Ten Seconds Before María

Submitted into Contest #74 in response to: Write a story that takes place across ten seconds.... view prompt

23 comments

Sad Fiction Romance

“It is mistakenly said that human beings possess only a restricted amount of emotions. It is what we are taught from a young age, and without realizing it, we tend to limit ourselves to feel only what we have been shown is possible. Not many are blessed enough to discover all that life has to offer. ”

These were the words of an old man, a taxi driver I had met in one of my travels to Costa Rica. He had an intriguing voice, filled with an accent whenever he spoke in a sort of broken English. One that made me feel guilty for being too stubborn to learn Spanish before. It was a long car drive, and my mind was fuzzy with nostalgic memories from the past. I was sure he could tell, from my lack of reciprocity every time he made an effort to spark a conversation. 

I watched from the passenger seat as the vast tropical forest consumed the sides of the road when we deepened into the eastern coast of the country, and the smell of humidity and salt tickled my nostrils. The driver seemed eager to know my name and my story, so I reluctantly told him what I had told people before. The love, the adventure, the magic, the loss: the woman. Strangely he appeared to understand better than anyone. The man seemed like he had lived a good life, even though he had probably spent many hours of it on the front seat of a taxi car, meeting every kind of ignorant foreigner, such as myself, and taking them to crowded, touristic places that meant nothing to those who really knew the ways of the town. 


His particular memory flooded my mind then, ten seconds before sunrise. Ten seconds before the foamy water of the Caribbean hit my bare feet. I had waited for years, just to feel the timeless spray wash my soul for a few seconds, before the waves softly pulled back into the infinite mystery of the ocean. Yet somehow, the moment was crossed by the memory of the taxi driver and his words that had made a way into my life. Concentrate, I told myself.

I focused on my breathing instead, and started to count down from ten when I spotted a wave form in the short distance, as a result of the friction between the salty wind and the clear, greenish water. 

Ten.

I looked up. The sky was a different kind of blue. A darker, deeper blue. The moon still hid somewhere between the palm trees, and a couple of white birds playfully flew into the water and created a little splash. I was under that same sky the day I met her for the first time. María was her name. She was twenty-two at the time, and I was only two years older. Our love had started under those palm trees, with our feet buried in the sun-colored sand. I let my eyes close rapidly in a flash. My heart weighed me down like an anchor. Reminiscing about her beautiful, curly, black hair and her brown eyes, that seemed to be the result of the mixing of every color in the universe, while standing on the spot where fate had made us stumble upon each other for the first time, made me drift away slowly. 

Nine. 

The Sun was starting to peek on the verge of the horizon. It’s marvellous golden light flooded the clouds and blinded my weak eyes. María had told me a story once, a folk story, about the Sun and a girl who prayed to it every sunrise. She was the daughter of the tribe’s chief but had fallen in love with an enemy warrior who had no gold, no pearls, no fortune. The tribe’s priest had found out about her affair and told her father, who was displeased with his daughter’s actions. She then turned to the Sun, and cried and prayed for ten days and ten nights, until the glowing God took pity in her and turned her soul into the most alluring cotton cloud in the sky. The warrior though, never found her again and died of solitude. He was buried in a green prairie, where he would lie in peace. Or so his people thought. A few days after his burial, a mountain started to emerge from the ground of the prairie and turned into a mighty and frightful volcano that grumbled once in a while. From that day on, every time the Sun rose on the East, you could see the delicate white cloud wrapping the body of the volcano, longing to never be separated again. I wonder if María was a cloud now too, she often felt unreachable like one.

Eight.

The tubular wave at the distance had already risen briskly and started to crash on the right side. It folded gradually, forming a thick foam that garnished the turquoise of the ocean with the white of the heavens. Before María, I was used to running away from the fizz of the waves. She taught me how to be unafraid of the untamable ocean. Still, while standing on the damp, cracked sand, my heart started to beat faster as the wave approached. Gave me the kind of shivers that I knew would always be part of me. The same feeling rushed me the first time I saw her dance in a bar near the old port. They were playing Calypso, and the loud, rhythmical drums made my inside adjust to the overwhelming beat. She stood in the middle, her pale green skirt flowing more graciously than any oceanic wave ever could. Every presence in the room could tell she was one with her body, mind and soul. And of course, the vivacious wilderness in the music she danced to made me float astray again. We had many nights like that. 

Seven.

Near the shore there was a sloped palm tree, different from the rest. Its elongated body seemed fragile and its leaves concealed the perfectly round coconuts that had refreshed me every excruciatingly hot summer day. From the tree hung a swing. Its seat was made of deteriorating wood and the ropes that held it were splintery and harsh on the skin. The view, however, was marvellous. I remembered how the swing gifted me the sight of María tanning on top of a purple towel, or the children chasing the waves that destroyed their barely finished sand castles. 

Six.

