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Speculative Drama

Her tired eyes, one blue and one green, bore into mine with characteristic curiosity.


She is like a mirrored surface in the sun, so bright that I find it difficult to match her gaze. Still I try, but I find my mind addled with doubts, bogged down by dread. We haven’t discussed what’s next for us, except to agree that things must change, and soon.


Without a word I turn and walk away, out of the dim bedroom and into the hall. I flip the switch by the door reflexively, leaving her in the dark, as I so often do.


I don’t know where I’m going, or why I’m going there.


The end of the moonlit hall comes quickly. I stop before the arched window and open it just a few inches, feeling the soothing breeze brush against my skin. The simple pleasures of a summer night allow me a fleeting moment of peace, of stillness.


The moon is an almighty force, powerful enough to move oceans. 


I count myself lucky that it leaves me alone.


There is an orchid in a vase on the windowsill, an arc of white flowers and green buds. It looks lonely, plucked from its home, disconnected from its kind. I drag it out of the water and lay it down on the sill, so that it can commence the slow, inevitable process of wilting. I figure, may as well get it over with.


The spare room is a box full of boxes. I kneel beside the one which I have been avoiding. It’s full of my grandfather’s keepsakes; though, seeing as he is gone, they don’t really belong to anybody but me. He left newspaper clippings, and leatherbound journals, and a stack of Polaroid photographs. Any ink-fixed thing which proves he ever existed can be found in this box.


I reach into the stack of photos at random and retrieve a single slide. It’s Grandpa Arthur and Grandma Eve on their wedding day. They stand in manicured grass in front of the Bruce courthouse, which I instantly recognize, as the building hasn’t changed since the day the mayor cut the ribbon. Grandma and Grandpa are kissing, which I must admit is not something I am especially comfortable looking at. I only ever knew them when they were wrinkled and gray and stiff. The people in this photograph... seem rather more like me.


I flip the slide over and find something written there, but cannot for the life of me make sense of it.


My thoughts swim through the story Grandpa started telling me before he went. His own.


I feel like it ought to begin at the very end—like it somehow makes more sense that way.


~~*


A small crowd gathers, their arms folded, their brows knit with concern. Yellow police tape pops in the overcast evening, fencing in a section of the rocky shore on Lake Thomas. Blue and red cruiser lights flash from the parking lot up the hill.


“That’s more than bad luck, that,” someone says.


“Sped away from the dock without unmooring. I tried to tell him, didn’t I? Anchor rose up bit by bit, until the tension on the line was like a drawn slingshot. Finally it just leapt out of the water and flew right for him. Freak accident, I suppose. Bad luck.”


“What happened?”


A pair of officers in long fishing boots push Arthur’s liver-spotted body into the bloodied shallows of Lake Thomas. Blood coalesces around him, seeping into his body through the enormous gash in his back. The gentle tide carries him away from shore slowly, almost imperceptibly.


The crowd gradually wanders away, losing interest. The officers roll up their tape and stalk off in the direction of the parking lot. Their cruisers disappear into the wooded hills, leaving a trail of blue and red lights and fading sirens. 


Only one man remains, an older man. He sits dripping wet in the sand, watching Arthur drift away for a while before the screams and convulsions begin.


~~*


Thud, pluck, splash.


Arthur and his older brother Marty are out on the lake, going faster than they’ve ever gone.


They feel the wind rushing past their faces, and close their eyes against the cool mists spraying over the gunwale of Yesterday’s Whisper. Marty has control of the wheel, despite not understanding any of the various gauges and dials on the navigation dash. He is happy that his little brother still trusts him, despite everything they’ve been through.


“Thank you, Arthur,” Marty says.


“Just for a little while, okay?”


“Can I try?”


Arthur takes the wheel and guides the boat to shore, gradually slowing to a drift and finally halting alongside the dock. The brothers stand face to face, peacefully breathing each other’s air.


