The runner shivered in the heat. The sun was high and the sky was blue and the air was hot and heavy and only sometimes redeemed by a low breeze which rolled over the cove, toward the marsh beyond. On the shoreline, shells blistered in the sand. Bathers stretched out beneath striped umbrellas while, in an inlet to the south east made grotto by piled up, tide-worn stones, some had left their suits behind. He could see them from way-up there on the hill. He watched as four figures went bounding into the cool-green tide, as their lithe bodies disappeared in little white blooms of surf and foam. With great effort, he turned away.
He could not recall how long he had been there or, even, the explicit circumstance of his fall. It was all glazed over, burned out—all the moisture had been taken from the thing, leaving it as it was without. He wondered, for a moment, which was more real: a nourished thing or something boiled to its essence. For a moment, he decided on the latter, but then he felt the need to stand. As he rose, his legs trembled beneath him. A trickle of red was coming from a canyon in his knee. He etched the outline of the thing with quaking fingers, feeling the contour as it ran in a slant toward the soft flesh on the inside of his thigh.
The hill rolled into the marsh which bordered a pleasant cove. He could see, at their moorings, little skiffs which bobbed up and down. They were rocked, he observed, as if by an invisible hand. He watched with delight as a little white sailboat, boasting a red stripe, bobbed in perfect rhythm with the rise and fall of his chest. On the other side of the hill, beyond the marsh, there were pines and scrub pines and oaks and a few beeches. Over the green, between the swaying peaks, he could see a steeple and, further still to the West, a clock tower in the distance. There was a trail headed in that direction; there was a trail that went down the hill and through the marsh and toward the steeple and the clock tower beyond. He could see it before him: a gash in the fine summer grasses and an unbroken line of stones and dust that had been tramped into existence by so many, for so long.
Without really thinking, he had begun to walk. His legs shook and his knee bled but he walked in a daze away from town, he walked slowly toward the cove across the marsh, at the bottom of the hill. From the tidal streams which flowed into the cove from the north, two came sailing in a little green boat that had been built before the last great war.
The two had not spoken honestly for the whole day. If they had, she would've come to know the trust in his arms and he would’ve understood why they called it lying with a woman. She watched, from the bow, as he let out the sheet tenderly, as he let the sail luff, as he savored every moment. He, from the stern, looked bashfully while pretending to scan the horizon or read the wind, as he tried to wordlessly convince that his glances were of duty, necessary, important. They sat in silence. He was too nervous to comment on the band of green silk she had tied around her head. She was too afraid to tell him about the bottle of wine she had bought for him, for them, to share. They kept on, their little craft beating on and toward the shore.
In the reeds, on the backside of the dunes to the east which protected the little cove from the wild sea beyond, a father and child waded. The child, Lucy, was no older than six and she had bright red cheeks and puffy white palms and two golden pigtails which streamed out from her bucket hat on either end. Behind her, not far away, her father watched over her. His eyes were wide and glistening as Lucy combed through tide pools, as she oohed and ahed at fiddler crabs darting across sun bleached quahog shells or rehydrated mermaid’s purses. She giggled as minnows darted around her pink calves. Her pudgy toes sank in the thick sand. For Lucy, the colors of the world were as bright as they had ever been. For her father, each tidepool was a salt-wracked mirror in which, for years to come, he would see the smiling face of his young daughter. He would try, for the rest of his life, to see the world as she saw it.
On the southern shore, where there are boats tied up and beached by the receding tide, an old man dug, with a clam rake, through the silty bottom: where the marsh met the long beginnings of the Earth’s foundation. He pushed and pulled with the rake’s cast iron teeth, feeling the stutter, ding and jilt as it went skipping over quahogs lounging in the shady sand beneath the surface. The old man thought about the joy of a clam, what it would be like to rest and relax down there, what it would be like to lie on your back on the cool sea floor and watch as the earth turned through the glass-green water above you. He had, at one point in his life, been a sailor. He had, at one point in his life, met fire and combustion which sent him, screaming, overboard, but when he opened his eyes there was nothing but the sun coming through the water. All is quiet under sea—flak guns were far, far away.
The runner stumbled over a piece of driftwood as his sneakers sank into the cove’s white sand. As he lurched forward, as his feet tripped over themselves and he stuttered toward the cool water, he saw a green boat with a yellow sail in the cove and two figures walking, carefully, over the little waves. Blood from his knee stained the sand as he limped. To the Northwest, built atop a hillock which comes quite suddenly out of the shifting tide, there was an old stone fort that was long since abandoned. He remembered, quite suddenly, that the fort had been built on the spot where an Indian trading post used to stand. When he was a boy, under the watchful eye of his mother in a scarf on the bluff, he had wandered old fort point for hours. He thought he, once, had found an arrowhead—but beneath the summer sun it was difficult to tell what was and what wasn’t a dream.
His knees got the better of him. He fell, forward, into the cove. The two lovers on the sailboat were too far to hear. The father was too slow in taking his eyes off Lucy to see the runner fall, but the digger came running. With ease, as one had done to him many years before, he dragged the runner from the water, from peace, and smiled as he coughed and opened his eyes.
“You gave me quite a scare there, my young friend!” The veteran said, laughing, as the world screamed back to life within the runner’s heatstroke-addled mind. “Can you stand?” The runner shook his head and shivered. “Ah! Don’t sweat it. You wait here, I’ll get the truck and give you a lift to Doc Mitchel’s, back to town. You stay put!” The cheerful sailor left and the little green boat was tied up and soon Lucy and her father were back at their rental place by the ferry landing. The good doctor was kind and the runner was given iodine and sports drinks and all was right in town cove but, that night, the runner lay awake in his bed.
Moonlight fell in a slant through the window and onto his cheek. He was trying. He was trying and he tried and he tried as hard as he could to remember. He tried to understand what he had seen and, more importantly, to remember. He knew his mother had worn a scarf and he knew that he had been a boy on fort point and he knew that he had fallen in love and faced many hardships but, for it all, he could not remember if he had ever found an arrowhead in the ruins of an Indian trading post. Though he could see it, though he could imagine finding it all dusty—only to polish it and marvel as it shone in the sun—he could not remember if it was real. A barn owl called outside his window. Pain came from his knee. The next day, he would run out, to the cove, again.
Nicholas C. Moore Jr. is a writer living in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a student, deckhand and enthusiastic intern. He can be found at [email protected].
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