A Song Video by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett
Flash fiction by Jeffrey Zable
“I just saw him two weeks ago, and he looked fine to me!” I said to my friend Cliff. “He was playing his conga drum with the other drummers at the Berkeley flea market. We had a short conversation, and then he went back to playing.”
Cliff then informs me that the memorial for Richard was yesterday, and he rattles off some of the names of people who attended, most of whom I know. He tells me that they found him lying on his bed fully clothed with an open newspaper across his chest.
“Best way to go!” Cliff declares. “He didn’t have to suffer from some long drawn out illness!”
When Cliff mentions that Richard was a heavy drinker and that this surely contributed to his demise, I admit that I had no knowledge of him being a heavy drinker; that most of the time when we were around each other he didn’t have a drink in his hand, but that I found certain things about him to be a bit odd. “He could flash you a beaming smile when he first encountered you, and then his face would take on a very serious expression immediately afterward, as if he remembered something that made him feel sad. He could also completely change the subject mid-sentence when he was talking to you.”
“I was aware of that also!” Cliff responded. “And, he seemed very touchy at times; would overreact to some of the things I said to him.”
“I liked the guy well enough,” I replied. “He never gave me any problems. By the way, did you know he had a brother who was a professor at some university in England? Richard mentioned that to me. That he visited him once a year or so, but that his brother’s wife didn’t like him at all.”
“Yeh, I knew about his brother also. In fact he sent a four page eulogy that Richard’s best friend read at the memorial.”
“How old was Richard when he died?” I asked, and when Cliff said he was seventy years old, I responded, “That’s way too young!”
“Yeh, but look at it this way. . . at least he didn’t suffer from some drawn out illness like a lot of people do. . .”
“I guess that’s one way to look at it!” I answered. And as a final thought, “Only seventy years old! That’s just four years older than what I am now…”
A Short Story by DC Diamondopolous
There is no end to my love for Jemjasee. I pace the ragged cliffs, searching the sea for her ship. My longing will not cease until I am entwined in her marble wash of lavender and green arms.
It’s dawn. The sunlight’s red varnish stretches across the Santa Lucia Mountains. The mist from the sea floats through the Monterey Cypress. Backlit in pink stands the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.
The waves caress my vestige feet. The foam licks my revenant face. The damp never seeps into my gossamer bones. My long silk robe opens, my breasts exposed to the witless wind. It hisses, jeers, but I am invincible, adrift in my chariot of grief.
The gulls perch in conference on the white rock. Beyond is the blue empty sky, the vast sea without sails, no horizon. Blue. Come, Jemjasee. Am I to roam this rugged coastline for eternity, this journey without distance? I feel doomed, my struggle invisible. You must come, Jemjasee. Save me from my weariness.
I skim the jagged bluff. The elephant seals raise their massive heads when they see me then fall back to sleep.
Along the winding path, I float unnoticed by gardeners and groundskeepers. I glide over the pebbled lane, past stone cottages, a gift shop, the bell and tower.
Slipping through the walls of the lighthouse, I float to the stairs. Tourists gasp when I appear. “The website didn’t say anything about a magic show,” someone says. “It’s like Disneyland!” cries a child. Their zeal echos around the cylindrical walls. I nod, playing along with the charade. It’s not always like this. Some days, people are thick with fear. They flee from my presence. When the sun shines, I’m an act. If the fog veils the coast, I’m a phantom. Most days, they don’t see me at all.
“Ah, that’s my wench.” I recognize the guide’s garbled, liquored voice, his gnarled laugh. A salty ex-sailor, he sometimes comes alone, drinking, running after me, catching air.
On the step, I look into his weather-beaten face. His sunken eyes leer.
Damn foolish scoundrel.
Turning, gliding over the wrought-iron stairs to the deck, I let my robe fall. Naked. “This isn’t for kids!” Offended, parents usher their children outside, then turn for one last glimpse at my beautiful body.
I continue. Invulnerable. My feet sail over spiral wrought-iron stairs, my fingers sweep above the narrow curving rail.
Everyone has gone, except for the guide, who looks up at me and says, “You elusive lass, I relish the day I grab your long red hair and make you mine.”
