A Long, Deep Drink

A painter stepped carefully across tumbled rocks to the very end of the jetty. She placed her easel on a flat table of rock.

She opened the menu:

Sea-splashed rocks stretching back to the shore. Glistening cubes of jello.

Blue ripples of water on the sheltered side of the jetty. Spatula-dabbed blueberry frosting.

The mast-filled marina. Toothpicks in marshmallows on a bright silver tray.

The lighthouse at the end of Moondown Point. A peppermint stick.

The clouds above a shoulder of mountain. Whipped cream.

The contours of Earth. Spooned chocolate pudding.

Nearby cottages. Gumdrops.

The beach. Gently rolled, sugary white fudge, with a mouthwatering variety of tasty sprinkles.

Umbrellas along the sand. Tempting lollipops.

Her eyes turned.

A rimless bowl of water. Only water . . . and formless light.

A long, deep, quenching drink of simple water.

She drank.

Beth’s Window

Beth loved to sit by the blue ocean. She loved to watch the clouds, the sea breeze sway white sails.

Her special park bench was planted among flowers. Like the dancing sails, the flowers came to life in the breeze, their bright colors tickling her eyes, tickling the sparkling blue that stretched away beyond sight. At the horizon the aquamarine water transformed to topaz.  From there, ascendant magic lifted sun-sculpted clouds.

The world of flowers, water and sky seemed to her like a living window. A window with no frame.

. . .

The afternoon of the total eclipse brought a wall of people to the water’s side. The wall stood in front of Beth’s bench.

The wall’s eyes were down.

Anxious hands clutched a blank piece of paper. The people minutely examined a tiny crescent of light produced by a pin hole.

At total eclipse, the people craned their necks momentarily toward the appalling black hole in the sky.

Then stared again at slivers of light.

The wall finally crumbled.

Sitting on her bench, her small, single perch beside the stretching ocean, Beth breathed in with relief.

The shutters of her window had been reopened.

Beth gazed with her ever-thirsty eyes at the water, the endless sky. Above crushed flowers white sails still swayed in the ocean breeze, moving across the blue water. The living clouds were touched again by eternal light. And she knew her flowers would regrow.

Walking on Light

The crosswalk’s white rectangles shined in the sunlight. Crossing the intersection, Angel stepped on the reflected light.

A narrow band of sunlight brightened the edge of the sidewalk. Like a tightrope walker Angel walked along the brightness, balancing atop the light.

From time to time Angel had to skip over the shadows of people who plodded homeward.

A patch of darkness, cast by a building, could not be overstepped, so Angel once again crossed the street, continued along the edge of a parking lot, steadily moving toward the falling sun on a winding path of light.

To avoid the deepening shadows Angel had to make small leaping flights.

“Watch where you’re going, you idiot,” someone said.

Sprinklers made puddles beside a long hedge. The puddles were silver in the sunlight. Angel stepped onto them, walking on the light.

Angel started across the town park’s green grass. The sun had reached the horizon. Long slender tree shadows made easy hurdles. A small sunlit pond at the center of the park sparkled.

Angel came to the edge of the pond. A breeze stirred the water. Upon every little crest of every little wave a momentary glint of sunlight winked. Angel stepped onto the water and walked across glimmers of reflected light.

Angel stepped onto the coin-like reflection of the moon. The pond became dark as the sun set. The moon’s ghostly reflection formed a small island of celestial light.

The moon’s reflection inched very slowly across the water. Standing easily upon the moon’s light, Angel gazed up at the stars.

The brilliant stars were beyond count. Beyond knowledge. Their infinite light was present.

The air had calmed. A bird flew invisibly overhead.

Angel longed to be home.

Angel found the trail of the Milky Way reflected upon the black water. The jeweled path led across the pond to the opposite shore. Angel stepped off the moon and walked along the galaxy’s edge.

Angel stepped onto Hazel Street and walked beneath the wavering light of street lamps.

Angel’s porch light was on.

The front door swung open wide, flooding the sleeping world with radiance.

Angel was home.

A Small Fountain in Green Park

“Don’t fall in!”

Maggie was too busy to hear her mother. She leaned over the edge of a small fountain in Green Park, peering into the basin. Her two-year-old eyes took delight in the swirling reflections.

The water bubbled, whispered, leaped. It splashed cool kisses. Maggie extended her arms and laughed. She touched the rippling surface with a tentative, curious finger.

Strangely, she saw her own small face in the fountain, crowned by sunlight, wrinkling brightly and dancing.

The water in the park’s fountain was alive like an inexplicable wonder. Its light contained a secret. Maggie gazed at her own small reflection, trying very hard to see herself clearly. Her face was there, then–poof–gone. A flying drop landed on her nose and she laughed again.

