Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Strings

A young man in shabby clothing drops off the edge of a dark, windswept cliff. Flashbacks tear through his mind: the catching glimpse of Kate’s eyes in the city park; their first kiss on a summer beach; her handkerchief waving him off to England; the final, pleading letter he failed to answer. Other flashbacks reveal what led to his irreversible despair: the empty streets of London’s entertainment district, the men having gone off to war; a dark figure scampering off with his puppet cases; coins panhandled and later spent in bystreet taverns.

Kate sleeps soundly in her lighthouse across the sea, moon full and bright over the New England landscape. On an old Shaker chair sits a marionette, sculpted by Martin in his own image: a temporary companion. The puppet is of simple design, lanky, with long arms and a soft pine body. Its yellow hair, blue shirt, and gray pants are made of paint. Tall teeth adorn a wry smile beneath sleepy eyes. It leans forward, slow and deliberate, like a plant leaning in toward the sun. Strings vibrate ever so slightly.

Cold waves crash and spray against Martin’s inert body. He begins to slide off the barnacled rocks on a layer of blood and algae, then slips into the ocean and floats facedown beneath indifferent stars. Salt water fills his lungs. He sinks into darkness.

The marionette slides off its chair to the moonlit floorboards. Kate moans and turns to her side, white nightgown stretched tight against her body. Black hair falls across her eyes where Martin, handsome and smiling, waves from a passenger ship and disappears into an Old World fog.

Tiny fish dart about the darkness, nipping off bits of Martin’s skin. There is no pain, but he is conscious of submergence, of a heaviness thrust against his head, chest, back and limbs. And there’s a pressing outward from within as seawater enters his organs. He lingers in a cloud of blood, waiting for the nightmare to end, to be released from limbo.

Wobbling on skinny legs, the marionette gets to its feet and lurches forward like a drunk. The cross-handle drags behind it. Kate sits up, still asleep. “Martin? Is that you?”

A jellyfish flits by in the pervasive blackness. It is strikingly beautiful, illuminating the dark like a green moon in a turbid sky. Kate’s face coruscates inside of it, piercing Martin’s soul, tempting him to embrace her. But his limbs are useless. So his thoughts turn to puppetry, to the manipulation of inanimate objects: he envisions strings on his arms and on his legs; strings across his shoulders; strings at the top of his bleeding head. And when thick, tangible strands suddenly appear out of nowhere, his heart rejoices, triggering a telekinetic response that plucks and dances his body toward the passing eidolon.

The marionette nears the bed and the cross-handle rises, lifting the puppet into the air. Wooden legs clank together as it floats to a bedpost and wraps its segmented arms around the ornate finial. Kate repeats Martin’s name, prompting the puppet to descend to the mattress. The girl rolls away, grabs a green bottle off the nightstand and clambers barefoot out the window between billowing curtains. She sleepwalks beneath the rotating lighthouse beam toward the sea, and the puppet, landing soundlessly in the grass, follows her.

Strings twist and tangle around Martin’s distended body in their haste to pull him along. But he knows there is no need for the grace of a stage performance here. If he can simply catch the elusive jellyfish he and Kate will enter a new world together, of that he is now certain—the strings are the proof. And the closer he gets to the apparition, the clearer her face within that ghostly green glow.

Kate meanders to the coast down a moonlit path of sand, rock and stunted pine, bottle clutched to her chest. The puppet jerks its way along a few feet behind, arms waving about, cross-handle twisting from side to side as if gripped by invisible hands. She traverses a swath of short, windblown grass and arrives at a steep ledge over the crashing sea. There she pauses, leans forward, sways. The marionette battles the wind and creeps up behind her.

Martin is now moving at a tremendous speed. Water rushes into his mouth, nose and ears like wet cement. The nervous, writhing bodies of myriad creatures press up and quiver against his blue flesh, causing him to lose sight of Kate. But he knows the strings will guide him to her, that they will wrap his arms around her at any moment.

Rolled up inside the bottle is the hardest letter Kate has ever had to write: a letter which speaks of waiting, of saying goodbye, of the heart’s need to move on. She casts it into the waves, hair blowing in the wet, salty wind. The replica of her lover wobbles up beside her and peers down at the retreating bottle. Legs twist. Knees buckle. A moment later the puppet falls to the barnacled rocks below, watching Kate to the very end.

The strings lift Martin from the sea into the cold, starry night. Water spills away in a white rush. With a wet thud he is flung across the deck of a ship where he rolls and flops in a landslide of sea things; a slimy mass of scales and fins and tiny mouths gasping for air, the jellyfish not among them. In a comforting, silent pop of light, it all disappears.

Kate returns to the nearby swath of grass and lies down, the lighthouse beam circling quietly overhead. She shuts her eyes in peaceful repose, letting new, unanchored dreams rise to the surface. Meanwhile, the marionette floats out to sea alongside the glimmering green bottle, its face full of moonlight, its body coming apart on the rolling waves. In the distance, a fishing vessel sounds its horn, heads to port.


THE END


First published in Issue 20 of NewMyths.com.

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