“Marty, I love you. It’s going to be okay,” Arthur says, grabbing Marty by the collar. “You always think something bad is going to happen, so just listen to what I’m telling you.”


“Arthur, I’m afeared. Something bad is gonna happen.”


Marty trembles and gasps for air, then crawls out of the boat onto the dock. Arthur follows suit, and the pair walk back up to the house in silence, arms interlocking.


~~*   


The cardiogram emits a long, solid tone, and the green line on the screen flattens for good.


“You’re welcome.”


“Thank you, Dr. Guse.”


“Yeah, well, I’m glad I could help, but I hope I don’t have to do many more of these.”


“Eve was in so much pain for so long. Now she’s resting easy in heaven. You’re doing a very kind thing for us.”


“That does sound lovely.”


“We spent yesterday with our son and his children. I think you’ve met them all by now. They’re all that ever mattered to us. Well, them and my brother. Anyway, our daughter-in-law brought sandwiches and lemonade, and we had a lovely time in the garden. Beautiful weather, so I suppose we were very lucky in that regard.”


“Arthur, forgive me for asking, but I’m curious. How did you say goodbye?”


Arthur draws slow, deep breaths.


Dr. Guse puts a needle in Eve’s arm. “As you wish.”


“Go ahead.”


Each beep of the cardiogram is a blow to Arthur’s heart. He nods solemnly to the doctor and exits the room, wandering listlessly. The narrow hall, which smells of chemicals, opens up into a room full of people who appear frozen in time, or at least reluctant to let time pass. This is the waiting room. Arthur reluctantly reclaims his usual seat.


A nurse calls his name twice. Once curtly, stirring him from his stupor, and once gently, lulling him into a dreamlike state.


~*~


Marty screams bloody murder as Arthur pushes him down the aisle of the church and seats him in the front row of pews. The other attendees cannot make up their mind as to whether it’s polite to look. Their heads swivel back and forth like weather vanes in a shifting wind.


Marty’s face is bright red, and he’s still screaming. Arthur makes his way up to the podium on the dais beside his mother’s casket and glances at his notes.


Marty sputters to a stop, and his face becomes pale. The crowd’s attention turns to Arthur, in whose eyes tears are forming.


“I hope that I can give my daughters a fraction of the life you gave me.”


“Only now that you are gone do we truly appreciate what we must go on without. I would call these days difficult, but you would plug your nose at the statement. You worked your ass off until your very last day, and still somehow managed to be a warm, wise single mom to Marty and Me. Difficult was a dirty word to you; still, we’re sorry. Even though you made it look easy, it had to have been hard, dealing with the two of us. We are so, so lucky to have come into this world under your guidance.”


“Mom, today is a chance for all of us to say thank you. God granted you only one life, but the way you lived it has touched so many others. Your legacy will ebb and flow through our family and community, ever lapping at our feet and reminding us what we are capable of, if only we remain good and true. I regret having to live another half of my life without you.”


Arthur inhales sharply and steps down from the podium, shaking the pastor’s hand.


“Speak from the heart,” Father John whispers. “Take your time.”


~*~


On Christmas Day of all days, Arthur learns of his mother’s sickness and decides that time is moving far too quickly. He yearns for quietude, but asking time to stop is like asking the moon to still the sea.


The years, bitter and sweet, blur by. Each home is smaller than the last. Arthur’s daughters shrink before his very eyes and disappear. Wedding rings slip from fingers and fall through the floor. Diplomas sink into the walls. Wrinkles smooth themselves out, and aches and pains subside.


Through all of this change, there are only two constants: Sweet, simple Marty, and lovely Eve.


~*~


All in all, Bruce High’s senior skip day has turned out pretty well.


Standing next to Eve in the shallows of Lake Thomas, looking into her eyes: that’s when Arthur realizes that the two of them are going to fall in love.


“Oh,” he says.


