Saturday, June 26, 2010

Forgotten But Not Gone

Twelve years ago, I submitted an essay to a woman enthusiastically engaged in compiling an anthology of women’s invincible spirit as they move through the challenges and obstacles of life’s journey. It was a daunting task. Many agents and publishers were approached only to find the book “wasn’t a good fit” for their needs (a recurring theme for all writers at some point in their career).

Eventually, I let go of anticipation and figured it was another good idea that bit the dust. Years passed. This weekend I retrieved a package from my mailbox. The return address sounded oddly familiar, but I couldn’t place it immediately. I opened the package to find a paperback book, Potpourri For And About Women. Nice, I thought. I wonder who sent it to me.

Under the front cover was a lovely note from the author, thanking me for my contribution to her book. This was a copy in thanks and recognition. What contribution, I wondered. I read on. She pointed out the story name and page number of my submission. Oh my gosh; I’d forgotten all about that piece. I scanned the list of contributors, and there was my friend Marsh’s name too.

I e-mailed Marsh about my literary faux pas at having forgotten I’d even submitted a story. She wrote back, the chuckle obvious in her words. She, too, had forgotten she’d submitted a piece twelve years prior, as had her friend, Susan, whose piece was also in the anthology.

In the author’s preface, she states, “Sharing our secrets and personal life details with others is also one of the primary means by which we humans “connect” with one another.” With that in mind, I offer you my (rediscovered) piece, “She.”

She is an observer—that is the way she participates. She witnesses; she records. She walks along the beach close to the water’s edge.

A sea otter, bobbing in and out of foamy surf, tracks her. A gray pelican dips its wings as it skims the water. The waves lap at the edges of her shoes. Fat seagulls eye her in search of food. She carries only feathers and sand speckled stones gathered from the beach.

A couple meanders by holding hands, enveloped in that aura that separates them from others. She is not part of a couple. She is a woman alone. She tells others she’s become too set in her ways, values her solitude too much to relearn the art of partnering. She tells herself she is withered from aloneness and no longer believes she has what is needed to share. She is left with a quiet longing and the ability to observe.

She parks her chaise lawn chair on the very edge of the water. The surf at high tide comes rushing, swirling beneath her, surrounding her in gray foam and motion. She lets her fingers dangle in the Pacific. She is on an island, a tiny oasis of dull green and weathered white woven strands of porous nylon that holds her inches above being swept away by the pull of the receding water. She smiles as her mind drifts out to sea.

Sitting at the water’s edge, she shares the crusts of her sandwich and a few stray grapes with a seagull. Gulls, feathers puffed in anticipation, beaks agape in expectation, besiege her. She throws her whole sandwich onto the beach and covers her ears at the cacophony that follows.

A walnut colored sea otter floats by just off shore. With whiskers twitching, it arches its sleek back, dives serpent like into the waves, and disappears.

A gray pelican, head, neck, and body forming a flying “Z” skims the surface of the water. He retreats to the peak of a barnacle encrusted volcanic rock and preens himself in the sun.

She rises and plays a game of chase with her bare feet inching her toes ever closer to the receding foam and skip-jumping backward, just in time as the surf breaks and rushes forth to capture lost ground. She loses. Icy water swirls about her and she sinks ever so slightly, as the sand shifts beneath her weight.

She hadn’t noticed a family walking toward her inland along the beach. They’ve come for the day, or perhaps forever—it’s hard to tell. They are laden with beach paraphernalia. A small girl child trails slightly behind wearing a quality of God about her tiny frame. Shiny dark hair hangs straight to her thin shoulders; her skin is the same walnut color as the sea otter. Her sun-browned feet leave miniature prints in the sand. She appears like a tiny packhorse carrying a bulky burlap sack in each arm. A brightly colored serape is thrown over her shoulders, its tattered corner trails behind her in the sand.

The family passes, taking no notice of the woman at the water’s edge. Their voices speak a language unfamiliar to her ears. The girl child pauses to consider the woman. Her almond shaped brown eyes sparkle—or maybe it’s the sun glinting off the cornea of her eyes. A shy smile reveals three dark spaces where teeth were perhaps weeks ago. The woman feels vulnerable and exposed in the girl child’s steady gaze; a chill passes through her, and then her heart warms and softens. She looks away from the child and then back again. The girl says something in that foreign tongue that sounds like, “it’s okay, lady.” A tear slips form the woman’s eye. The girl child walks on.

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