Remnants of a dream
George flailed, pulling at the thin blanket. His hands, twisted into the fabric, pulled it across his face as the fibers released pools of morning dew that mixed with his own salty sweat. Gasping for air in he looked around to find his surroundings just as he had left them when he closed his eyes. But the world was more still, more calm on the other side of a dream. For a long moment he sat upright quieting his breathing as the world around came into focus.
Even in the random dreams of his own, waking or asleep, George never had such a shock. This was a fight to stay alive. Even in the minutes afterward, when dreams quickly recede into waking, he could feel the rush of grasping, the need to reach the stars just overhead and how his breath, now at full capacity, still felt constrained and shallow. He coughed at the thick air expecting the bright sprites of light to come hurling out his chest but there was only the lightest rose of dawn starting to form on his skin. In the low light he checked his hands and feet for scrapes. There were none but he had seen the rocks and hands so clearly digging into his flesh, hadn’t he? He expected there to be some remnant of the dream made real on his skin but there was nothing.
George stepped from the padded cushions spread across the ground that made up a massive bed, careful not to wake his mother with any noise. She had twisted slightly when he jolted awake but turned away. Unlike the Chicago he had left just yesterday there was no robe to put on, no reason to be bundled up as he tip-toed to the edge of the building to look out.
Humid air had stolen the light breeze that accompanied him all night and turned into a wall of warmth. Even at the edge of the building there was only a slight cooling as the wind meandered past his face leaving even the tallest palms unmoved.
Beyond the street below George could see several people moving along the sandy beach. These would be local fishermen readying their boats for an early morning catch. Like the city workers he was accustomed to seeing George watched as they made short, deliberate steps to bring their tools, poles and nets to the waiting craft. There wasn’t enough light for shadows but George could make their outline against the nearly white sand.
He watched them for a long while as the boats pushed out to the open water as the brilliance of stars overhead started to fade in the approaching sunlight. The rose of first light was turning orange and increasing contrast as he noticed again the lights far off at the island. Where last night there was only a faint shape of nothingness, where no stars could be seen at the horizon, was now the filled outline of an island.
George couldn’t judge the distance accurately except to know it was too far to swim. His years in community pools would be no match for even a calm surf across the expanse from the mainland. And when he got there he couldn’t be sure the island was anything more than a rock with a few sparse lights on it. Holding his hand out to shade his eyes from the sun that peeked over the horizon it was as long as his outstretched index finger. Damn, he thought, he wished now that he had paid more attention in Mr. Zahn’s algebra class.
Gathering up a few items George made his way past his still sleeping mother. She, he surmised, would continue to sleep off the street food and excitement of the first day for quite a bit longer. That would be enough time for him to wander down the back stairs of the rooftop to explore the street below.
George watched the sky and town bloom during in the early light. Morning birds swooped and squalked at one another from remnants brought in by the morning tide. As the long shadows began to shorten he watched his own feet in the surf, toes being covered as his feet begin to sink beneath the sand. The water was warm and not at all like the cool lakes he had swam in summers past.
He noticed black specks on his toes and looked down to examine between drifts of water. He could hardly believe his eyes. There they were, the first sign of hair. At ten his mother had promised he would someday be more than just “her little man” and inside he felt the years of moving around had spun him faster in that direction as he had to carry more of the burden of two. But even as he support in the late nights when she would arrive just the other side of tipsy or as they hastily packed a bag in the middle of the night his body had not sped along at the same clip.
Now at twelve he felt frozen in the wide gap between child and adult. Still too young to drive or to carry a job or to do all other adult things but no less responsible than someone twice his age. The black specks on his feet were, along with the ones under his arms and privates, a sign of the impending shift he had been waiting. He had been able to hide most of these changes since his height was still only to his mother’s shoulder. She wouldn’t, he thought, notice until the growth that was surely somewhere nearby, maybe around the next bend in life’s road, caused him to look her eye to eye. When his voice changed and he was no longer “Geo” would their partnership change, too?
George stood on the sand, no longer looking at his toes but at the sun now above the horizon and strong. He could feel it’s heat on his pale skin. The infinite of blue that lay beyond the surf was indeed magical in making all the rushing around of life in Chicago melt away as the icy personalities of a city never did. He could still remember looking out that window just a few weeks ago, seeing the wind and snow fly by in ever-changing drifts but now the room that lay behind him began to fade. The couch and the tv and the austere kitchen were all becoming transparent in his mind. The spotless white-blue walls in memory were becoming like lines in an architectural drawing. They merely sketched out the possible framework of what lay there as he slowly began to erase the memory of those months, of the unsurprising gifts meant to impress his mother, the quiet fights with hushed voices behind closed doors and of the fella whose name George had already forgotten.
This beach and the breeze slowly crept up to move the hair into George’s face were wiping those moments from memory and replacing them with new ones. Just staring out, not looking at anything in particular, had a way of easing his shoulders down from the tense shrug he and everyone else from the city had. It was hypnotizing him so to forget the cares of past grievances, to sandblast the furrowed brow. And, more importantly, implant new memories.
The water began to chop with a crosswind breaking George from the daze. Miniature whitecaps of warm wind drew his eyes further out until he could see the island clearly. Lush greenery surrounded a dense mountain. Even at this distance he thought he could hear rustling of foilage and wildlife he had never experienced. Beneath those sounds he could swear he heard the laughing of children playing at the edge of the water. Their voices echoed atop the water and into his ears but as he turned his head to listen more closely there was only the sounds of seashell chimes being hung from exposed beams of makeshift shops behind him.
He squinted, trying to narrow his focus, hone his attention to pick up the sound but it was gone. What was left in his view was the island, floating on the infinite and it was calling to him.