“Don’t worry. I’ll repay the debt at some point. I’ve been letting you cheat off of me in math since third grade, so I figure that sets us halfway square. ”


“Oh?”


“I didn’t say thank you.”


“Well you’re welcome.”


“Yeah, I’m okay.”


“Are you…?”


Cough, cough.


With Eve wrapped around half of his body, Arthur somehow manages to swim out to the middle of the lake. He lets her go, and she thrashes and chokes in the murky water, yelling for help. Watching with wide eyes, Arthur backstrokes to a small floating dock and presses himself up onto the grippy surface.


Meanwhile Eve crawls up into a boat, laughing with the other girls, and puts a bottle of beer to her lips.


A bunch of high school friends are out for a carefree day at the lake. What could go wrong?


*~~


At fourteen, Arthur treads water, looking up at his dopey older brother. 


Marty sits on the dock with his feet in the water, looking woozy. He holds his breath and shakes his head violently. Behavior his doctors would call a symptom.


“Please, let me help you,” Arthur says.


“No. No. No!”


“Why don’t you hop in with me? I’m a real good swimmer, I can teach you how.”


Marty grins a toothy grin, so sincere that his missing front tooth isn’t missed. He is proud of himself. But the grin turns into a grimace as he tucks his knees, pulling his bare feet out of the water and onto the dock. They’re dry and cracked from hours spent climbing trees.


“Come on, do it for me.”


“Liar.”


“I hear you. But Ma said you have to soak your toes soon, or they’re going to fall off.”


“Can’t we just sit here? I’m afeared of the water.”


*~~


It’s my fault, Arthur thinks. My fault, my fault.


Marty is ten years old when his skull ricochets off of a sharp piece of granite. His body curls and rises from the earth, hovering about as high as he is tall. A checker-patterned hammock, bunched up against one of the trees, reaches up under the boy and across the gap, reattaching itself to the other tree. 


Hanging and swinging on the mending end is five-year-old Arthur, who merely wants his brother’s attention.


*~~


Before Arthur has a name, or even a chance to open his eyes, he feels the warm, soft cradle of his mother’s arm and breast.


“Language, honey,” she says, joyous tears prickling the edges of her eyes. “God blessed us with another boy. Let’s not waste a second of our time together, okay?”


“And to think,” says Arthur’s father. “That doctor said you were all dried up.”


The light is harsh in the unnamed boy’s eyes, even when filtered by lids he doesn’t know how to open. His terrified screams echo in the tiny bathroom until his mother pushes him under the water, where his wails are muffled. Soon he is unborn, returned to the comfortable darkness.


*~~

~*~

~~*


At some point, the tide must turn.


My grandfather, Arthur, was never supposed to exist. He came into the world underwater and somehow learned to swim. He lived, loving the people he loved and letting them know. He left behind children, including the woman that gave me life. He was already old and sick when I met him, but through it all, his eyes carried a joyful glint. The more I think about him and all that he struggled with, the more remarkable the man seems.


Forwards, backwards. It will never make much sense that I had to lose him. That I'm going to have to lose everybody.


I focus on the photo again, the one of him and Grandma Eve on their wedding day in front of the Bruce courthouse. They look about the same age Grace and I are now. I wonder, how did they stick together through it all?


My question is answered when I flip the photo over. I cannot explain the change, but this time, the handwriting on the back is perfectly legible to me. It bears three simple words.


Take the leap.


I shove the photo back in its stack, rise, and walk back out into the hallway. Standing before the arched window, feeling the breeze, I ache for the orchid on the sill. Its natural end will come someday soon, I know. But in the meantime, it deserves to live, because life can be so beautiful. I pick it up and set it back in its vase. I hope that its moment of stillness, its brush with the end, has given it some perspective on the haunting, brilliant, perpetual motion of existence.


Finally, I shut the window and march to the master bedroom.


I know where I’m going, and I know why I’m going there.


