by Josh T. Alto
Someone is running on the seashore in the wet sand with a headache after a party
|Like clockwork that tries to catch up with the passing time his feet made a rhythmic noise while paddling in the shallow water. He had that habit during vacations, spending the first hours of the day running on the seashore.
The first rays of the sun brought him down even this morning, although it was torture getting up so early after the national evening the day before where he once again drunk too much. Running against the rising sun, he felt wobbly, every step needed an explicit order from his brain, instructions to raise his foot in the air, move it further and put it down on the ground.
The key to his hotel room, number 183, tinkled in his neck at each step. A totally featureless number, that was his first thought as he took it over; he couldn’t remember anything in his whole life he could associate with it. He was kind of disposed to numerology that made his life extremely difficult sometimes; he always tried to find connections between numbers of any kind he ran into. Last time he was very satisfied finding that on his license plate there were the same numbers as in the postal code of his hometown, but what should it suggest? That he had made a good choice and he would be lucky with his car? Probably not.
On some days he leaned to throw away the whole idea behind numbers but on other days he was desperately looking for any confirmation that he was doing the right thing. Then again numbers helped him to bring the world together in a perceptible universe of consequences and random events.
As he ran the morning sea brought him its daily presents as usual, broken shells and pebbles of different colors that he was not interested in any more, at least not today. There was also seaweed covering the shore sometimes ten meters long and animal parts of different sizes, once the head of a fish he could not identify or an octopus’s arm lying lifeless in the sand.
Sometimes he picked up a shell when it was unbroken for his daughter but today he did not feel any inclination, he was not even sure whether he had a daughter. Was he married at all? His head was in a whirl from the day before; he should not have ordered that last bottle of wine. He had some memories about his wife but they seemed so far away though he knew she was still lying in her bed sleeping. They used to visit some exotic place every year, book an all-inclusive hotel with long sandy beaches, and he used to take photos of his children playing in the sand. He could remember now those photos though the faces of the children were still unclear.
He found fewer shells than usual this morning. The tide was going out, and the shore seemed almost three meters wider. He met the same old fisherman who used to ask the time, and he answered with a sentence in the language of the natives, that he had learned a few days ago. The man smiled in a friendly way and said something he could not decipher. It was a quarter to seven as usual; the sun was shining directly into his eyes and blinded him with millions of tiny flashes of light reflected on the surface of the tranquil water.
He tried to recall how he had met his wife but he could not. Almost as if it was something that had not happened yet. If someone asked him whether they were just spending their honeymoon there he could not answer honestly, he did not know, his headache prevented him from remembering.
The sea, a world of secrets, attracted him ever since the first time he saw it, standing on a rocky shore with his parents in the setting sun. After so many years of experience he was aware that the sea showed him everyday a different face, sometimes it wanted to reveal things it hid from others, the other day it wouldn’t. Once the sea caressed his bare feet the other day the cold water even burned his skin.
He always felt there were things the sea wanted to tell him, it was only waiting for the opportunity, but that day it really surprised him: in front of his feet, all of a sudden, as if appearing from nowhere, there was an old key lying in the sand. He was on the open road, far away from people; he already left the hotels and the last houses of the village, on one side the wasteland on the other side the sea.
The key looked rather old but it did not look unused, there were not any spots of rust on it and the bits were brighter at the ends. He picked it up, not because it looked valuable or even was something that he could put into the relics of that holiday but he was simply interested in old things. He was sure where there was a key there must be a door as well, his technician logic worked. Or was it vice-versa?
He was not sure, as he was not sure of anything at all that morning. He kept on running and some hundred meters further he saw something that looked like the cover of an old chest but as he approached it looked rather like a door lying in the sand. A door there, something so unusual, he could not find any explanation so he went there to have a look at it. He tried the key and to his astonishment it fitted in the keyhole, he turned it around carefully and opened the door.
To his surprise there was nothing behind the door, nothing at all, not even the sand that covered the shore all over. A total emptiness but as he leaned forward he could see something there like stars shining in the colors of the rainbow a world outside of his reach. He guessed when he was on the other side, the door would look exactly the same and he could see his own world as a far-off galaxy. But it did not make any sense; it was out of the range of his previous experiences, outside the circle of phenomenon he accepted as normal.
He sat down on the wet sand and tried to think things over, his logic failed him but his intuition said there was something behind the door he was craving for. If only he could go through it, if only he could see things from the other side. Slowly he reached towards the surface that separated the two sides. It looked like water but without any waves, totally motionless. As he stuck his finger in it he felt something like a maelstrom that caught him and winged him around till he finally sank under the surface.
It happened so quickly he did not even have time to get a shock or get frightened. When the waves settled down again he was not sure any more which side of the door he was sitting on, whether he really went through it. Did he really stick his finger in it, or did he only faint from exhaustion? Though, after all, it did not really have any importance. He left the old door behind and started running back although he had not even reached his turning point on the shore, the big rock where the sandy beach ended abruptly made it impossible to run further.
On the way back he was suddenly aware of the tenderness of the sea, which he didn’t notice before. The sea once again looked totally different; the tide came in again as if it had not been high tide just a few hours before. The sun shone slightly different as if after a sun eclipse when it tries to gather its pieces of light from the air around. The old fisherman left in the meantime though it was only a few minutes before that he had greeted him.
The key to his hotel room, tinkled in his neck at each step. Room number 193, it suddenly became clear to him, was a lucky number and also a prime number, why had not he noticed it before? He suspected there was something wrong with it, though he could not find out what it was. He stopped running but he still heard a noise like clockwork ticking in his ears, as he did every time he faced a mystery he could not solve right away.
To his surprise the hotel receptionist also looked different; he couldn’t remember if he had seen him before. He went to his room, number 193, a single room, it was clear now why he found the idea of being married so bizarre all the time. He was alone! Alone! Unbelievable somehow. He took a bath, dressed in his morning shorts and T-shirt and went down to have breakfast after the exhausting run. What he saw downstairs surprised him one more time.
There sat a woman with a girl and a boy, at the table he always used to eat at. He thought of it as if it were his own table by now, how could they take it? They were probably new there, that must have been the reason. He didn’t know them but he started in their direction with his plate. Some of his memories how he got to know his wife suddenly came back; he was now almost sure they had met here in this very hotel. He remembered clearly, that he went to her table one morning and asked whether he could join her.
And then he found himself standing at their table, the woman stood up and reached out her hand. As he looked in her eyes he felt they knew each other for years even though it was the first time they had ever met. He seized her hand and a sweet shiver ran down his skin. The clockwork stopped in his ears.
(Word count 1684)