“Don’t fall in!”

Mrs. Spivey, the third grade teacher, frantically counted heads. Eight-year-old children become spinning whirlwinds on a school field trip.

The Natural History Museum and its dinosaur bones were located in Green Park, across the plaza from a small fountain. The fountain around which her students were running wildly.

Maggie dashed past the fountain, then suddenly stopped, turned around. The place seemed familiar. She approached the small fountain, stood very still and looked down into it. The water swirled and bubbled, rippled and whispered. Catching her breath, she looked curiously at her own reflection, becoming thoughtful. Her small face twinkled, the sun over her shoulder. Her face appeared to be a sudden vision in a wonderful dream.

But a classmate almost caught her. She darted away, laughing.

“Don’t fall in!”

Feeling slightly guilty, trying to keep her balance, Maggie leaned over the water. She crumpled the empty box of detergent and shoved it into a shopping bag. She glanced over her shoulder. Her high school friends stood nearby, laughing in the sunshine.

She stared down into the fountain’s shallow basin and was surprised to see an uncertain reflection. It had long curly hair and blinking eyes, and a thirteen-year-old smile that seemed rather crooked. Had she seen that face before?

The bewildering vision disappeared in a sudden brew of rainbow bubbles. Bubbles that multiplied out of control. Foam spilled all around her.

A shout echoed across the park’s plaza and Maggie and her friends ran.

“Don’t fall in!”

The two sat on the fountain’s low edge. Maggie’s new boyfriend gently pushed her shoulder.

She swept her hand through the cool water and splashed him. They laughed.

“Don’t fall in!”

Maggie walked slowly past the fountain, hand-in-hand with Robert. The park was very quiet on a Tuesday afternoon. It was their honeymoon. The never-changing sun shone brightly high above them. A cool mist from the small fountain touched her warm face.

Suddenly, Robert bent over to kiss her. He lifted her up, cradled her in his arms, whirled about and–laughing–dangled her over the fountain. Maggie shivered.

She imagined falling through space, splashing into the water, dangerously, merging with a soft something that was completely permeating and mysterious. For an instant she saw the reflection of two lovers in the water.

She saw two faces crowned by sunlight, like angels, dreamlike.

She was set again on her feet, and the two walked slowly on.

“Don’t fall in!”

Sitting on a park bench, Maggie closely watched her first child. Her working mind was distracted. It was such a busy day, with so much to do. The tiny girl peered into the small fountain and suddenly reached out to touch the rippling water with a finger.

Maggie jumped up and hurried over. She never took her eyes from her precious child.

Maggie sat down on the low edge of the fountain and wondered at the actual depth of the basin. How dangerous was it, really? Just a few inches. But it seemed so dangerously deep. Her child stared down into the dancing water, so Maggie looked down, too.

Two small faces stared up at her, two faces that were different and alike.

How could she explain that shining, wonderful, perfect–uncertain vision of life in the water? A very young child would not understand. It all had something to do with wistfulness, love and memory. And time. She felt a moment of loss. She couldn’t explain what she saw, not even to herself.

“Don’t fall in!”

Maggie’s happy children were racing around the small fountain like three frantic whirlwinds on a picnic Sunday. She rested on the blanket on the park’s grass. She watched those whom she loved whirl round and round and round. She couldn’t stop them. She did not want to stop them. She simply watched.

“Don’t fall in!”

The children were gone. Grown up.

Maggie and her friends in the Watercolor Society had dispersed themselves strategically around Green Park. Their mission was to create beauty. She had set up her easel right beside that familiar old fountain. It seemed the very best place, with so much potential. One of her old friends had shouted the silly taunt. But Maggie knew she wouldn’t fall in. Not now.

She had known that water all of her life.

Maggie studied the uncertain light on the moving water. Gentle ripples fractured unsteady reflections. It was like every piece of a world jumbled together all at once, but in constant motion. And the unreachable sun was the source. It was the point from which searing light descended to bless her eyes with a thousand living, rising fragments.

How was it possible to capture one brief, so-very-brief moment in a life? All of those passing visions in the small fountain were in her memory still.

At best, her effort–might–master one moment in endless–eternity.  At best.  But, still, she painted. She painted and painted.

“Don’t fall in!”

Her granddaughter was worried. Maggie leaned quietly in the wheelchair over the small fountain.

Maggie’s granddaughter regarded the old woman until she felt reassured, then comfortably turned to examine the small fountain herself.

It wasn’t her first visit to Green Park.

Compelled, she gazed into the water and saw her own rippling face.

It was a beautiful day.

One Strange, Shimmering Dream

Jimmy was born on a farm. As a young child he roamed the fields collecting shiny pebbles, colored leaves and other ordinary things.

