15 November 2009

Breathing Mars, Chewing Neptune

The beer slid down his throat, and Colin Hattrick wondered which might be worse: the dry vacuum of space or the liquid pressure of the ocean floor. Explosion or implosion. Both could be pretty nasty ways to die, he thought, but how much worse could it be than the searing cold radiating from inside the beach cottage behind his back?

Not much, he allowed, raising the bottle up to the moonlight, because either way he could die in silence. The silver of the moon cast a deep sepia stain across a face blurred by the neap tide of beer inside the glass. His arm grew suddenly leaden and he slowly lowered the bottle down to the splintery deck railing. Below him on the sand, a gust of wind sparked a conversation amongst the beach grass as the parched stalk nodded back and forth.

Colin looked out over the pale waters off the cape. The nighttime sea flickered in argentine semaphores under the influence of a gravid moon. Its fullness had brought Colin outside with his telescope, which now had pride of place on the rusting shrub that was the patio table. The table had been in the cottage from the first day they had come for vacation, so many years ago. Colin smiled to remember what his then new bride had said when they found it sinking into the sand underneath the raised belly of the house. She had wanted to throw it away. He had taken pity on it, even going so far as to buy some naval jelly and Rustoleum at the little general store in town. She thought him a bit odd for wanting to spend vacation time on what was essentially a housekeeping chore.

What? A little rust removal, some fresh paint…” he remembered saying, “…good as new!

She rolled her eyes and went in search of an umbrella and a sand bucket.

The table in his mind was akin to a friendly stray dog hanging around at the edges and wanting for a kind soul to take it home. He cleaned it up, tightened some bolts and painted it gleaming white. It looked a newly launched ship, and he put it on the deck the next day. A new citronella candle and the coronation was complete. Over the years, the edges of the table began to blur under the accretion of paint, white, always white. Colin felt a kinship with that table, realizing his own edges, his own outlines had begun to soften and fade with time. He knew it with certainty. He no longer could tell where his feelings ended and his body began. Numbness had set in, the side effects of a love gone cold.

Another swallow of beer. Tilting his head back brought his watery eyes into focus on the stars overhead. The outline of the telescope was a black cutout against the backdrop of the moon, and his thoughts turned again to the cold. What’s it going to be, boy? That voice in his head again. Launch yourself into the velvet blackness up there or dive into the black brine out past the strand?

Red Mars winked at him from the left of the moon, taunting him with its implied warmth. The waves along the beach chuckled in inky curls laced with silver thread, and for a moment he thought he saw a huge, bearded face grinning at him. Colin shook his head hard, rubbing at his eyes. The face was no longer there, Mars was an innocent red dot, and of the waves there was only a hiss of liquid over sand. He leaned forward in his chair, suddenly desiring to search the sky for an answer, an omen, a hint of warmth to melt the shell slowly crystallizing around his heart. The eyepiece of the telescope felt cool and slightly oily on his fingertips.

As he focused the lens, the back door of the cottage squeaked open, the metallic twangy voice of unoiled hinges announcing a visitor. Colin felt no obligation to turn, judging from the precipitous drop in temperature that it was the stranger he had once known as a friend and lover.

You coming in anytime soon?” she asked in a voice cool and shiny like an axe. His heart contracted into a ball of ice, blood rushing outwards and draining into the sea.

Maybe…I don’t know…Yes, once I’m done…” his voice leaden to his ears, “…once I have found what I am looking for.”

He felt her disapproval and annoyance boring into his back. Still, he stifled the urge to get up and go inside, pretending to look through the telescope all the while. Eventually, the hinges croaked again as she lightly slammed the door as she went inside. The light coming through the door blinked out abruptly, leaving Colin bathed only in the light of the moon. He sighed and wiped away a tear.

There was a tinkling, a sound of shattered glass or ice, he thought he heard, and wondered if it was his heart.


  1. That first paragraph is brilliant - really snaps up the reader. As soon as I read it I thought "that is absolutely the kind of thing that men think about, right up there with how flies stick upside-down on the ceiling."

    You are writing a novel? So that I may read it?

  2. You might say myth but it seems like realistic fiction... :-)

  3. You write so well!
    Is there a next chapter?
    Hope so.

  4. Where are you submitting? (You need to be in Twitterville tweeting this.) :)

  5. a nice read for a sunday morning (ok, after noon)

  6. This is fantastic. I am hoping this is a continuing piece because I would love to read more!

  7. My man, this piece awakened faces, places, and traces other paths...you rock as a writer...

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  9. Excellent, as usual. If not your best, damn close. Of course, my first marriage flashed through my mind as I read it even though we didn't have a regular vacation place. It was that way each place we lived.

  10. My dear Irish, this post is brilliant!! Loved the way you spun it, man! You deserve a little New Orleans Creole Shrimp Gumbo! Kudos!

  11. I just noticed your pic was in your banner, you big STAR :)))

  12. I like the setting, the ambience and the tone, but the writing's hampered by too many 'creative writing class'-style metaphors. One or two are okay, but it feels like the story that must be somewhere at the heart of this piece is being held back because, stylistically, it's trying too hard. For example, the first para's great until we get to "searing cold radiating", which is overdone and doesn't quite make sense. Radiation is something that you'd associate with warmth, I think.

  13. I'm wondering what it must be like to live in your head...
    How wonderful to have the creativity, and the vocabulary, to put such a voice to feelings.
    Awesome, Irish!


"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...