Settling down for my morning cup of tea, looking out from the window, I see the shoreline, see the birds spiraling, darting, squabbling, and the waves coming ashore, shallow, and shouldered with linen. I might turn away, pay attention to the kettle’s whistle, were it not for the child. I watch him dance, jump, unable to take my eyes off his joy. I feel a strong urge to go join him, this child dancing alone, enjoying my beach. The steaming kettle continues to demand attention, but I resist, transfixed by this boy who dances at the edge of the ocean, running wildly along its ragged waves. I remember how much I loved the sea when so young, its aloneness, wildness, hugeness, its mystery, and how I told myself I’d never leave its shores.
Think earlier, what about earlier? Think…God…think…born…living, people going away, a child, unnamed, running across the shore, being picked up by the tides and weather; weather so sweet it turns me sad because I know it won’t always stay. Think. Living, lives, a mother, a father, a tinker’s caravan set up camp, and this boy who comes running by the tide alone, perhaps in need of company, or strangers. Hair blown wild, blue of eye, needing a holocaust of attention. He might have been born on this very day, he looks so new and fresh, dancing and laughing to the sounds of the mandolin, a boy, a beach and the universe and the rarest wind I ever heard. I quiet the kettle, pull on my oldest and most loved sweater, the one with holes in the elbow, mended, and holed again.
I walk toward the boy and the first thing he says to me is laughter. He’s glad to be alive and announces this by the very sounds he makes. I laugh in turn, for his spirit is catching. He shoves at me his salty-wet, sandy, hand. I hesitate. He gestures impatiently to take hold of it. ‘Com’on, there isn’t much time.’ Such a boy, I think, I would have liked as a son.
We are running hand-in-hand, headlong to where? When he finally stops my heart is beating up the inside of my chest. I gasp my question. ‘Why is there so little time?’ He doesn’t answer, just runs off hell for leather along the shore. When I catch him we tumble into the sand, boy and man, playing. I pin him down. He gasps, and as he does so I jolt backward, as if my wet hands had been plunged into an electrical socket. The boy is me!
‘What do they call you, boy?’ I ask, still out of breath and wild.
‘Kelly, sir, Kelly Shaw.’
‘Okay, Kelly Shaw, let’s do a bit of walking. I’m an old man, my legs won’t carry me so far with you.’
I cannot tell him he is me all those years ago, or that I am him all these years later. Am I being shown my life, or is this boy playing with his destiny?
We walk the shore, and that’s all there is: the simplest thing of us upon that shore and the building of castles or climbing the sand dunes to fight our wars amongst the soft mounds, but mostly it is walking, our arms about each other as if we’ll never be cut free by knife or lightning. I sleep beside him and we talk and laugh till the new dawn. As I lay at his side, I wonder if this is in fact his choice; that he is wanting to know his destiny, the kind of man he will become.
Does he know, and has known since that first moment, we are in fact not strangers? He knows very well who I am: his spirit grown older, and how well he is dealing with it. A boy meeting his destiny and playing with it as though his best friend. Has he brought me to him knowing I’m dying? God, I bathe in his laughter as he bathes in mine, and this laughter and friendship and acceptance slaughters the agony of it all.
All day the weather is blue and gold, no clouds, no rain, and a breeze that smells of apples; a boy’s wild breath. Toward evening he sleeps, the sound of the sea in his ears. I wondered how long the flesh might resist its death. Will he like the man he’s grown into? A lifetime later he’ll be standing on this shore looking at himself. Will he love the boy, respect the man he is to become? I’ll never ask him, scared of his honesty.
Who will he tell…who can he tell…of this day on a beach shared with his destiny? A boy and a man together, the same heart, the same dreams, together on the shore, walking tangled in each others arms and lives. I know the women he will love, the woman he is walking toward, the woman he will die in front of, the things he will tell her, the things he never did, the anger, the love, the complications, the lies, the laughter. The promises, there’s the rub, the promises in our lives, these are the things, for if I can change one thing for him it will be to make each of them come true. That his life with her is as perfect as the letter ‘O’ and that they’ll live forever and never die and be good friends.
Why had I dared to say such a thing when life is sometimes agonized, mad, and crazy wild? Is it the parts left unsaid that make a life so short? Am I being given the magic seven days? Am I drunk? Am I dead? No, I must live and the boy must grow old. I feel foolish. I want to change his destiny. But I’m dying for him, a cruel trick, to be his friend and not have made it better for him; to have loved the people he will love and not been true, ride the machines he will ride, see the things he will see, and when the time is right kill him. I will take him, grudgingly, to that never returning time, through a life of detours; taken just for the hell of it, which is the best reason in the world to do anything when you’re young, and for what, to bring him here, to this point, this shore, to die having lived for what? For love?
And yet he sleeps. Is this it? He’s just a boy on a beach, living the golden peace of innocence. Can’t I make his death more reasonable? Should I end his before other lives, deaths, carve his heart open with their presence and then with their absence? I look at the boy sleeping; his dreams becoming real in his head. Am I supposed to tell him how to handle a life of new starts, every beginning coming to an end? Is ‘hello’ the first word, or just a word we use before ‘goodbye’?
Secrets he’ll never be able to let go, even long after midnight, because the sea will not let him; because the boy will be here forever and the man hardly at all. It is good to think of this boy stomping the sand like a raging bull, the taste of salt on his lips, yelling out of sheer joy, and daring the universe to put him down. It is everything to think of a world where a boy can love this hard. I know what the boy is dreaming, I want to tell him his life will go on just as far as the ocean goes, which is very far. But it won’t. One day ahead this boy will be stood at the grave of his loved ones, needing just a little human talk, weeping. The heartache of a man who has not been told he is going to die; just doing it, slamming out his life regardless of consequences, and this boy will be stood there, grown older, muttering his own home made prayer.
They say that everything is better in the morning, tell that to a woman fresh out of love, or a father standing at the grave of a son.
He’s just a boy, how can I tell him that my stories will become his stories; and that the love of which I speak is the very love he will suffer, know its beauty, its madness, its loss. Look at him, with his youth, and my life almost over. He will have need to write, to meet himself here on the page. He will think himself clumsy, inarticulate with the spoken word, but when his keyboard starts to dance his world comes alive, it is the place he will want to be, for he never learns that real pleasure is in ‘the art of being lost’.
I hear her calling, this woman he will love, not his first, but he will no longer be alone. He will have the company of a lifetime. After years of waking up in a cold sweat, he will once again be at home on a shoreline writing his love to the world.