|It Was Strange
Author: Dianaartemis PM
The world began to soak into me. Like a rag, I took it all in and rung myself clean. The sky was so impossibly high; I wondered how it could manage it without crashing down. Perhaps it had learned how to fly.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fantasy/Supernatural - Words: 4,243 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 03-15-09 - Status: Complete - id: 2647577
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It Was Strange
The Artist buries them in the sand.
Wind-blown eyes stare up at the sky. "Hide it from myself, not from others." His words drift out in a haze. I reach out and touch the coarse sand. I run my fingertips over the strange objects, so oddly familiar. "Paper, pencils, marbles," the Artist lists, mostly to himself. As if he is trying to remember to unremember. I touch a marble, but do not pull it away from the sand. It's red, like the sea in endwinter. It's beautiful. "My favorite." He's not looking anymore, eyes staring at something only they see.
I don't remember what it was like before I came to my mother. My mother said that one morning I was standing on her doorstep, looking lost. She didn't question my presence, a mother never should question a child. So she took me in and every morning she would run her fingers through my hair, kissing the small soft hairs at the nape of my neck. She loved me in the way that I loved her back.
She would always wake at dawn, raising herself out of bed in one quick movement; as if she was ashamed of being caught sleeping. Our small hut only had one shuttered window. She would walk to it and fling it wide open, letting the morning air cut through the still air of the hut. "A mother must always feel the wind in the morning," she announced to the dawn, a mantra she seemed to have learned instinctively. "Feel its strength and chill. Only then can one prepare for the day."
She then closed the window, so the hut did not become cold. She paced around, gathering things in her hands; her clothes, her wrap, her food, her gloves. And as she walked, she dressed herself. I watched her from my bed, curled under the sheets, I wondered how she could be so vivacious in the early light. Once she was complete, she came to me, running her hands over my head. She never said a word, though her lips were tense, pressed into a fine white line. When she was finished, she turned around, staring down the door.
"A mother must never fear the wind nor the sand." Her face was set into a harsh grimace. "It's my life and I intend to live it."
She pulled the door aside and marched into the open world like a conqueror. I always expected her to let out a shout of victory. When I first came, I never understood why she acted in such a way. Why she would leave the hut for hours and return with her face cut up by the wind and her hands bruised from the sand.
I would wait for the door to ease open at the end of the day. She could never fling it wide as in the morning. Her tired eyes would glance around, as if she wasn't sure where she was. Then she would look at me and fall to her knees, pulling me close to her. I could feel her heavy heart beating itself numb.
"There are always too many questions to be answered," the Artist says, wiping his hands on his pants. I fold my legs beneath me, letting the sand press into them. I don't mind. It doesn't hurt as much as it used to. "Questions for what has happened, why it's happening, and why it will happen."
He looks before us at various object poking out of the sand. His hands are dirty from the effort, but have no cuts or bruises. He doesn't even shiver. As the wind pulses around us.
"I guess the only answer is that the world was built around rules. And it doesn't matter what the rules mean or if they can be bent or broken." The Artist stretches his legs out; his feet are worn as if they had walked countless paces before they came here. "All that matters is knowing who created the rules."
I ask him who. And he turns to me, but his eyes look past my right shoulder. Not at me. He looks shocked, but then smiles gently.
"Naturally, they were created by the ones who follow them."
My aunt was the one who told me why mothers go to the beach. She was always old, even when I was young. She was always smiling, even if there was nothing to smile about. It always bothered me and I would ask why, but she never answered; just smiled. "Dig, child," she said. "Mothers are made for digging." Her hands were soft, and her face a wrinkled pudding. She never felt the wind, never felt the sand. She was never a mother.
She slept most of the time, but complained when my mother opened the window, complained when she opened the door. My aunt was never content; she needed more blankets, she needed more food, she needed another bath. I could not help but wonder why she was always smiling. It was a terrible existence, it seemed to me, for someone who could never have enough.
"Dig in the sand for buried treasure." My aunt smiled, lips revealing her yellowed teeth. "Sell it to them."
It took me many years to see who they were. My aunt never approved of them. They were always at fault for one thing or another. The blankets were too thin or the food too thick. My mother went to them anyway. She sold her buried treasure so that I could grow and so that my aunt could complain.
They were the Bike Men. I saw them on a warm day. I knew it was warm because when my mother had opened the window in the morning, she breathed in the air for a moment longer than usual. It was fresh in the new season. I watched as she prepared herself. Less layers that day, but her wrap and gloves persisted.
She walked out the door and I heard my aunt grumbling. I stepped from my covers and stood on the threshold, wondering to myself. My eyes darted to the lump on the bed, which was my aunt, and then to the closed doorway. I just wanted to see, that was all. I wanted to see what the outside was like. I had never been past the walls of the hut since I first entered. My aunt always warned me how horrible it was and I would always see my mother come back so drained. But I was curious and always curious.
It wasn't a grand moment that took me past the door. Nor was it shocking or jarring. For even if I didn't remember, I once was outside before I came to my mother. Though I had looked through the window or door as my mother came or left, as I walked the world began to soak into me. Like a rag, I took it all in and rung myself clean.
I calmly looked at the tall trees, slowly gaining leaves in the thin breeze. They were much larger than I expected and the branches would leap out at me as I walked by. I kept my eyes on them, as if they could guide me. My feet walked and I stumbled, unused to the rocky ground. The sky was so impossibly high. I wondered how it could manage without crashing down. Perhaps it had learned how to fly.
Soon enough, I found myself before the Bike Men. I didn't know who they were at the time, though I could guess. But I wasn't terrified. Even as a child, I knew there were more dangerous, mysterious things to be frightened of. They were tall and broad, so unlike my Mother, whose arms were as thin as table legs. Behind them stood a mountain made of objects. It had more things that I had ever thought possible. There were more blankets, food, and clothes than I could ever imagine. And some things I simply couldn't.
Baffling objects that would move on their own or make strange noises. I asked them what the mesh of tubes and metal was. They told me it was a bike and that one could ride it to travel a great distance in little time. I stared at them, wondering how such a large, heavy object could do such a thing.
My mother came up behind me then, having seen me from the beach. She wasn't mad, but she steered me away from the mountain for which I had too many questions. I tried to ask her how a bike worked. How it was possible. "It isn't." Her eyes were lowered, ashamed. "Don't dream of riding one. You can't." She took me home.
I see now how time changes the world. When I was younger, nothing seemed to change. Events happened, time passed, but I was still a child and remained one for so long. I stare down at my hands, letting the water run over them in the morning tide. It's cold, but soothing to me.
"It wasn't wrong to be a child for so long." I look to the Artist at my side. He crouches in the sand. Still burying objects as he always did. He will never change. I know that now. "It's beautiful to be a child."
But a child doesn't see the world for what it is. Everything must change; become better, become worse. I say this to the Artist and he sighs deeply to himself.
"It's not the world that changes, it's you."
It wasn't the last time I went outside. As the warm weather persisted, I stood by the doorway, like my mother did. I stood there every day and I wondered what she thought. Did she think of digging in the sand? Or did she dream? I dreamed. I dreamed of riding a bike. I dreamed of climbing the mountain of things and jumping from the top, just to see if the endless wind would catch me.
My mother did not approve of me exploring outside, though she never told me not to. But I could see the way her eyes flickered down dejectedly. The other mothers teased her, saying I was a wild child. They said I would bring nothing but trouble. My mother never answered. She just walked me back home, silent. I didn't want her to be unhappy. For she loved me and I loved her. So I hid from the mothers and explored my curiosity alone.
The beach was terrifying for me. The Bike Men's mountain and the trees near my hut were safe and tame. The beach was like an animal, prone to attack at any moment. The waves crashed against the harsh sand in a snarl. The wind would rise up on me like teeth. It hurt and shook me. But I would stretch my arms out anyway and scream back out in terror and in perseverance.
The expanse looked so eerily empty without the mothers that I wanted to leave that first time, but I saw the Artist and he stood when he saw me. "The sand isn't harsh," he said to the ground. He never looked at me, but I knew he was speaking to me. "It is just stubborn. Same as the wind isn't cold or cutting. It is just...careless." He grinned. Unlike my aunt, it was perfectly placed.
I ran my fingers over the sand, feeling the stubbornness that the Artist spoke of. I saw his small hole filled with mindless things. I didn't ask about them then. I wasn't sure who he was, so I was too nervous. He began to speak again.
"The ocean recites poetry. Did you know?" I did not and I shook my head. He wasn't looking at me, but he saw it anyway. "Words of molding, words of breaking. The ocean moves and so does its poetry. Listen, will you?"
I did, but I only heard the sound of the waves. The same sounds that reach my hut at night. Sometimes they gave me nightmares and I told him.
He didn't laugh, as my aunt would have. "It's because you misinterpret. Don't be afraid." Then the Artist turned and left me.
The days grew colder and the sea turned a deep red, as it does in winter. I could no longer leave the warmth of the hut. I had no wrap like my Mother. And though she wore hers, she came home crying from the lashing of the wind. Her hands were stained red from the water washing upon them. I asked her why.
"There's more to the world than these huts and the beach," she said, wiping off her shivering hands. "There are lands across the ocean; filled with more people than you can imagine. They hurt each other, child, and the ocean turns red from their pain."
I asked her why the ocean did that, why anything would take other's pain. I could see the scars on my mother's face, how her hands shook. I would never want that. I could never imagine taking it.
"It's not a choice, it's simply the ocean's nature. To soak in, to cleanse, just as a mother must dig in the sand. It's called duty."
I went to sleep that night, my head buried under the blankets. I could hear the waves sliding in and off the sand. It was different than before. Not the growling of a beast, but of a lonely voice singing to itself. I heard the poetry it sang. It didn't have words. It cried not from the pain that it took, but for the one who could not do the same. It sang long into the night. It broke my heart to listen.
Sometimes he leaves me. And though I miss his presence, I know that I am not alone. For the Artist is as fluid and ethereal as the wind or the ocean. And when I listen to the poetry moving around me, I can feel him.
I walk down the beach, my feet making soft marks in the sand. The waves wash into them, leaving pools of water behind me. During the winter, when the water it at its reddest, it looks like I have been dropping broken hearts all along the shore. It always depresses me and I would find myself standing in the crest of the waves. My feet firmly together.
So that I would not break so easily.
The mothers had to come in earlier and earlier. I would stare out the window and sometimes spot the Artist. He would be digging or just staring at the ocean. Even from my hut, I could tell his face held longing. I didn't understand why.
I wrapped myself in all my blankets the next time I went outside. My mother was gone and my aunt was asleep. I left without a sound. I didn't even stand at the doorway. I just went. I couldn't hold myself back. The wind cut into me and the sand scrapped against my feet. It hurt to breathe, but I wanted to see the Artist.
His fingers slipped into the sand and it seemed to move away from him. I watched as the objects he was burying kept being snatched away by the wind. I didn't know what they were. "Feathers," he murmured, answering my unasked question. "Because I can't fly, I have no use for them."
I wanted to ask him so many things; about the ocean's poetry, about the lands across the waves, about duty. But the wind took my words from me and I could only clench my icy fingers. So I stayed and stared as the Artist buried his feathers. They looked soft and the wind flipped them about so easily, taking them into the sky.
My mother did not come home that night. I rubbed my face for hours until I began feeling it again. My aunt was angry at me for a time, but she grew distracted at my mother's absence. The smile familiar smile on her face gradually faded. Night came upon us in silence. We both stared at the door.
"She is always digging," my aunt said. "She doesn't realize that she doesn't have to. That she can stop."
We watched the door for days. We accused it with our eyes. I couldn't sleep, neither could my aunt. I couldn't hear the ocean's poetry anymore. I couldn't even hear the rattling of the wind against the sides of the house. I could only hear the door, but it was silent.
Eventually, one morning I stood and opened the window. The breeze came in clear and thin. The new season had arrived. I hesitated there and wondering to myself. So often I had dreamed strange things. Dreamed of riding bikes, dreamed of feeling red pain, dreamed of the wind taking me into the sky. But then, in that silent moment of which seemed nothing could fill, I could only dream of digging in the sand.
I went out the door. I went to the beach. I sat down, letting the sand cut into my legs and the waves wash them numb. The Artist sat beside me. I didn't know where he had come from. Perhaps he was always there.
"The ocean's poetry is still today. Very still." Through his words, I knew that my mother was truly gone. I knew that she would never dig in the sand again. That she would never sell her buried treasure to the Bike Men, no matter how many seasons passed. I didn't cry.
I took my mother's routine. Everything about it, about her, I performed. I rose quickly from my sleep, opened the window, and I paced around the house. My aunt would smile at me, though tears leaked from her eyes. "Only mothers dig in the sand, child. Only mothers."
I didn't listen to her. I braved the wind and the beach. I dug for the first time in my life. My soft hands became ragged and my face became harsh. I stumbled through the hut's doorway, exhausted and in pain. But there was no child for me to hold; no one to feel my heart sagging in my chest. My aunt only smiled before turning herself away from my broken figure.
