Friday, January 15, 2016

Transience




Hi folks, and happy Flash Fiction Friday! 
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Transience
I’ve come to the beach again. The white caps smash and foam against the rocks while I think.
The beach has always been my haven, the place where I do my best thinking. Today, I’m thinking about retirement. It’s not the first time I’ve thought about this, but it’s the most serious. I’m getting pressure, again, from management. They haven’t said so, but I can tell that my wrinkled skin and snow-white hair frighten them. They’re afraid I’ll fall and break a hip at work, or worse yet, keel over and die. I frighten them and so they don’t want me around. My clients would understand how I feel.
I arrange rocks, mussel shells, and bits of lichen against a backdrop of pungent fucus rockweed at the high tide line. I can’t be still. Never have been able to. Underlying all the other rationalizations, this need to move is the reason I didn’t retire five or ten years ago when my peers did. This need to move, and my fear of becoming meaningless and invisible. Retirement, I’ve always thought, is a kind of death.
Everywhere I go, I carry my oversized purse, stuffed until the seams split. Stuffed with needlework, sketchpad, origami paper, and even a bit of wood, and my whittling knife. The latter is top secret, of course. If anyone at work found out I had a knife in my bag, they’d probably call the cops. Or fire me on the spot. Or both.
 I can’t be still. Even now, I complete my spontaneous still-life assemblage and, without pause, begin a small cairn. I sift through the rocks around my feet, selecting and stacking.
When I meet with clients, I am always drawing out what I wish them to understand. I send them away with lists and diagrams. I build things for them, too. I used to keep a set of brightly painted blocks at my desk until some young thing, straight out of graduate school, informed me that baby toys have no place in the treatment of mentally ill adults. “Let me show you how I use them,” I’d said, but she didn’t have time. The blocks were to be removed, or she would write me up for insubordination. After that, I hoarded office supplies. Rectangular pencil erasers, paperclips, small paper cups from the nurse’s office, and tall stacks of sticky notes became my building blocks.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see two seals bobbing just off shore. Their whiskered faces and rounded heads make them look like enormous puppies, still slick with amniotic fluid.
I move a rock off my cairn-in-progress and root around for a good replacement. When I glance back up, I think that I see one of the seals pulled out near the large black boulder down the beach. Then, the seal seems to unfold, and I realize that I’m seeing a woman stand up and unbend from where she’s been crouching. I shake my head and chuckle to myself at the trick my eyes have played on me. I can almost convince myself that I’ve just seen a selkie. I chuckle again and pick up a flat oval rock, and place it on my cairn, then scan the bay. The seals have disappeared. I turn back to my rocks.
She approaches me from downwind and I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing that I don’t see her until she’s at my elbow. I stand up and take a step sideways, a step away from her.
She contemplates the cairn for a while in silence, and I have time to admire the shiny luxuriousness of her brown hair streaked with tinsel bright silver hairs. She looks about my age, but her skin is smoother than mine, and almost shiny with moisture.
“You are an artist,” the woman says and points her chin at my cairn.
I don’t deny it, I just shrug.
“You know it will all be destroyed when the tide comes in, don’t you?”
“Destroyed? Nah,” I say. “Just rearranged.”
“The ingredients will remain, but your vision, your art, those will be erased. As though you were never here.”
I stare into the woman’s dark brown eyes while I think about what she’s said.
“I guess that’s true. I never thought about it that way before.”
“Why do you do it? Why do you make something beautiful that will be gone so soon?”
“Umm?” I reply and massage the back of my neck.
We breathe together, this strange woman and me, until the words come to me.
“I don’t do it for someone else to see it and think that it’s beautiful, or to see it and know I was here. I just do it for the pleasure of doing it. Besides, it’s still beautiful once the tide dismantles it.”
“Is it really still beautiful? What if I were to tell you that once you leave this beach, no human will ever look, really look, at this rock ever again?” She touches the edge of the rock at the top of the stack.
“People don’t have to see something in order for it to be beautiful,” I say, with something very much like scorn in my tone. “Every rock on this planet is beautiful, whether a human ever sees it or not.”
The woman smiles a tiny smile and nods. “Good. So you are saying that beauty is innate, even when it is unseen or invisible.”
I’m lost again, in this strange conversation. I push my bifocals up my nose and make a face, squinting my eyes as I think. “I guess I am.”
The woman nods again, her smile growing wider.
“We’re all invisible, you know.”
“Maybe” I say. I don't know where she's going with this.
“People don’t see what confuses and upsets them. People don’t see what they look at when it doesn’t follow the rules they know. We’re all invisible.”
I nod in silence and think about the rules I don't follow.
“We are all beautiful and invisible.” She gives me a look full of meaning, and then turns on her heel and heads back down the beach to that big black boulder.
This time, I’m paying attention when it happens. I’m watching for it. The woman bends over and crouches down, all in one movement. Then, a seal waddles a few feet away from the rock and slides into the tumultuous waves.