First Chapter - rough draft
Eventually, even on small islands in the middle of the ocean, influenza shows up. Not the bad stuff mind you, but just enough to remind you that paradise is a click or two below absolutely perfect.
I was in the middle of my first bad cold in a decade and trying real hard to remember if it was really supposed to be this uncomfortable. Is this stuff survivable, I wondered, with some concern? Sandy assured me it was, as she wrapped me a warm blanket and propped me up in the cliff side hammock we often shared. The trade winds had disappeared for a few days and, with a warm sun filtered nicely between small puffy clouds, it did indeed feel good to be out of bed and out in the world again. The shade from the guava trees holding up my hammock kept the temperature on the cool side of warm.
“Honey ...” she said it so sweetly I had to check quickly that I had not already died and was hearing angels whisper to me.
“Oh,” I focused back to reality. “Yes, thank you.”
She looked at me quizzically, “Are you going to be alright out here?” Her hand went to my forehead for the twentieth time that morning. I wondered if her hand might be capable of sucking the heat from my skin or it was simply depositing more by constantly touching me. “You still feel a little hot. The ibuprofen should kick in any minute now.”
I smiled as best I could, but that upset the fragile balance between gravity and the copious amount of fluids in my sinuses and I had to quickly bring a tissue up to my nose.
“OK,” she said. “So you've got your phone there, and your water bottle and a book,” she paused and knelt down next to me. “But, I suggest you take a nice nap.” Her eyes were deeper than I knew I would ever be able to swim out of. “Will you, please?”
“Yeah baby, no worries, I'm half way there now.” Another smile was stopped dead in its tracks by the incredible effort it took.
Sandy stood up, put her hands on her hips and looked at me for a long moment. I might be sick, half dead and full of snot, but I still could appreciate a Tahitian beauty when I saw one that close. Her legs were bronzed and strong, her shorts tied around her small waist with rope and her belly button still moved together with her breath, sensuously mimicking each other.
For the first time since we had met I felt the urge to grab her and pull her to me but didn’t have the physical power to do so. A burst of sun came flying out from behind the cloud it had hidden so well behind and forced my eyes shut. It was just as well, I needed to change my focus.
“Sweet dreams baby,” Sandy whispered as she turned away and walked back down the grassy trail to the bar.
I think I said “Aloha” but I may have only thought I said it, as my eyes felt incredibly good remaining shut.
The sun must have stirred a small breeze within the cane fields behind the hammock toward Haleakala, which did me the great favor of rustling my hair and cooling my fever a little. That felt delicious! Do it again, I thought. This time, the breeze, small and delicate came at me from the sea cliff, twirled between my bare toes and slid up to my face with a most subtle kiss. I opened my mouth slightly to inhale as much of her as I could …
I blinked a little at the sun again, but noticed now the shade came from majestic coconut palms hovering over a smoothly washed sand that my toes were enjoying sinking into. I felt a lot better suddenly and looked out to the ocean as perfect head high glassy waves peeled on either side of a small channel opening in the reef. No one was in the water, and I noticed then that there were no footprints in the sand either. Stopping for a moment and looking behind me I saw there were no footprints there either.
I must have fallen immediately into a dream, at least I think I must have. My sleep was fitful with my clogged up nose forcing me awake, often. As I blew into the tissues I noticed that I remembered my dream, heck I was still half asleep, but half enough awake to realize what was going on.
Gently I laid my head back down, breathed a little deeply. Once, twice and then let my mind go back to continue the story ...
The beach was a gentle slope down into a reef protected lagoon that glistened in the brilliant tropical light. Schools of small silver fish jumped up and away from larger ones, little crabs the size of a small coin moved in and out of holes in the sand, piling pebbles around the edges and taking a moment to look at me before going back to work.
I noticed the surf again, it was indeed perfect. Having no particular place to go I sat down in a gently waving shadow of a large frond above me and watched the show. Turtles played in the channel that cut through the reef, often diving like a whale might and showing off their proud short tales and flipper feet.
