Our Earthly Souls
With aching was the water shivered. Every drop of liquid that filled every sea felt the pull, that innate yearning, towards something. The water filled the cracks in the Earth, the would-be empty spaces. It sloshed against distant lands to the lull of unheard music, to the waltz of the moon, to the silent quaking of some far away, dislocated rock.
A desolate figure sat on a damp, rotted-out log, waiting for the water to lap over his toes and reach up for him. He sees the longing of the ocean. It cries out in the fall of the waves and the rise and pull of thin wet panes over dark sand.
He’d heard stories about how long ago all land was one great mass, and all of the water, another. All the land had risen above the sea like a gargantuan mountain reaching up toward the heavens.
But nobody knew the whole story. One man had told him, by the dim light in a corner tavern, how over time the land broke apart, into continents and islands.
Milky light from the lanterns and the restless glow of the fire had fought off the darkness that had settled in the room; and this mixture added a dramatic backdrop to the old man’s shaky voice. The boy felt uneasily aware of the tenseness of his skin, the stiffness of the back of his chair. He was discomforted by this man’s wisdom, by his every movement and every word. He quietly watched the man look down, watched him scratch the bottom of his chin, heard him sputter soft coughs, almost imperceptible. His ancient eyes, nestled into pale, rough skin, had oceans behind them, and the boy was afraid to look too deeply. The old man shifted in his wooden chair, stirred the fire, and spoke:
“So the great ocean filled in all the spaces that had been created . . . do you understand?”
“I think so,” the younger lied. What all was there to understand?
The man chuckled delicately, knowingly. “Son, I mean have you ever been in love?”
Now, from his perch on the soft wood, he searched again into the layer of water above the sand, and answered:
Yes, I have been in love.
Three of them ran through fields and made up games to be forgotten. His memories of Adam and Dawn were like sugar that was in short supply. Those sunny days, when their laughter left indelible shadows on the hallowed ground, were marked by the eternal, unforgettable promises sealed by hands pressing together smears of blood, and later with dangerous words that proved the understanding that comes with age. All of his memories were tinged with red and if memory could make a sound, his would sound like their voices.
Dawn had these eyes that reflected the world in a way he had never seen anyone’s eyes do. He thought of her movements, of her dance, and of her smell with a longing that rivaled all four oceans. The tide rose with the setting sun. He looked out and thought of her kisses, glimpsed views of the smile lines on her cheeks as she leaned in. He tried to wrap his mind around how at one moment in time she could be so close and at another she could be on the other side of the sea. She was alive, and breathing, and waking on some other continent, maybe Europe or Asia, but she was no longer with him. And Adam was in a very different place.
Perhaps the ocean was whispering this truth, because suddenly he felt in the deepest crevices of his soul that the water was not just between them, but also connected them, as if its currents carried all their thoughts, back and forth to one another.
He could not see just how small he looked sitting next to an ocean that stretched to the edge of the world. To his back was an expanse of a wasteland that also went on into the distance. Blanketing the ground here were eternal plastics and decomposing papers and rusting metal; the careful mind could make out the tips of guns, the casings of bullets, the faded ink on abandoned propaganda, the tattered love letters folded up into fourths; and it might wonder about the instinct that brought all these things into being . . . wonder what energy, lying in the embers of every living soul, inspired their creation.
But this one’s eyes were on the sea, and the sea overwhelmed him. He couldn’t grasp it. All he could do was recount Adam’s last words, again and again:
“Look for me in the ocean.”