The wind made a shushing sound that startled me. I observed as a few brown, dead leaves peacefully rolled along with dry grains of sand. The day we got married, the wind seemed to be stronger than ever, causing her flowery yellow dress to lift up quickly. It made her angry and stressed, which was not a surprise to me. I knew her strong character and her determination to make our wedding day unforgettable. As for me, I was never much of a perfectionist during my youth. Small details never were too important in my eyes. María was different. She was the kind of person that would focus on the craters of the moon, rather than admiring its magical, silvery light. 

I felt my heart beating faster on a never ending loop as the wave approached, just like when I saw her walk down the aisle that day. Just like when carefully grabbed her hand and placed a silver ring on her finger. 

Five, four. 

I started counting faster. The tide was high and the water accelerated towards the shore. I turned my head to the far south. The curvy island was still there, right where I had left it the last time I was able to set foot on that beach without my eyes tearing up instantly and my heart crashing down. I remembered she showed me how the island projected the shape of a woman sleeping on her side. I thought it looked somehow like María; serene, ethereal, grounded. Our daughter Isabel, well, she differed with both of our views on the unusual figure of the island. When she was around eight years old, Isabel announced in her high-pitched voice that the island had the shape of a Baula turtle laying on its stomach, like the ones we had seen hatching from their minuscule, spotted eggs that past October. María looked south at the peculiar isle, squinted her almond eyes, and instantly agreed. 

Three, two.  

The wave started getting closer, the foam melting as it hit the rocks near the shore. I lost the pace of my count and my eyes started to water. All I could think of was the day she died. María died on that beach. In the waters of the Caribbean Sea, specifically. I started to back away, trying to avoid the water that would hit my feet in a second. Scared of the salt water that would sting my wounds. I regretted my decision. Maybe I should have just left the memories in the photographs, maybe I shouldn't have gone there. Maybe everyone else was wrong, I was certainly not feeling any kind of closure. Just panic and flashbacks that came unexpectedly as if they had a wicked mind of their own. The day we lost María the sun was shining, the sky was full of beautiful clouds. Her nails were painted a pearly blue, and captivated against her dark skin. I had set our towels underneath the palm tree with the swing, so Isabel could nap with the light, tropical breeze cuddling her to sleep. Our daughter had just turned eleven. 

It was around four in the afternoon when it happened. It was a blur. One moment she was there, her eyes sparkling with life, then she was taken by the sea. The paramedics did not arrive until fifteen minutes after. Apparently a pregnant woman saw me screaming for help, while Isabel was holding tight to my arm with her eyes wide open, and called an ambulance. They said the high tide hit her head against a rock. They said they were sorry. 

One. 

The wave finally hit me, and went up to my ankles. I collapsed to the ground as the water covered me up to my chest. It felt like an ending, the sun was up and the water had hit the shore. 

I thought of the words of the taxi driver. My wife had shown me everything I did not know was already inside me. She made me float away with her every time she hugged me from behind. She made me feel like the savage waves of the ocean when she danced with me. She could see the beauty in a changing world and taught me about family, about gratefulness and the everlasting beauty in the mundane.

She showed me what life had to offer, like the old man said. I wondered if he had ever been in love.


January 02, 2021 01:14

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23 comments

Wow. That's all I have to say. This is such a beautiful 10-second-story Lucia, I enjoyed it very much. I really enjoyed your creativity for describing a little backstory about where they were going (Costa Rica) and where exactly they were (which was the taxi, yes?). Then you started doing the 10 second counting which I thought was very unique because most stories (including mine) just started off with counting like (10: .....), so you did a great job doing that! Something else I really enjoyed in your story is the way you have described y...

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Lucía M
00:31 Jan 03, 2021

I'm so glad you liked it! Thank you for taking the time to read, it means a lot. I look forward to reading more of your work :)

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Thank you so much! :)

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Jay Heltzer
13:26 Jan 07, 2021

Wonderful job. I’m enamored with your descriptive talents. I wasn’t sure how you would incorporate the countdown with the premise you established, but in no time, it worked like a charm. Its a lovely story, that turns gut-wrenching and you tell it very well. Only small thing that jumped out at me was an instance of word repetition. (Its a quirk of mine). In Ten, you make three “time” statements (for the first time 2x, and at the time). There are certain words, or their usage that will ring in the readers ear and draw attention away from th...

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Lucía M
23:49 Jan 07, 2021

Thank you so much for taking your time to read! I've definitely struggled in the past with word repetition, thanks for bringing it up. Next time I'll try to read it out loud! I'm glad you enjoyed my story, and again, thank you for your kind comments.

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05:32 Jan 06, 2021

You obviously write beautiful descriptions. The fact that you could pull this much out of just ten seconds is admirable. For some reason starting with the cab driver kind of threw my focus off. I was really captivated when you described Maria's death. Perhaps that could come earlier in the story? I'm kind of impatient and all the description made the story lag a bit for me. But nice work on a difficult prompt! I didn't dare attempt it!