He’ll never get the chance.
Inside the lantern room, the beacon has no purpose. Still, it shines for those who live along the coast and the tourists driving by. I glide outside to the widow’s walk. From the empty skies to the ocean’s bed, nothing rises or descends.
Jemjasee, if you love me, come.
Not long past, her ship rose out of the sea, and beams of lights pranced above the waves. Particles rearranged themselves, silver, glittered. The mirage shimmied into form. A shape malleable to Jemjasee’s thoughts, horizontal, then vertical, a kaleidoscope of color reflecting the terrain, the craft visible only when she wanted.
Jemjasee was too good for me, too advanced. Not only did I fall in love with her, but the idea of what I, too, might become. She couldn’t suffer the stench of violence that infused my planet. If exposed too long, her breath ceased. I had to go with her, or not.
But how could I journey outside of my own world? Fear ransacked my mind. It stuffed my schooling, programming, upbringing into a box that, god forbid, I break out and beyond until I’m unfettered by the lies I’ve been taught—crammed it down my cranium, and just to be sure, set a lid, a square hat with a tassel on top, to keep it all in.
My decision to leave Earth was as ragged and split as the cliffs of my homeland.
After anguishing in my cottage, gazing on memories, touching knickknacks, holding friendships in picture frames, I pondered all I would lose. The future—too elusive, too great a change, my past—something I clung to.
I can’t leave.
Jemjasee held me, the feeling of sadness so great no words would comfort. My heart was shrouded in sorrow. She walked the waters as her ship ascended from the sea.
The vessel hovered above the waves, a silver triangle. Sleek, like Jemjasee. It rolled on its side, morphed into a vertical tower, with a fissure, and she entered. A thousand lights, curved and colored, sparked, flashed, then disappeared.
The instant she left, I knew my mistake.
And so it began, the tears of regret and self-loathing. I missed the woman who was so full of love, that she knew nothing of its opposite.
One day, while my mind slipped down around my ankles, I sat in my cottage, staring at a collage of empty food cartons, magazines, dust bunnies, paint chips, shattered wine glasses, a broken window from where the wind whispered, Go ahead. Do it.
On that day, I chose to end my suffering. With clarity restored and a mission in sight, I tossed a rope over the living room beam and tied a hoop large enough for my head, but small enough for my neck. From the kitchen, I dragged a chair and placed it underneath the shaft.
I climbed on the seat, put the noose over my neck, and kicked out the chair.
I dangled. Minutes went by, and still I was alive. Then my neck broke and life ebbed. Somewhere I drifted, first as a dark cloud, then into a gauzy realm where I was still—me. Oh, my outrage to discover that I could kill my body but never my Self!
A shadowy reflection of the woman Jemjasee loved, I roamed the rim of the bluff for another chance to leave, hoping she’d return.
I saw her. In my rapture I wailed, Jemjasee!
She walked the shore, shouting, Astrid! I’m here for the last time. Come, before your planet strikes back for the harm done to it.
I ran down the cliff. My kisses lingered deep in her neck. My hands seized her stalks of short black hair.
Jemjasee looked through me even as my mouth covered hers, my fingertips drunk from the touch of her.
Nothing, not my cries or kisses could rouse her.
Sobbing, I screamed, Can’t you see me—don’t you know I’m here!
Then she saw me and backed away. I saw the horror there in her golden eyes. Her shock pierced my translucent heart.
Please forgive me.
Her kind never sheds tears. Jemjasee had told me that on her island in the universe, there were no reasons to cry, but looking into her perfect lavender and green marble colored face, I saw a tear on the threshold of falling.
I was ashamed.
She left by way of the ocean as her ship rose out of the sea.
Condemned, I pace the ragged cliffs, the gulls in flight, the lighthouse behind me, on an endless quest to be with my beloved, forever adrift, because I hadn’t the daring to journey past my sphere.
“When you reach for the stars, you are reaching for the farthest thing out there. When you reach deep into yourself, it is the same thing, but in the opposite direction. If you reach in both directions, you will have spanned the universe.”
― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration