By Adam Engel
Seventeen all lissome energy and curves: tight jeans cut-off at the knee. Sunrise at the beach. Coppertone and cigarettes. Her dark Kennedy shades. Lip-stick like the apparition of a rose — not-quite-red. Almost red: not-quite.
I couldn’t have remembered this I hadn’t yet been born. Recollection of a photograph? It was no dream.
“Hey pass me a cig,” she killed a butt in the sand.
“Smoking’s bad for you,” I said.
“So’s childbirth,” she winked.
“Just a joke.”
“I’m…not in pain,” I said. “My hip, my back are young. I can run again. I can run along the beach till sun-set — not in pain.”
“No pain, no gain,” she said.
Some older guy – maybe 20 – eyed her. He eyed us both.
I stared him down, arms folded across my chest, trying to flex my puny biceps.
“That’s my — your uncle, Lenny,” she said as he passed. “Settle down, John Wayne.”
She laughed that crazy wild laugh I would one day despise, then years later, miss.
“I don’t like the way he looked at — me.”
I never liked the way he looked at me. What was he, twenty in this scene? Maybe twenty-one? I could take him. I didn’t know how the hell old I was – I assume at least sixteen — but I was certain I could make him sorry I’d ever been born (as — years later — he most certainly would be). Though I had not been born. It was an odd scenario: I became confused.
“Don’t panic,” she said.
“I’m not panicking. Who’s panicking?”
“They’re only life-times,” she said. ” Really.”
This was not Time: it was the inspiration of a photograph — an old one I might have seen god knows when or where — an archived Time-slip: but not Time. Meaningless. So many photographs of friends and relatives – most unknown to me or dead – eye-balling posterity behind those thick, black-framed glasses worn back in “the day.”
“Watch us watch ourselves grow old…”
“Lighten up,” she turned away.
She walked to the water. I tried to recall what photograph or previous, similar occasion might have sparked this dreamy deja vu.
Generic memory of no particulars. No individuals or details. Just what The Race knows and remembers.
“Jelly fish!” she screamed, running, laughing.
She reached our blanket, knelt and rummaged for a cigarette.
“Goddamn jelly-fish!” she laughed. Then, mock-somber, “They were huge, enormous, and they multiplied.”
“Anticipate agony,” I said. “We know no other way.”
“Calm down,” she said. “Relax. It was all just skin.”
Instinctual, the rage. I wanted to kill her.
“Have you been anxious again?” she asked. “You really do look thin.”
“Day is torture, especially afternoon, unbearable,” I said. “Night skips like a record.”
“Enough soap operas and maudlin narratives — I’m sick of them! Won’t someone paint me colors, sing me songs…”
“The way things turn…I never wanted this. To be like this. Another middle-aged Anonymous, tamed by life…”
“Why did you bring me here?” she sighed.
“I dunno. It’s Mother’s Day. Figured I’d do something nice.”
“It was peaceful before this. I mean after all that,” she exhaled smoke. “Eventually we all know peace. Or at the very least ignorance of or indifference to unrest.”
“I never loved you,” I said.
“Tell me about it,” she shrugged adorable girl-shoulders. Ridiculous, corny, sentimental to compare them to wings. But that’s what they seemed: stretched wings of a young bird contemplating flight: uncertain. Rightfully so.
She never actually flew.
“I mean, you never did anything but smoke cigarettes and get wasted on Valium and Darvon and what-have-you. And listen to the god-damned radio or watch TV,” I accused.
“Staggering, the countless lives we live in bed,” she said.
“I respected you. Once.”
“Oh? When was that?” bored.
“The day you died. I could never explain it to anyone, I mean, not without them looking at me funny. But that was the first and only time I ever saw you do anything…real. I mean, you just woke up to go to work and died instead. That’s something serious, something people do. I mean a real thing everyone can do. Die. Death. Not something you can just return to the store if it doesn’t fit.”
“Real. That what you want?”
I looked to the water. Half the people swimming, bobbing, frolicking are probably dead. Now: the real Now: where Now is: not this Then I stumbled into years before my birth.
“Try this on for size,” she leaned close, still on her knees, and kissed me. Not a mother-kiss, a deep, wet tongue kiss — “soul-kiss” I think they called it in her day. She was not my mother — yet. She was a seventeen year old beauty. Waft of pheromones, cigarettes, dime-store perfume — not the fancy French one I would come to know.
I assume it was some kind of Oedipal thing, though my father wasn’t yet around for me to kill. I almost punched-out my idiot uncle – hardly the stuff of deep-psych trauma.
She was a hot young woman. Once. Smart, which I knew, but also charismatic, seductive, alive, whatever, which I never would have guessed.
Forty years passed through the fiery moment of a dream.
Then it was night, and she was walking. Away. Toward the water — or the parking lot: I was not sure.
She reached a point: the end of something. Not a place in Space or Time, but…but what? Imagination? Memory? Mine — or hers?
She waved, a quick jest, a “see ya ’round” swipe, and blew a histrionic, silent-movie kiss. From where she was. Some end-point, horizon, limit, intensity of faith, absence of fear. A rush of freedom and other such thrills that bob to awareness when there’s absolutely, positively, no place left to go.
“And dark was above her in the sky,” I said softly to everyone and no one.
Then she was gone.
I’ve found no photograph or other referent that might have inspired such a scene.
Image Source – 7stonesboracay.com