’ll figure this out. But don’t you dare do something stupid. She let go of his hands and placed hers on the sides of his head, drew him close and kissed him on the forehead. Because if you do, the next time I see you I’ll lay a belt into your ass!

Another double whoomp startled Heart out of his daze. His hand was still on the gun, and a sliver of drool hung down his chin. He wiped his face hurriedly, glancing quickly from side to side to see if anyone had seen him. Far down the beach, he saw a pair of tiny figures walking slowly. He shivered and stood up to walk to the waterline.

The wind had picked up, blowing spray. The gun dangled loosely in his grip as he stood there contemplating the waves rolling up the sand and over his feet. He felt a calm sweep over him, brought on by the white edge of foam. The water had rushed way out as a huge breaker began to curl up to the shoreline. Heart and the ocean drew in their breaths, and the silence before the wave broke roared in his ears. The gun flashed in the dull sunlight, and Heart reckoned that he was caught between the water and the sand, trying desperately to figure out which way to go. The wave curled, a green fist poised overhead, and smashed hard onto the beach. The force of the blow knocked Heart backwards and he fell, choking on a mouthful of seawater and sand. The gun glittered in the sunlight as it flew out of his hand and into the sea.

The gulls looked on with waning interest, and turned their faces into the wind.


  1. I love your style. What a worthwhile 5 minutes reading that was! Thank you.

  2. I have nominated you for a Hoy Award. Please see my site www.fawty.com for all to be revealed.

  3. Very descriptive and heartfelt. I'm speechless.

  4. Irish

    A couple of posts ago on my blog, I mentioned how jealous I can be of other blogger's writing skills.

    Yeah. I was writing about you.

    Nice work.


  5. You really should try to get published.

  6. Irish,

    Tooling around the blogsphere, I always enjoy reading your comments on other posts. Thought I'd stop by and take a look.

    Simply beautiful.....Thank you.

  7. what a way to start my Sunday...getting totally sucked in reading a beautiful piece of writing. Vodka Mom sent me your way and I' m thrilled she did.

    Oh, I'll be back for sure...

  8. Alright I didn't want to cry...you know how hard it is to make me get even misty??...like my kid at a recital hard, but here I am this Sunday morning drinking my tea and crying....and it feels good. You are brilliant. And Morrison rocks! : )

  9. Gramma was right. You got talent! I loved it. Thank you!

  10. You've got me totally fired up to write fiction again.

  11. Niiiice.
    I love how the gun gets knocked out of his hand. Fantastic symbolism.

  12. That was haunting. I liked the feel of the pictures with the writing. And the shadow. Well done Irish.

  13. Well done yet again, Gumbo. You are using your time wisely.

  14. What we want and what we need... Babe, sometimes - in moments that are so very precious- the two come together and it's bliss. It will come.

    Now seriously, get out of my head.

  15. I totally pinched your beach suicide idea for a story, but that's as far as the thievery went. I owe you a pint.

    That design on my post was just for stickers, but shoot me an e-mail with your address and I'll send you some. It's in my profile.

  16. Captain: Thank you my good man.

    Lesley: You’re welcome, and thank you for dropping in!

    Belle: What? For me? Thank you, I stopped in to see, will be back!

    Beth: Thank you. Although I didn’t mean to make you speechless :)

    IB: Dude, but you’re prettier than I am! Seriously, thank you.

    Joanie: Yes ma’am!

    Lisa: Happy to oblige. Thank you!

    L-MWOB: All hail Vodka Mom! Thank you for coming over!

    Sarah: Sorry about that. Oddly enough, I thought of you when that Doors reference came up.

    Shabby girl: Oh, I hope so! She was pretty smart, I wish I had listened to her sooner. Thank you!

    Mister: Mission accomplished! And that’s okay, I trust you. Now, about that pint…

    Robin: I really didn’t know what was going to happen to it until I actually wrote that part. Glad you liked it!

    PSHST: Good, thank you. Looks a little like yours!

    OAM: Thank you, sensei . (bows)

    CG: Just like you, my dear :)
    Anndi: Fingers crossed. And do I have to leave? It’s so very interesting in there…

    DARWEN: I hope you were observing at a safe distance! Thank you for the comment.

    Katydidnot: *blush* Thank you!

  17. Once again, amazing. The condensation on the iced tea glass did me in, I felt like I was there watching everything unfold.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...