I was not a mother. Perhaps that's why I could never find anything from digging. I went to the Bike Men, day after day, begging them to spare me and my aunt. They refused to give me anything without something in return. So I would go back to the beach and then to the hut; empty.
I didn't notice it, at first, when my aunt left. I simply woke up and realized that she did not complain when I opened the window. I didn't know where she went, but I knew that I would never see her again. It was lonely, coming home. Soon I stopped leaving altogether. I was too weak to move, too weak to see, and too weak to listen. I fell asleep in silence
The Artist sometimes asks me if I ever miss my mother or my aunt. It's not that he doesn't already know, but because I need a reason to talk about them every once in awhile. I tell him the same thing; that I think about them often enough, but I never dream about them.
Their memory has gone to a corner of my mind that I always seem to misplace. They meant so much to me, I know it, but a memory is so fragile against reality that I now live in. The Artist asks me if that makes me sad, to forget about them so easily. I ask if it's better that I do.
For I see in the Artist's eyes how much regret he holds. He holds everything so closely in his heart. He remembers my mother and my aunt more than I ever could. And it hurts him. But he is not the ocean which can soak in pain.
He can only watch and try to bury hope in the sand.
I decided to go to the beach one last time. I couldn't feel the wind as it buffeted against me. I couldn't feel the hard sand under my feet. The ocean was cold, but it was distant. I didn't seem to have a body anymore. My mind was in the ocean, futility listening to its absent whispers. My body was in the sand, deteriorating into nothingness. I stood there for a brief eternity and wondered to myself what I should be thinking.
"You should dream."
I opened my eyes and found the Artist before me. He smiled and clasped his hands behinds his back tensely. His eyes were on the sky. I soaked in his image. It felt like so long since I had last seen something, heard something. I wanted to run and embrace him, just to see if I could feel.
But all I could do was stand there, feeling so empty. Without the sounds of the ocean, without the feeling of the wind or the sand, and without the presence of my mother or aunt. I felt more than alone. I felt lost.
I watched numbly as the Artist came and stood beside me. When I felt warmth around my hand it took me a moment to realize that he was holding it. I shifted to look at him. His eyes were staring out at the horizon.
"We bury, we dig, we feel pain, we take pain, we dream, we love...What does this all give us? Life? Or just a way to live it?" The Artist's voice sounded different somehow. His gaze slowly turned and met mine. His eyes were filling and they filled me so full that I thought I would overflow.
I wanted to say so many things in that moment, but as they rose to my lips they fell away. Leaving only the questions that I was too afraid to ask. What will happen to me? Where will I go? Was I to die? I had never thought of death before. Not even when my mother or aunt died, did I truly think it. My youthful dreams covered me.
And so I stood beside the Artist. A soul that was too old to be child and too frightened to be an adult. "I will take you with me," he murmured, his voice almost resigned, "and so keep you to this beach. You will never feel lonely, you will never feel pain, and you will live in the dream that one can't dream in life. And when you have forgotten your fear, let the sand release you, the ocean bid you farewell, and the wind take you beyond the sky."
I watch as the Artist walks slowly down the beach. The sun is setting and the remaining rays reach across the water as if they are trying to hold onto it. To keep from falling any further. The Artist buried feathers again today. I watched, mesmerized. For the first time, I reached out and touched one. It was warm. And I realized that I hadn't felt warmth in such a long time. Not since the Artist took me in on that first day, not since my mother would come home and hold me.
I then wrapped my arms around myself, suddenly wishing I could feel her again. I felt something warm run down my face and I looked up, thinking it was the Artist. He wasn't there though, and when I reach up to touch my cheeks. I was crying.
I run my fingers over my face, still damp after shedding tears for my entire life. All day I had mourned for my mother, my aunt, and even the Artist. But now, as I weep into dusk, my tears are for myself.
I stand and walk into the evening tide. I look to the side at the shoreline leading to the Artist. He turns slightly, hesitating in his footsteps, but only for a moment. The darkness steals his image from me, but the memory, the dream of him will not be taken so easily. So when I look back to the fading horizon, I reach out and take the dying sun into my arms. Feathers, that I had held clutched in my hands, fall into my arms. I give them to the light.
As the night dawns, I leave.
It was strange, but true. That feathers in the sand can fly without wings. As long as there is wind. A voice in the ocean can sing without a throat. As long as there is poetry. And a mind in the sky that is without eyes, without breath, and without a half-beat heart, can still see what isn't there. What was never there. And what could never be.
But is real somewhere.