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Lucía M
23:45 Jan 07, 2021

Thank you so much for reading!

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Gip Roberts
21:40 Jan 03, 2021

What a sweet and sad story, all in one. Each second that he remembers Maria was beautifully done. I've never been to Costa Rica, but I feel like I've been there now, thanks to this story.

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Lucía M
23:57 Jan 03, 2021

This makes me so happy! Thank you for taking the time to read it. I really look forward to reading more of your stories.

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A.G. Scott
19:20 Jan 03, 2021

Hello! What I Liked: You use really engaging descriptions, especially regarding nature. The plot itself is just fine, but the way you tell it matters more. Mar...ia is a good name for someone whose fate is tied to the sea. :) What I Think Could Be Improved: If there's anything iffy about this story, I'd say it's the cab driver. I am imagining him as a wise old common man, so I think that first chunk of dialogue is a little bit too formal (especially because you describe his english as broken). In its place, I would go for something a littl...

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Lucía M
23:51 Jan 03, 2021

Thank you so much for this comment. I am just beginning this journey, and there are probably a lot of aspects in which I could use some improvement, so I truly appreciate this kind of constructive criticism. About the cab driver, you are completely right. I certainly didn't think about that when I was writing the story. I am not a native English speaker, so I often have trouble writing a more folksy or colloquial type of dialogue when I am intending for a character to appear wise, because I usually rely on a more formal language to do so. I...

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A.G. Scott
00:28 Jan 04, 2021

I'll explain a little more. Things like, "it is said" and "human beings possess" sound a little bit distant and academic in my opinion, like you've taken your thesis statement for the story and put it in quotes at the beginning. The character is a human being, not someone on the outside looking in. In my experience, the people I think of as wise answer questions with examples and personal stories that illustrate their point in a roundabout way that ends up being more convincing than a direct statement of what they think. For example, maybe t...

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Lucía M
00:53 Jan 04, 2021

That is great advice. I had imagined the cab driver as some kind of magical being, a wise old man that stumbled upon the narrator purely because of fate. I think that is why I made his dialogue that specific way, because in my head he is not exactly a human being, but a kind of force that impacts the life of the narrator. But of course, I did not explain any of this in the story so I understand the language I used is anti-climactic. Next time, I will try my best to put your advice in action, I hope you stay to see the improvements :)

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Rose Pearson
19:09 Jan 03, 2021

Your story was so beautiful. The flow, the imagery, the description. I loved all of it! Keep up the great work!

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Lucía M
23:40 Jan 03, 2021

Thank you so much for taking the time to read, I really appreciate it!

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Andrew Krey
01:18 Jan 03, 2021

Hi Lucia, I enjoyed your story. I liked the countdown, I contemplated it for my story, but decided to go another way with structuring my story. I really liked the way the memory was triggered by something (i.e. the waves) then as the story progressed we understand the significance of the waves/ocean. Well done. As far as edits, I'm not sure if your story has been approved yet, but if not, the below sentence can be reworked, I assume it just needs to be changed to 'an ending'. "It felt like and ending, the sun was up and the water had hit ...

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Lucía M
01:37 Jan 03, 2021

That's exactly was I was going for, the idea that the elements around the narrator trigger memories about his life with Maria. And yes, you are totally right, it was supposed to be "an" instead of "and". I believed I fixed it but I'm still trying to find my way around this platform. Thank you so much for taking your time to read my work, I look forward to discovering more exciting stories in your amazing universe!

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Andrew Krey
02:01 Jan 03, 2021

Perfect, it's great when the extra layers you add to a story work out, a s are noticed :) You're welcome, happy writing!

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00:08 Jan 03, 2021

A story of the memory, very nice indeed.

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Lucía M
00:31 Jan 03, 2021

Thank you so much!

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Chris Buono
19:34 Jan 02, 2021

I am head over heals with your ability to paint a picture in this story. I love your take on it as it counts down with new thoughts and memories of the narrator’s daughter. To me, the old man has had his own share of woes and heartbreak in life but has matured enough to be happy no matter what the situation is. That each day of his life is a gift. The narrator will get there in time, but it will still take a little bit of time to reach it. I also love how you mention the narrator feeling a bit of regret for never learning Spanish when the...

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Lucía M
19:56 Jan 02, 2021

Thank you so much for taking your time to read it! I'm glad you enjoyed the story. The narrator definitely still needs time to heal, but going to the beach was the first step. The cab driver, as you said, is a metaphor for the point the narrator is trying to reach. Your comment made me so happy, I look forward to reading more stories of yours!

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Chris Buono
20:32 Jan 02, 2021

And I can’t wait to read more of yours. I thought you did a perfect job with the symbolism of growth and the point of maturing the narrator is trying to reach.

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