Looking to my left, the coastline wove itself in and out of a couple of small coves before disappearing behind a large sandy point. The coconut trees were so tightly packed on this point it looked like they had all raced up to the ocean's edge and then stopped all at once when they saw the water.
Behind all of them were a series of green mountains, stubby and fading to a point in the distance. I got the feeling that this island ended somewhere close by, or turned a corner there.
Looking to my right I saw a miles long coastline holding at arms distance a white foaming line of surf tracing the beaches all the way to where the island turned again, in the far distance. Short headlands, graced in green, held this scene at its feet, but no tall mountains guided them. Their beauty was their own.
My eyes drifted back to the sound of peeling waves, throwing light off their smooth glistening surfaces in ways I had not seen a painter reproduce yet. I had never even seen photos capture this quite as well. In fact, the more I looked at the show the more I wondered if it might be a unique view one gets from being present, from being here.
What could possibly capture all of this? The soft sand that cradled me, my bare feet sinking into the cool colorful grains, the warming sun on my skin and the soft sounds of palm fronds playing in background. All while my eyes fascinated me with a tropical scene that almost made me laugh at its absolute beauty.
The horizon, where the two best shades of blue met, was bare and pure, only patches of white birds feeding on leftovers from some underwater drama I couldn't see. No one was to be seen, no evidence that anyone might have ever been here …
“Tasty waves this morning.”
I turned quickly to my left. He looked at me and smiled and then looked back out to the surf, sitting only three feet away from me.
“Looks like it has the perfect amount of west in it, don't you think?” He looked back at me, nodding his head almost imperceptibly.
I had to break my stare and blink, and finally found my manners.
“Yeah,” I managed to mutter. Where did this guy show up from? Again, I noticed no footprints, anywhere. “It does look pretty awesome out there.”
I looked closely at this guy, quite a bit older than me, actually I would have to say he was elderly. Yet, he looked quite fit, healthy and yet, as I studied him further, he appeared to be really old! If I could imagine a 100 year old surfer this might be him!
He turned to look at me again, and I caught his eye. My god! He looked startling familiar. It was his eyes that made the connection, but before I could say anything he asked,
“Are you going out?”
I broke his gaze, disturbing as it was, and looked back out to the surf. Another long left was peeling itself lazily across the reef.
“I … I don't have a board ...”
Turning back to him, I saw him looking down between us. I looked down too, and saw a surfboard on its back between us in the sand.
Dreams have a way of skipping ahead to the important parts, and leaving out all those distracting details we are bound to in reality. Things, or people, suddenly appearing was never as shocking as it would have been say back at the bar. Here, now, was my old favorite board from so many years ago! Six foot eight inches long, thick, too thick to duck dive and wide. The tri-fin had an experimental scoop fin in the middle and there just below the rainbow colors airbrushed near the nose were the words “Dinosaur Beach”
My nose woke me up, again. Its capacity to hold copious amounts of liquid had been breached. My hand went to my side for more tissue as I turned gently toward Sandy's table. I felt for the box but had to open my eyes to find it on the edge.
This dream, I mused there as I blew hard and long, was drawing me like a loose chocolate rolling on the bar for Tiwaka. Almost. I wasn't as frantic as Tiwaka would be. But, I was just as captivated. That beach! I remember it well, one of the secret gems in Hawaii. Known, but really hidden and practically ignored. My good friend from those days, Billy Bingle, and I used to surf there all the time. Lived on that very beach, laughed at our incredible good fortune and relished in the notion, the one we kept to ourselves, that these days might very well be our best.
Sometimes, for some fortunate souls, you realize your best days while you are in them. For us, it was like a secret blessing from God or the Universe or Whomever. We didn't know why us, but we figured it might have something to do with us being aware. Aware and appreciative.
