I awoke early this morning from a dream. I had been lying on a beach with a great purple teddy bear on top of me. At first I thought, We are the same size, we are very similar, and then I thought, The bear is twice the size I am. Small lapping waves followed our combined silhouette without quite touching us. Try as I might, I couldn’t locate the head of the bear, which I understood I would have to do in order to remove it from me. The head, I thought, would be enormous, and perhaps so large that I wasn’t able to make it out. Earlier or later in the dream, the bear and I were attempting to walk across a greasy newly mopped tiled floor of a restaurant. We were holding hands. A ceiling fan spun above us. Again, I could see no head on the bear, and again it was necessary to find it, in the dream, in order to escape my predicament.
I got out of bed quietly so as not to wake my partner, grabbed my jeans and a shirt from the floor and left the room. In the living room, in front of the window that has a venetian blind that we’re no longer able to lower, I changed and pulled a pair of shoes over the socks I’d slept in that have been worn down to almost nothing. I could feel the patches of exposed skin on the soles of my feet sticking to the leather. I said to myself, Soon I will no longer notice the sensation. I drove towards the coast in the almost dark.
I was not alone on the path that winds its way around the coastline. There were joggers, people walking dogs, three men on one long bicycle, and a man selling blue and green snow cones to a group of excited children. He handed the children the snow cones and they handed him large octagonal silver coins that they kept in small tulle pouches. I checked the pockets of my jeans to see if I had any such coins, but I failed to find any. Nevertheless, with the joy and goodwill towards life emanating from all of those around me, I felt a cool cheer passing through my body. The sun was ready to meet us, to help us continue through the day, whatever it was we were to encounter.
I continued on around the coast, my regret at not having been able to buy a snow cone faded as the sun warmed my face. Soon the only person I was able to see was a man lying on the concrete wall between the path and the sand. I’d seen him only a few days earlier on the train. He had been sitting directly across from me, cradling in his arms a small black stereo playing heavy metal songs. I had been moved by how tenderly he’d held the stereo. Then, as now, his face had been obscured by a long wavy fringe of straw-coloured hair, so I was unable to see if he wore an expression of peacefulness or malice. Now was the time, I thought, to gently brush the fringe from his face, but I was worried that I then wouldn’t be able to see the man in the same light again.
Passing around the rocky promontory always makes me feel fit and healthy, and strengthens my resolve that the decisions I’ve made in my life have been, on balance, the correct ones, though I’ve long since stopped weighing this particular decision against that. This time, I noticed a small hut just above the rocks. I clambered up a narrow path and climbed onto the porch. There was a piece of paper taped to the door with “For sale” written across it. The edges of the paper had been curled by the sun and the sea salt carried in the wind, though the letters appeared to have been traced over recently. I knocked and a moment later an elderly man, who was as muscular and healthy as the promontory always made me feel, ushered me inside.
I asked him if the hut was still for sale. Yes, he said, he was desperate to sell. You see, he said, no one ever comes this way anymore. Try as he might, he’d been unable to attract anybody’s attention. I told him that unfortunately I had no money on me. He shook my hand and then hugged me as though we’d reached an agreement after a drawn-out negotiation. He then explained to me how I was to make the soap finish for the oak table by dissolving shavings of soap in water. If I were to apply the finish every summer and winter solstice, he said, just as he, his father and his grandfather had done, the table would remain soft and luminous. Yes, I can do this, I’m sure I can do this, I said. He told me who had made each of the fishing nets that were on the floor at our feet, and then took me back out to the porch, where he demonstrated casting the net that his uncle Paul had made by throwing it over the rocks. It was important, he said, to use your hips as well as your wrists. If you don’t have good wrists, he said, you’re done for.
I looked at my wrists and thought of the break one of them had suffered when I’d fallen from a tree as a child. I recalled my brother kneeling over me singing a lullaby that he’d sung to me many times before to soothe my pain as my sister ran through the fields for help. My brother was crying as he sang. Stopping between verses, he assured me that my sister too would be crying as she now went from room to room in our house searching for our parents. Back inside, as we both swept our hands across the soft and luminous oak tabletop, I said, No, I can’t remain here. With his head lowered, the man removed the three tins of sardines he’d taken in preparation for his departure from his coat pocket and returned them to the pantry. He moved to hug me once again but I was worried I would crush him. Stepping back, I left.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 28, 2023 as "Pathway".
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