PROMISES MADE UNDERWATER
(A kiss for the mural)
Colored electrical lights affixed to small poles had stationed themselves at the bottom of the wall. There were some yellow ones and some were blue, while on the sides two that were faded and orange tried also to throw their glow up at the wall. It was the white ones though, larger in physical size and with more wattage, that outshone the others. Beside all of these were thick grasses and they were probably as thick as a brand or type could come without being called feral. They grew up all ways amid and amongst themselves, hunter and forest green hued, but so textured for the thousands of blades that at times they appeared black. This was all on the Atlantic Coastline and the sea somehow both rhymed and foiled the sky. The first boasted of whitecaps and reefs, of piers that tried to race out to the horizon line where cargo ships tried to slate the sea and floating man’o’ war, of poison puffer fish and myriad other artifacts. The second was a home to small planes that flew banners advertising local eateries and other events, and strange native birds flew by there with cumulus and cirrus both watching their flight and the ways of the planes. The coastline was a mixture of bright cement curbs that waited beyond the hot sands and of course the palms, terrene trunks and verdant leaves, which lived with a slightly cocked posture in boulevards of woodchips, sand, or both.
When the day tired of itself and even the dusk became overtaken by the night come to announce itself like a wave, the mural could be seen for the lights that shone on the wall. The mural was painted three or four stories tall on the side of, depending on how you looked at it, a large motel or a small hotel. It was of a tall ship, a realist-painting, and nobody knew who the artist was because it was neither signed nor dated. The ship was with wind in the white sails and the ocean birds scattering across the forecastle. The sea, rough, choppy, a sky threatening rain but no rain yet – but the ship – determined, going, plodding through to somewhere. I often paused to look at the ship in the day and also at the night. I stared at the picture until someone had to tap me on the shoulder and bring be back to the motel streets, the bright curbs, the sounds of the sea or the nearby seagulls yapping over scraps.
At nights, I waded unceremoniously through the water up to mid shin. Nothing really happened save for the night. I made the mistake of going in a bit deeper. I felt a solid object and wanted to see what it could be since whole conch shells, bright pieces of coral broken off from the nearby reefs, and other treasures could be found in that area. As I bent down, I did manage to grab the piece but I then lost my footing due to a wave and perhaps the dark. Next thing, a larger wave appeared and brought me out about five or ten more feet. I had gotten taken in an undertow, the bottom side and invisible part of the wave that pulls outwards back to the sea again. I was under the water and had swallowed what felt, against reason, like a chunk of the sea. Flailing my arms, thinking I would tread, and waiting to hear the sound that the arm and hand make upon the top – I realized that I was further under the ocean than I expected. Panic-dread-angst, all mixed together as an emotional stew. Bits of white specks in the vision, some internal vision. Nothing supernatural that I knew of – probably neurons firing and creating some odd lights. I wasn’t coming up. I didn’t know who Poseidon was but it felt like something was pulling. It was only more undertow. I said internally that I would kiss the ship, the painting of the ship – if I could get back up. Who I said it to, and why, I didn’t and do not know. Maybe I said it to the firmament, the reef, to an unknown God or Gods, to the whole, to myself, or to nobody at all. Maybe I thought the ship was a rendering of a real ship and the spectres or phantoms of the crew lived in those parts still. Oxygen deprivation, chaos, the feeling of going further downwards – these did not live well with logic. But as soon as I said it I was up. Gasping, I swam inwards, and lay on the shore. After some time I rose, shook myself off and walked towards where I had set out that dusk.
The next days held hours that were quietly rhapsodic. Outwardly I appeared the same and did the prosaic things that make up time. Inwardly I was happy to be among the earth dwellers and the living. Days learned how to be weeks as they traded themselves continually for night and then the night for the bright and onwards. Weeks joined hands and made a few months. Eventually I left. I forgot to kiss the mural. It would have looked insane, so maybe I intentionally forgot. But I wanted to. I thought I would be back but it’s not always the case that you get to go back. An unfulfilled promise and a broken deal. Maybe this is my kiss for the tall ship. I wonder sometimes if the mural is still there where the sea, effervescent, a salty and languid but dangerous libation, kisses the shore. And if it is, I wonder if the strong white lights nestled in thick grasses still outshine the others and splash themselves on the ship and the sea and the sky beginning in late dusk and going through the long pitch dark stretch right into places where secrets and promises are borne and made.
Brian Michael Barbeito is a resident of Ontario, Canada. He is the author of the book of short fictions Chalk Lines from Fowl Pox Press (2013) . Recent work appears at Fiction International from San Diego State University.