One night, after a third perfect surf session of the day, reef lobster for dinner and several Australian beers, Billy and I took a walk down the darkened beach to clear our heads. The Milky Way was so bright we thought it first to be high clouds in the pure dark tropical canopy. Billy was my neighbor living next door about as simply as I was. He was one of those rare souls that sees the bright side of most things. But, when he was standing in the midst of perfection he had to put on sunglasses – the present was so bright. Neither of us paid much attention to the future in those days.
“Yo, dude, can you believe today?” I asked, my full party-mode dialect rising to the surface.
“Oh, yeah!” Billy said. “This is so awesome!”
Yes, it's true. We really did talk like this and the funny thing is that we weren't pretending or posing. Our language was spot on.
Billy and I had both done a little surf traveling over the days. Bali, Australia – both coasts, California – north and south, France, even Costa Rica. Tahiti. Florida, North Carolina. The offshore islands of Georgia. Various Caribbean secret spots. Yet, where did we live? Hawaii, of course. The best surf, the best weather, the best lifestyle, the ultimate in all things we found important at the time was here.
“Dude, you know …” I said, waxing eloquent. “This is the best beach. The best.”
Billy was silent for a moment as he considered that. I did as well, and now that I think about it, I feel we might very well have been sharing the same thought at that moment.
“Yeah,” Billy said after a moment. “We do have the best surf, sometimes. Like today.”
Other places had great surf too though. So, that wasn't it altogether.
“No doubt,” I added. “We've got tasty lobsters hiding in the reef caves we surf over! Isn't that cool?”
Billy was shaking his head yes in the starlit glow from above us. “Yeah, I know!” He looked over at me briefly, caught my eye, and turned back to look out at the white foam of a wave painting a glow from right to left.
“There's better surf, sometimes, in other places,” I said. “But, we've got electricity, and cars, and jobs - airline jobs I know - perfect for us, but they're still jobs. And, we've got MTV on cable, and all the food we can afford, and perfect weather, and no snakes, or poison ivy, or war, or gangs or any of that shit!”
“Unreal!” Billy exclaimed. “None of that shit! It's so … good!”
We walked another few meters down the beach, breathing in the offshore flow of air that was bringing the plumeria and night blooming jasmine fragrances down to the sea.
“All the other great beaches, they have some kind of problem,” Billy added.
“Yeah,” I nodded in the darkness. “We've got no crowds, no sea snakes, no urchins, no hungry sharks. We've got no crowds!”
“You know what?” Billy asked.
“This is the best beach on Earth!” He stopped in his tracks at the magnitude of that pronouncement. I did as well.
“Awesome! Yes! It's the best on Earth!” I yelled at the top of my voice. Naturally, only Billy heard me. We were in the midst of desolate perfection.
We both heard the crack of a bigger wave breaking over the reef, and we turned and watch another, yes!, another amazingly beautiful wave peel itself unridden in the star shine.
“You know,” I began letting my mind wander as it tends to do when I am right. “There's no surf on the sun, or Mercury or Venus, at least nothing we can ride. The moon, nada. Mars' oceans dried up a long time ago, Jupiter and Saturn, too cold for wetsuits even. And, those other outer planet's are frozen.” I held my hands up into the sky as if I might embrace the massive astronomical facts I was describing. “It's the best beach in the entire Solar System dude!” I added. We both were laughing - it was true. No, really, it was. Considering MTV it had to be true.
Billy looked at me and smiled. I could see him grinning widely. He put out his hand.
“To the only two lucky guys standing in front of perfect surf on the Solar System's best beach!” He grasped my hand firmly. I knew he was right. These were indeed our best days, and I think we both knew it at that moment. We knew it very, very … very well.
There I was again, on that same beach, sitting in the warm sand. The old guy I had just met was walking back out of the water, holding my board. The sun was shining on the water sheeting from his old but taunt skin. His muscles looked thin but strong.
