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Oed’ und leer das Meer

September 23, 2009

A boy on a float, a large inner tube, black rubber, fully inflated.  He is out on the ocean with no land in sight, miles from anything so it seems.  The sky is cloudless, brilliant blue and the sun blazes down on the boy and his float, the black rubber tacky in the extreme heat.  The boy is bare-skinned, draped face down so that his fingers and toes dip in the cool water. 

The ocean is tranquil, more like a pond than the turbulent heart of the sea. The boy on his float drifts languidly, tethered by a long length of rope to another raft, the engine of this slow moving train.  This second raft is built from twine-lashed, rough hewn logs. There is a man standing upon it, his thin legs straddling the air, knobbed knees flexed for balance.  He’s clothed in little more than a scrap of fabric wrapped around his waist and knotted at the hip.  His build is slender and sinewy. His skin is burnt brown by the sun. His brown hair grows down beyond his shoulders and his unkempt beard obscures his face, making his features and expressions hard to read.  He leans his weight into a pole in the water, all shoulder and crooked elbow and clenched fist, piloting the raft who knows where. 

There is a third party accompanying the man and boy out here in the middle of nowhere. Not man or animal but a presence, a baleful black cloud that drifts beside them at a distance.  The cloud is sentient, crackling with electric pulse, hissing cryptic static threats. The man appears to understand, and silently obeys its message.  The boy is scared of the cloud.  He cannot look at it, for when he does it snarls and glares back at him with eyes of black smoke, like a giant, barbarous dog protecting what’s his, asserting authority, preparing to strike. He tries to ignore it instead, continues to laze on the black rubber tire, face turned downward, slapping at the cool water with his playful hands.

 The boy stares into the ocean’s depths; the water at the surface is murky green, lit from above by the sun and fading gradually, the deeper it goes, to absolute black.  His attention is suddenly diverted by the sight of a fish, swimming up from the blackness into the light. This fish is completely out of the ordinary, koi-like, ornamental, with long flowing fins and scintillant scales, awash in bold, deep hues of purple, green, blue, and red. The koi has some features that are unusually human, particularly female – her eyes are human eyes, blue irises, and pupils bright and focused, and her lips are red and full, soft and inviting. She is also a flying fish and she puts on a show for the boy, leaping above the water’s surface, frisking in the air, turning and spinning and whirling about, then splashing down in the water again.  She entertains the boy, transfixes him with her dance upon the water, and when she is done she swims right up to him as if to kiss him. Stopping just short, she begins to spin, round and round, faster and faster she spins until she dissolves in a blur of color.

The boy’s attention is diverted again, this time by something swimming deeper below the surface, a giant manta ray gliding beneath him, propelling itself with a single flap of its vast black wings. Then all is turmoil.

The sky goes dark with menacing, thunderous clouds. The ocean begins to roil and lurch, waves rise up as high as towers with searing whitecaps rearing and kicking. The sea is spinning, slowly at first then faster and faster, a colossal, violent whirlpool, a maelstrom. The boy is tossed about, his small fingers digging into the black rubber, pinching it between his fingertips, gripping the tire with all his strength, nearly drowned, until he loses consciousness.

He awakens in the mud.  Lifting himself up from the sea bed, he sees that the ocean has disappeared.  Everything has disappeared.  The cloud is gone, the man on his raft, the tire tube and the fish, all gone.  As far as he can see, to the horizon in every direction, is a flat plain of mud beneath a cloudless blue sky.

 Then something catches his eye. In the distance, something small and shiny, winking in the sun.  He walks to it.  It takes some effort, for the mud is deep and wet and clings to his legs and feet, slowing his progress.  Reaching the object, he discovers it to be a silver cup, his silver cup, the one he was given as a baby, a baptism gift from his godparents, the one that normally sits on his bookshelf in his bedroom at home.  How did it get here? he wonders. How did I get here? In the instant of recognition, and despite the confusion, one thing seems perfectly clear; this cup was the eye of the storm, the funnel through which all the water of the sea emptied and disappeared.

 He picks it up and looks inside. Stuck to the bottom, limp and nearly lifeless, is the beautiful fish. One glassy eye stares up at him and her mouth snaps open and shut, drowning in the air. The boy is desperate to save her and turns in circles looking for water, but there’s nothing. He clutches the cup to his chest and begins to walk, and then to run. Soon, he is out of breath himself.

This piece was written in 1991. It was inspired by a dream, *the dream*, the one dream you dream in your lifetime that puts every other dream to shame. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to spin this into a larger story. I’m still trying. But maybe it stands alone, maybe it is the story, all by itself.

If you’re wondering about the title, it’s a little bit Wagner, a little bit Eliot, and a little bit Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. You can google it to find out what the hell that means.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2009 6:28 pm

    Wonderful writing! I love this one… too.

  2. Todd Whitney permalink
    October 12, 2009 8:48 am

    Sean, this story is amazing! Definitely one of my favorites. I think it is perfect just the way it is. Kathy

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