When Jimmy was eight years old he had an idea. He carefully wrapped a loose bundle of dandelion fluff with old spiderwebs. He kept his small creation in a shoe box, which he hid under his bed.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, Jimmy would quietly slip out from under the sheets, reach under the bed and pull out the box. Very slowly, he’d lift the lid and shine a small flashlight inside.

The delicate, ghostly threads wrapped about fluffy whiteness gently gleamed. It seemed that he had assembled a magic thing. A strange, shimmering dream.

Over many years, working on that farm, his dreams grew.

One night, at the age of 86, Jimmy suddenly sat up in bed and whispered to his wife, “I’m going outside to look at the stars.”

“Okay, dear.” She rolled over.

Jimmy walked slowly in his pajamas out the back door. He shut the door silently.

Barefoot, Jimmy walked out onto the dark, newly tilled field. There was no moon. He reached down and crumbled some Earth in one hand. His barn was black under twinkling stars.

He disappeared into the barn.

A few minutes later, the large barn doors swung open.

And slowly up, up, up rose something weightless and strange–an enormous milky cloud, indistinct, streaked with ghostly threads, like a nebula in the dark sky, faintly shimmering amid the many bright stars–rising up, up.

Dandelion fluff and old spiderwebs float easily. Seeds are meant to fly. Carefully made webs bind living things to the air.

Jimmy watched from the center of his finished creation. Higher and higher he rose, above the barn and dark fields, above his tiny farmhouse, now vanishing far below. The farmhouse vanished.

Riding among the stars, Jimmy ascended.

Night deepened. The stars multiplied. He revolved slowly among them, his shimmering dream-thing reflecting twinkling light, propelled like a raft in a sparkling stream. Quietly, Jimmy watched.

When he looked over his shoulder, he noticed that the Earth could now easily fit into the palm of one hand. The Earth had become a round blue eye. Then it winked shut.

And the dazzling stars grew thick and close, as if they could be easily touched. Jimmy reached out one hand. Motes of light gathered together, withdrew, and the galaxy once so impossibly large became suddenly tiny, and a billion other galaxies rushed in around him like stars, whirling like stars–stars containing billions of stars.

That infinite light could not be described.

In his dream-thing, he floated on. Through galaxies of galaxies, until they, too, could fit in the palm of one hand.

The night was unusually quiet.

When his wife woke up, Jimmy was gone. He had passed far away.

Light on the Restless and Small

Late morning was pleasantly sunny. Jeremy directed his feet toward the delicatessen overlooking the boat ramp. He was hungry.

A water taxi on a trailer was being slowly backed into the bay. The boat’s hull was black with decay. A man waving his arms near the water suddenly shouted: “Stop!”

Jeremy lingered on the deli’s sunlit patio, looking down at the scene with vague curiosity. He then stepped inside, carefully analyzed the choices and ordered a turkey and avocado sandwich with extra peppers.

He returned to the patio to wait.

The sunlight felt good. Shining pleasure craft bobbed in the quicksilver marina to one side of the ramp. The boats were empty. They shrugged on the water in rows, bright white, waiting, waiting.

A small pug waddled up from nowhere to the chair where Jeremy sat and pressed its nose against his ankle. Jeremy scratched behind the dog’s ear. The small dog pressed itself against his leg.

Runners from the nearby fitness center ran along the boardwalk. They ran with pumping legs and arms glistening in the sun. They followed a line, from the fitness center, past the marina, past the deli, to the boat ramp, back to the same place where they started, back and forth, up and down the boardwalk, sweating, arms swinging, back and forth, back and forth, wishful perpetual motion machines. Younger females. Older males.

Two motivations, realized Jeremy.

Fear of rejection. Fear of death.

It was a perfect day for a walk or a run. Sunlight in the open air always feels good. The runners passed through the warm sunshine on a day like any other.

Jeremy heard his name.

He returned to the patio with his fresh sandwich and found an open table. The pug came up to him again and pressed its nose against his ankle. Standing on the casually littered concrete, it stared up between Jeremy’s legs.

It was a fat little pug with demanding eyes. The animal stared directly at Jeremy’s carefully selected sandwich. It stood perfectly still. The eyes did not move.

Is there meaning in sunlight? In its warmth?

Jeremy, the philosopher, stared at the sandwich and felt sudden pain: his desperation for an answer.

But philosophy vanished the moment he took one bite. The sandwich tasted very good in warm sunshine.

Sparkling water lapped gently up the boat ramp.

Trailing black smoke, the water taxi was laboring across the bay into the distance. Its purpose: to pick up those many people who had places to go–places where sunshine might be.