I come out of the dark hall and into the bedroom, reflexively turning on the light. Grace rubs her tired eyes and swings her legs over the edge of the mattress.


She is like a mirrored surface in the sun, so bright that I find it difficult to match her gaze. Still I try, but I find my mind addled with doubts, bogged down by dread. We haven’t discussed what’s next for us, except to agree that things must change, and soon.


Her glimmering eyes, one blue and one green, bore into mine with characteristic curiosity. She doesn’t seem happy about the lights being on. We’re both having a hard time sleeping.


“Of course,” she groans. “Really?”


“Sunshine...” 


“Yes?”


“Will you marry me?”


“Yes!”


Our lips meet. It feels like they’ll never part until she suddenly pulls back and asks me, “? Really?”


“Of course."


***

July 21, 2021 03:18

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10 comments

Donavan Barrier
21:43 Jul 28, 2021

Wow! What a great walkthrough through a life. This is brilliant

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Rachel Smith
18:30 Jul 23, 2021

Wow, this was amazing. Loved the structure, very clever. It also gave the whole piece a cyclical feel, like the circle of life I suppose. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. True. A winner of a story.

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Blue Green
16:55 Jul 23, 2021

Wow, this must have been challenging to write - it was certainly challenging to read :-) Great idea, and when I sussed what was happening, it was okay to follow. You've treated the passing back in time in two different ways - the easy way was the simple order reversal of the sentences and paragraphs, and the second way was describing time going backwards, like the hammock and the birth. This latter method meant you couldn't just read the story in the correct order by scrolling upwards (I tried that afterwards), but you also had to reverse th...

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Jon Casper
10:22 Jul 22, 2021

Wow. Challenging read until I figured out the structure. And then - powerful effect. The cues in the separators to indicate the direction of time -- then at the end coming back to the present. Subtle but clever: *~~ ~*~ ~~* Almost like a puzzle within a story. The repetition of the first paragraphs in reverse at the end -- he's seeing things from a different perspective now. Coming out of the dark hall into the sun.

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H L Mc Quaid
15:05 Jul 21, 2021

I feel like the tide is taking me out, then casting me back, then dragging me from shore again. The writing is excellent. But I'm not sure if I'm reading it the way you intended? It's not exactly backwards...seems like the last sentence in each segment slipped through a time warp and left me wondering whether I'd misread the previous paragraphs...like a bout of temporal motion sickness, but not in an unpleasant way, just a woozy, 'where am I?' way. Also it's very hot and humid here, and my brain is melting. :)

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A.G. Scott
19:20 Jul 21, 2021

Everything from the beginning to Arthur's unbirth is backwards. The character is basically watching bits of Arthur's life on rewind, trying to make sense of it as if it's moving forward. Did I mess up somewhere?

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H L Mc Quaid
19:29 Jul 21, 2021

I was confused by the section with the police. First they were there, they then left, then they were there (as I read it anyway). Is that when his unbirth is?

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A.G. Scott
20:01 Jul 21, 2021

Nope, we start with them there and see them arrive (unarrive? Arriven't?) Exact chronology of that scene (in the forward sense) would be Marty screaming, the cops arriving and setting up tape, pulling the body out, and the crowd gathering. the 'unbirth' is at the end, in the bathtub I feel like it should be fairly obvious which sections (except maybe the first half of the frame) are backwards, especially looking at the dialogue. I'll give another pass soon though

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A.G. Scott
03:20 Jul 21, 2021

Well, it's official. I've completely fucking lost it. WAY out there, even for me. Fun, deceptively taxing experiment partly inspired by my maternal grandparents (who just celebrated their 50th anniversary <3) Will be back through (wink wink nudge) it to clean up, let me know what you think!

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A.G. Scott
13:26 Jul 28, 2021

Dude noooo that last bit is supposed to say "Sunshine? Really?" Ugh. I didn't make the conversation the same forwards and backwards to have it messed up like this.

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