The swinging wooden doors of The Red Marlin slapped shut behind me as I shuffled in to take my seat at the bar. Trish was there with precision handing me my drink and placing a wrinkled white napkin on the table in front of me. Her freckled shoulders wore the imprint of recent sunbathing and her lips were creased with satisfied aging. They lifted and shared a weathered smile. I glanced around the place and sucked in a gulp of my drink. A few of the regulars were there, fishermen mostly, sharing stories of their recent catches. I had become accustomed to their voices swimming around me every evening as I sat and drank until they became so entwined with the sounds of the rolling waves that I felt they were one voice. Jack was there as usual sitting barefoot on the stool by the bar. His mocha skin blended with the knotted wood of the walls as if he were a part of the scenery. I watched his fingers plucking out sweet notes from his guitar, as he sang softly of the sad way we all forget to notice when things pass us by. I pulled out my notebook and began to sketch out the faces while they floated about me in air that hung with salt and fish.
I heard the doors swing behind me and turned to see a new face floating in. He shuffled over to the seat beside me and ordered a scotch and water. He had on a sharper face than most around here. His khakis were pressed and trimmed with a crisp black belt. I could almost hear them crinkle as he crossed one leg casually over the other. Voices lifted in not-so-conspicuous irritation at his intrusion. I had to smile at Jack choosing to sing the one about people and their money and their misguided lives. I had already begun sketching out the outline of his jaw when he moved it to speak in my direction.
“Is the food good here?” he asked me. I recommended the fried oysters and he promptly told Trish to bring him some. I tried to go back to my sketching but the man apparently wasn’t going to cooperate. I much preferred for my subjects to go about their business and let me study their faces and wonder where their thoughts were going. But he seemed intent on sharing them with me himself. He rolled out his life story to me like he was carefully peeling the winding skin from a fleshy Granny Smith. The insides were both sweet and sour, stirring their way into the thick air around me. He told of his acquired fortune and his wife Marjorie. His face softened when he spoke of her. He ordered another scotch and water and shifted on his stool to sit closer to me.
“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk into the ocean, all nice and slow, and let it cover over you until it drank you all the way in?” He asked me as he leaned in very close to my face. The alcohol buzzed in my mind as I groped at his question.
“I think that that would be nice. Like walking into clarity.”
“Exactly.” He said and reached out to brush a stray piece of hair from my cheek. I smiled at him and reminded myself of his wife. I mentioned her again and he pulled away from me slightly, loosening his tie. He ordered another drink and told me of the cancer, and the hospitals, and of her passing away.
Jack had stopped playing and the air was growing still except for the ocean song drifting in through the open windows. The night air crept in and lured us to go for a walk along the beach.
“What is your name?” I asked him as I drug my toes through the sand. He didn’t answer. We walked slowly, occasionally grabbing onto each other to steady ourselves. My head swam with whispers from the ocean and its treasures within. The sand was cool and damp and squished beneath my feet as we made our way to the water’s edge. We walked along the white tipped edge like a sobriety exercise and giggled at our stagger. He stopped suddenly and stared out over the vast gray of the water.
He began to take off his shirt. I was laughing until I saw the blankness of his face reflected by the swollen moon. I watched him take off his belt and pants and stand there wearing only his skin. The sea lapped and tugged at our feet. I said something I don’t remember to him that I was sure he didn’t hear, and watched him walk slowly out into the water. He turned briefly and waved a thin smile at me. He held out his hand. I lifted my dress above my head and let the moonlight wrap itself around my skin. The hairs on my arms lifted from the chill. The water licked my skin as I made my way through sucking currents. I took his hand.
Thank you for reading “Clarity,” a piece of prose I wrote in college. I entered this piece in the Arrowhead submissions in 2004 and it was accepted and subsequently printed in the Arrowhead that year. I was awarded the Best Prose Award for this piece and was invited to read it, along with a poem also printed that year, at the awards banquet. My two sons were there. It was a proud moment for me, and one I reflect on when the weight of “being a writer” becomes burdensome. If you are a writer, you understand this all too well. I hope you have enjoyed “Clarity” and will share your thoughts with me.
**Note: Published under the name of CJ Jarrell