One Rock

“You can only take one rock,” explained Lydia’s mother.

As the two walked, Lydia bent down to pick up smooth stones from the beach. Each stone was a different bright color, a gift from the tumbling ocean.

Her hands moved across the wet sand to touch the scattered treasure.

One polished stone seemed to shine like an emerald, but when she looked at it very closely Lydia discovered it was mostly a colorless gray.

Another oval stone was glossy black with shining silver flecks. Where the ocean’s recent touch lingered, the silver glittered and gleamed.

One strange bluish stone contained many tiny holes, and Lydia put a hole to her eye to see if she could somehow see through it.

One crystalline, pearly white stone had already begun to dry out and lose its luster, turning dull.

Another bright reddish stone seemed perfectly round, like an agate marble, but a crack ran through it and part of one side had chipped off.

To Lydia every single stone at her feet was a precious jewel.

She wanted to fill her hands with treasure. But she knew her mother was right. Her small hands could manage just one.

She reached down and took the nearest rock.

Handling a Harpoon

The student doodled, wondered why a whale would be white, made a note in the book’s margin, underlined a sentence.

His pen descended again but couldn’t harpoon words. The elusive whale submerged into unseen pages.

The young man slammed the book shut and jammed it into his heavy backpack. He slung the bundled freight over one shoulder and rose from the desk.

The white whale moved, too.

It swam inside inky darkness, from one book to another.

It moved through Physics, Biology, Sociology, Philosophy, Religion, Statistics, History. It migrated from ocean to ocean.

The student quickly navigated to his next classroom. Thinking of nothing. Thinking of everything. Suddenly he felt the whale slip into his bent back, shiver up his spine, then a whirl of awful whiteness in his head.

Anxiously he sought a harpoon.

But the whale swam away.

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.

How to Catch a Crab

While his sister flew a kite in the sunshine, skipping across the park’s green grass, Jason hunted a crab down in the dark rocks by the water.

With careful limbs Jason slowly descended the rocks. He kept his eyes on his prey. The tiny crab was motionless in the middle of one glistening slab just inside the spray of waves.

“You don’t know how to swim!” Jason’s mother called from a distant picnic table.

The young boy ignored her.

The dark, jagged rocks had been dumped at the harbor’s edge. They protected the grassy park from the eternal ocean. Traps containing rat poison had been placed among the rocks.

Above the churning water the rocks capped a labyrinth. From spaces beneath the rocks an odor of death rose. From small caves the crabs crept, moving slowly upon glistening slime near the restless water, feeding, extending strange claws.

Jason kept his eye on the tiny crab. Working his way even closer to the water, the boy placed his left foot on an edge of wet rock. A few missteps had already soaked his shoes.

Hardly daring to breathe, eyes down, Jason regarded the creature minutely.

How strange it appeared.

The crab, with its raised claws, seemed ancient. It resembled a mythical monster he’d seen in a picture book. A miniature monster, unconquerable, upon a mountain.

The crab’s body, its face-like shell, its bent spider legs and claws–formed a mask–from a lurking dream. It was a thing sensed in a nightmare. A shape. A shiver.

The jagged shape was that abomination penned as a warning at the borders of old maps. The shape was a nightmare upon which voyaging ships were wrecked.

Jason bent his knees, leaned slowly over, reached out his hand, keeping balance on the slippery rock as the crash of a small wave tickled his fingers.

The crab skittered into a space between rocks.

Jason leaned even lower.

The odor was repulsive.

He peered into the watery space. Possibly, possibly, the grinning mask lay within simple reach.

Unseen hungry claws waited inside that well of swirling blackness. A fatal Charybdis, squatting in her cave. Motionless and waiting.

The boy reached in.

“I caught it! I caught it” he shouted, lifting an arm high in triumph.

The tiny crab clung to the young boy’s finger.

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.

A Voice in the Shell

One person was on the beach.

Linda walked quickly over the sand in her awkward work shoes. She breathed in the chilly morning air. Her thoughts were consumed by the busy day ahead: the meeting with an important client at nine o’clock and the many projects she had to work on because it was already Thursday. Her eyes were down on the sand, unfocused.

She noticed an unbroken shell.

She picked the shell up and instinctively held it to one ear.

“Hello?” said a voice in the shell.

Linda halted, turned about. She searched with confusion up and down the empty beach. The sun was just rising above a dark line of rooftops across Ocean Drive. A gull passed above her and the surf rumbled. Not a soul was nearby.

She looked for a moment at the small perfect shell, then held it again close to her ear.

“Hello?” whispered a voice.

“What? Who’s that?” asked Linda, whirling around.

Was somebody talking to her?

Perhaps she was confused. Calming herself, she carefully turned the sea shell over to examine it. Polished pure white, the small beautiful conch resembled porcelain. The unaccountable voice, she concluded, was just the muffled sound of the crashing ocean, an echo, an indistinct murmur of the air.

She raised the shell once more to her ear.

“Help me,” said a small voice. “I’m lost.”

“Who’s that talking?” asked Linda, listening with disbelief to her own startled words.

“Please help me,” said a voice in the shell.

“What do you mean? Who are you? I can hear you, but I can’t see you anywhere. Did you say you’re lost? Are you saying you don’t know where you are?” asked Linda.

“Please save me,” replied a voice in the shell.

“Who is this? This is crazy!”

“I’ve become lost. I’m lost,” said a voice in the shell.

“It’s okay. Maybe I can help you,” Linda said, her mind racing. “I can hear you, so you must be somewhere close.”  She looked up and down the sand again, much more carefully. “I’m standing on the beach near the intersection of Ocean Drive and 28th Street. The old lighthouse is about a mile to the south, out at the end of Lookout Point. A big ship is on the horizon.”

“I know,” whispered a voice. “I see that.”

“What?”

“I see the place where you are standing.”

“You can see me?”

“I see the wet sand under your feet. I see clouds moving past the lighthouse, casting living shadows on the golden cliffs below.”

“How do you see that? Where are you?”

“I see exactly where you stand,” said the strange voice. “I see silver sunlight on every ripple in the sand. I see the ebb and flow and surge of every wave. I see the dip and rise of every bird, the joy in unbounded air. I see the swell of Earth’s beating heart.”

Linda stood, astonished.

“I see everything,” said the voice in the shell. “But I am lost.”

“I see a lingering blush of sunrise in one vanishing cloud,” said the voice. “I see every pool and channel, the erosions of a thousand forgotten tides. I see the tug of a hidden moon, rainbows in skins of water, and unshed tears. I see beyond the horizon.”

The small voice spoke more quietly. “I see a needle of silent pelicans threading the crystal surf, the beauty of white spray rising. I see small splashes of green where blue ought to be. I see bones of driftwood, mother-of-pearl atoms, mute messages in polished stones.”

“I see everything,” whispered the voice. “I see broken flotsam, bits of time and bits of memory. I see the tiny brown crab skittering by your feet. I see the polished white shell in your fingers, a touch of wonder on your face.”

“Yes, you know exactly where I am,” Linda replied quietly.

“Will you take me with you?” asked a voice in the shell. “I don’t want to be lost.”

Linda gazed at the unbroken shell, her eyes opened wide. Until that moment she hadn’t understood its mystery.

She carefully put the small shell into her pocket. She continued slowly across the sand.