Friday, 26 February 2010

Digging For Australia #fridayflash 650 words

Why is it, when the weather's not even particularly warm, ice cream nonetheless melts? Runneling through your fingers before you've even stepped away from the vendor's stall. More pertinently, why is it that my son even hankers after the chill fruit smack of frozen ice? Like a desperate old bar soak, he has dragooned me into also having one, to keep him company. Even though I know its frigidity will inevitably sting and set my teeth on edge. But seems I must render him some penitential reparation, for having dragged him out here to this fitful pleasure zone in the first place.

There he sits on the desolate sand. Like an unturned out sandcastle huddled in its plastic mould. His body is still spasmed for, and from the city. Our tower block on stilts, which merely serves to channel the wind beneath such vaulting limbs. A piercing, penetrative force that pinballs us backwards and keeps us from successfully escaping its concrete flippers. Until today that is. When I ferried him here, solely to be embraced by the lapping waves as they lay feeble supplication at his feet. But he is yet to unfurl himself toward their anointing. Rather than spreading his being into the limitless expanse of space, he is hunched like a panhandler who has been working the streets too long. And him only six years old.

Where he's plopped himself down, he straddles the sand's water table levels. The dry, powdery grains too wispily diffuse to hold any integrity within his actual bucket. And the darker stained grist that offers solid architectural possibilities. The long-handled spade stands unmanned (unboyed?) within the lighter strain. Redundantly wafting in its own thin rootedness. A miscalculation on my part. Far too unwieldy for his little arms. A grasp of physics or geometry whichever it is, far beyond my reach. Maybe he'll inherit a natural comprehension of the world from his father. But we've no way of ever knowing that now have we?

However, he is no more frozen, nor less motile than these rippling ice creams. There appears some synergy between him and the sand after all. His hands kees burrowing into it at the borders of his seated self. Scooping out handfuls, and casting them away. Casting a rune around himself, or building a moat? To fend off whom exactly? And still he pilots his hand down. Hoping to strike oil, or water perhaps? But he is too far from the lip of the sea for it to mine through the sand and fill his trench. He has beached himself up in dry dock.

The pace of his digging noticeably increases as I approach. He has fully encircled himself now, ready to see out a siege? If he had preserved straighter lines, then I could convince myself he was limning a magic carpet for him to take flight. All I can apprehend now, is him trying to tunnel through to Australia on the other side of the world and as far away from me as possible.

The transfer of the cream-slicked cone into small fingers gritted with sand, conspires to deliver the inevitable fall to earth. An Icarian fusion on a day devoid of sun. We both stare down dumbly at the lugubrious cone, presently performing a reasonable impersonation of a large whelk shell. Then I see his eyes crinkle towards the encompassing of all years of future disappointments held out by the world. Quickly I proffered him my cone and cradled his fingers around it within my own. One always needs a back up, a plan B, a second option. A stand-in. Unfortunately I had just the one child and said child had just the one mother.

32 comments:

PDAllen said...

Love the rhythms in this piece. I can hear it being read aloud in long breaths, almost running one sentence into another, creating an hypnotic picture. Many great lines in here, just choose one. "An Icarian fusion on a day devoid of sun."

Skycycler said...

A solid, architectural story. Concrete flippers?! Flipping brilliant. And then this wonderful line: "Then I see his eyes crinkle towards the encompassing of all years of future disappointments held out by the world."
Marc, you make your words line up and pay for entry into your stories. And they do you service. I remember digging to Australia. I remember the feel of that grist.

Linda said...

I also glommed onto "An Icarian fusion on a day devoid of sun." And runneling; the feel of wet sand flowing between fingers, and melted ice cream.

Oh to never disappoint, or be disappointed. Thank you for this gift. Peace, Linda

Anonymous said...

Hello, as you may already noticed I am newbie here.
I will be happy to receive some assistance at the start.
Thanks in advance and good luck! :)

Marisa Birns said...

"Limning a magic carpet for him to take flight"

Yes, yes. Love the image.

So many well constructed sentences that bring power to the story and enjoyment to the read.

You are a master wordsmith.

mazzz in Leeds said...

I can't decide whether the ending is heartbreaking or heartwarming. I see no reason why "both" shouldn't be an option.

Lots of great stuff here - the comparison with the old bar soak was perfect

Tony Noland said...

The last lines were heartbreaking. Plan A, always looking over her shoulder for a Plan B - sad.

Very evocative and beautiful peice.

David Masters said...

Is the narrator a distant academic taking his son for a rare day out? He seems like the kind of character who is afraid to call a spade a spade. He always wants a way out of everything, a plan B, but there is none with his son. He's stuck with what he's got.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Marc, I can only echo what others have said - this is absolutely brilliant! The way your sentences read it sounds as if you used hours to find the right words, but we all know you didn't - they just roll right off your tongue like butter. Love "runneling", among others.
Great, great work!

shannon said...

The distance between them, dug in the sand by the child, was such a strong visual of their relationship. It made me sad at the end, when she gave him her icecream. It sort of felt like she was giving up. We all have to learn about disappointment, and parents can't protect their children from the small ones...or the big ones later will disable them.
This is a gorgeous portrait of a parent/child relationship, Marc, encompassing the fear, panic and altimately love beyond our understanding.

One thing though...as David M. confused your narrator for the father, I have to say, I found the voice here to sound more male, also. Not sure why...anyone else feel this?

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks for all your comments guys.

