31 December 2016

Broken Compass

Sunrise on the headland and on the last day of the year. The storm of the last few days had broken up, rosy beams of light chasing off a few straggling clouds. Breakfast and a wee dram had not quite chased off the clouds in my head. The comfort I had drawn from my overnight scribblings had evaporated when the first rays spilled through the windows to illuminate the evidence left behind, in the the form of the salt-stained, slightly ragged notebook atop the desk under the sill. The words pulsate as I sit contemplating what I had done.
There comes a time in a man's life where it finally penetrates his skull that he has to straighten up and fly right. For Evan Whittaker, now was not that time. Not yet.
The cold had barely time to seep through Evan's coat before the snow began its slow descent into the corn stubble in which he lay. A sparse 'V' of geese, late in their travels, parsed the icy air overhead. Evan breathed out watching the birds waver and shimmer in the plume of mist. Fat flakes, pale and gravid, dotted the sky. He blinked, a torpid lizard gaze blotted by tiny crystal knives. Nearly numb cheeks registered their stings as the flakes landed upon his face. 
Evan's eyes twitched and tracked a thousand frozen messengers bearing voices on the wind. Hand in coat pocket, he clutched the bottle tighter, whispering to the snow. 
"Which ones are you, darlings? Which ones are you?" 
Being in the center of things, center of the "goddamn greatest country in the world!" as Uncle Leo used to say after a few shots of rye, had done little for Evan. He had struggled with what to make of it for so long the conflict seemed an extension of his body. The discomfort of such a tight skin had led him to seek solace in the spirit world, but it wasn't ghosts that made it numb. 
He needed to put some daylight between his belly and the bottle. He needed to sleep for a century. Drowsiness fueled by liquor was kicking in. Turning his head to get more comfortable, he did not notice when the barrel of the shotgun he had carried began to freeze to his cheek. 
Sitting back and staring at the ocean does not bring its usual clarity. The waves were calming down, but evidence of yesterday's turmoil was still there in the sporadic violence of the breakers on the strand. I could divine no prophecy in the spray, nothing in the light upon the curls, that illuminated wisdom into what I had written. Such melancholic thoughts put me in mind of a carving I had found weeks ago, washed up after a night of heavy surf.

The carving resembled to my eyes a person, man or woman I could not discern. The figure was worn down but enough detail remained to see eyes, a nubbin of nose, and a mouth. Its hands were holding its its cheeks. The mouth, gaping and distorted, could have been open in a scream or shout. The bulging eyes seemed to reinforce the idea of great stress or terror.

The day of discovery I sat on the beach and studied the figure for what seemed hours. I wondered whose hands had carved it. I wondered what they felt, and how intense it must have been to move them to create this amulet or token. They must have felt something, that much was clear from the expression on the face carved into the stone. What they felt was not so clear. Hope or despair? Heartbreak or love? Happiness or anguish? There was no true telling. 

My eyes chased the gulls skimming over the waves. The fire on the hearth burned down slow. On this last day of the year I ponder the words before me to wonder if I can ever truly know what drives me to put them on the page. There is no easy answer, only time.


  1. ...never an easy answer...may time be on your side, Mr 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...