Deanna, the weird thing about runneling, is that it doesn't exist as a verb according to my dictionary and yet I an reading the new Don Dellilo novel "Point Omega" today and lo and behold he uses runneling as a verb too! I can die happy now.

As to the gender of the parent, I'm interested to know what words/phrasing makes you think she's male? Then I can try and give you an answer.

Thanks again.

marc

Anne Tyler Lord said...

What a beautifully sad scene. I also heard the voice of an academic when I was reading this - distant, brilliant, intellectual & poetic in their own way.

Your word-smithing skill never ceases to amaze. This story was really full of emotion and great imagery.

G.P. Ching said...

Wouldn't it be great if relationships could be healed with ice cream? Bittersweet moment captured here. Terrific rhythm in this piece. Nice job.

John Wiswell said...

I can't remember ever reading the word "runneling" before, but that was the perfect word for it.

Melissa said...

Limn--again! :) The last paragraph is just gorgeous, and, as a mother, I can relate a little too well. Love the imagery and symbolism here. As for the gender of the narrator--when it began I for some reason read it as male as well until something tipped me off differently-the remark about the father or maybe before. I think it's because the narrator does seem distanced, very analytical in the reflection--as if watching and studying the feelings instead of feeling them. Feeling but not feeling, if that makes any sense. I guess I fell into the gender trap b/c many times that is seen as a male trait--even though I tend to do it myself many times as an academic--or, when something seems just too painful to face head on, like here. I've done it as a mother, too....Great flash!

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Melissa fort quantifying it for me.

I think the distance and the observational one is because physically I see her up on the boardwalk by the ice cream seller, looking back at the boy very small and isolated on a vast, unpopulated beach. The distance is actualised and frames her perception.

marc

David G Shrock said...

Nice story. Uncertain if runnel can be a verb, but it works good here.

Sulci Collective said...

Ha David, I refer you to Don Dellilo's new book "Point Omega". Can't argue against the master!

Karen from Mentor said...

My work is done for me. What Shannon, GP and Melisa said.

Except that I thought the narrator was female all the way through.

this line:
"Like an unturned out sandcastle huddled in its plastic mould."

LOVE the stored up potential of that.


And as an aside:
Watch out for Deanna,who knew she had such thoughts? *blushes* at the imagery she conjured. :0)

TF said...

I, of course, never dug for Australia. I have not yet experienced the vertigo of parenthood. This sketch is a window into both.

Marc, you, and your readers, enjoy the wordplay. Words can, however, get in the way, belying your strength as a storyteller. The balance in this piece is close to perfect.

Laura Eno said...

Beautiful piece! So full of rhythm, just like the sea. I read the narrator as the father all the way through, thinking the last sentence referred to maybe the mother dying.

shannon said...

Looking back and trying to pinpoint where I got the male perspective, it came in the word "hankers". May just be an American thing, but I've only heard southern men use that term. Plus, yes, the analyzing instead of the feeling, but you explained that well.

Cascade Lily said...

Another reader who thought the narrator was male! I think it's the excessive use of the alliterative p and s - harsh and sibillant. Women are reputed to talk more softly, with softer sounding words peppering their speech. This was a very dense read. Lots and lots packed in to a small space.

And Australia! Woot!

Laurita said...

Your word choices are always perfection. Linda picked out my favourite phrase: "An Icarian fusion on a day devoid of sun."

Melissa said...

You're one of my favorite liars. :) There's an award for you at my blog. http://windspirit-girl.livejournal.com/21170.html

Amy J Taylor said...

Heartbreaking ending, beautiful piece. Very well written.

Lou Freshwater said...

This is one of the most piercing expressions of the complex emotions of a parent I have ever read. I felt it each step of the way, and it was cathartic to read such an honest account of how vulnerable we remain (in part because of the child's stunning vulnerability) every moment that occurs after we become a parent. And of the penetrating distance we sometimes endure as we watch them digging away from us.

"Then I see his eyes crinkle towards the encompassing of all years of future disappointments held out by the world."

Yes, I say with tears in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

His lips parted ever so slightly, and she heard a soft sigh of breath expel. It is akin to the spell that has protected him for the last two decades. Shes already denied me. Radins mental warning didnt help. His control rushed up around hers, holding her in, holding her back. She was still searching for a way to make it up to them. She rubbed her belly. Just remember what She told you. These people still loved her, even if she no longer believed she deserved it. But… Again, she coughed over the lump in her throat. She dropped her gaze since her face was still tilted by Brevins fingers. Now theres the Eyrie weve known all our lives. She arched her back as best she could and screamed. Should I take that as a yes? Relief put a smile on Brevins face. She shivered at the feel of liquid warmth oozing out of her. Without variety, our culture would grow evenmore stagnant. Considering the alternatives, I think what we endured recently is preferable. The curl to his lip was resigned. He switched his hold as he knelt on the mattress.

Sulci Collective said...

Well thanks for clearing that up Anon...

Marc

CJ Hodges MacFarlane said...

I particularly enjoyed her guesses on to what he was thinking as he was digging. Not sure why, but I suppose I spend a lot of time just observing (my) children, wondering what they are thinking while I think about them. A beautiful snippet of life here.

~Tim said...

This one will have me thinking for a long time.

Cathy Olliffe said...

Everything was so darn serious at this party until Anonymous showed up ... what the heck is up with that?????
Anyway, I totally thought the parent was a father, mostly because men think about their relationship with their children; women just feel it.
Big generalization, I know... I was surprised when other people thought mother, not father.
Loved your story, Marc, even though it's way above me.