“Ah, you're back!” he said. Walking back over he gently put my board back between us. “Tasty waves indeed,” he added, running his hands through his wet, white hair.
“How long … how long was I gone?”
He laughed a little, kicked some sand toward a scurrying crab several feet away and nodded to himself. I had seen that nod before, as a kid, when an adult would ignore some silly question I had asked.
“I caught the best wave I've had in a very, very long time,” he smiled, pointing out to the where the reef was producing epic left barrels just big enough to let a surfer crouch inside with little effort.
I let my question go unanswered.
My hammock moved up and down a bit as the guava trees took a hold of some wind off the mountain. My dream paused as I turned a little to get more comfortable, but kept my eyes shut, hoping to re-enter my story. Before I did though, I caught a nice whiff of plumeria before drifting off again …
“Smell that?” The old guy asked, turning to look behind us, toward the coconut groves. “Plumeria!” He laughed out loud. “Don't get that on the beach very often do you?”
I did smell it, of course. I had brought it with me, into this dream. I suppose I had also brought the perfect surf, the warm sunshine seeping into my skin and even my old favorite surfboard. This stretch of coastline was my former home, where Billy Bingle and I had discovered the best beach in the solar system. I knew every detail here implicitly and was actually a little proud that I had been able to reproduce it so well.
I let his question go unanswered.
“You know,” I began. “I've been here before, this beach.” I looked around again, just to make sure. Several turtles were cruising just off the sand in the rock-less shallows so clear it looked as if they might really be flying low off the ground.
“I know this scene about as well as I know most anything,” I continued. “Everything about this dream of mine makes sense, except you.” I turned to look at the old man. He was already watching me intently, his eyes peering into me as if they might extract some treasure.
He nodded and looked out to the surf again. “Yeah, I know what you mean, it's just like we left it, isn't it? Maybe even better?”
A small rain squall was moving across the ocean several hundred meters beyond the surf, sliding along with the first push of the morning's tradewinds. I watched it for a moment, trying to give my mind a moment to understand the “we” this old guy had just thrown at me.
“This is my dream,” I continued. “I don't understand why you are in my dream.” The words sounded a little harsh. He turned to look at me again.
“Not that you aren't welcome, of course,” I added.
The old guy looked a little sad at that, picked up a small piece of coral off the sand, and took to twirling it in his hands. “Come on,” he whispered. “I don't look that different do I?”
I shook my head in confusion and raised my eyebrows in question.
“It's a little shocking to me too, actually,” he said. “You're so damn young, and strong. I mean, look at you! Your arms could paddle Waimea no problem.” He turned back to look at the surf, still perfect, still glassy and still empty. “I had a hell of a time just getting into the one wave that I managed to catch, and it's only head high out there.”
The old guy hung his head a moment. He let the piece of coral fall from his fingers.
“Should I know you?” I asked, still quite clueless to his many clues. My eyes caught the rain squall moving in a little closer, down the beach it was already pouring, but only in the next cove. The warmth on my back was still assuring me we would be safe from a soaking for now.
The old man folded his hands on his knees and avoided my eyes. “Mirrors are bad liars, except when they cross decades.”
Something began seeping into my mind now. I looked at him to confirm what I was beginning to think. Oh my god!
“Actually, looking back on it all, I've got to give you a lot of credit,” he said softly. He seemed to be trying to control his emotions, but I still detected a small tear pooling on his lower eyelids. “Despite all the pressure to do otherwise, you kept true to your dream. This dream.”
A huge rainbow was beginning to pour out of the sky where the rain squall remained parked over the next cove. The brightness of the colors, the shimmering, was so vibrant I felt I could actually hear it.
“Thank you,” the old man said.
“Am I,” I asked, finally understanding. “Am I dreaming of you ... well, are you me … as an old man?”
“Dreaming?” the old man said more than questioned. “I wouldn't quite call it a dream. I know I'm not dreaming.” He looked over at the rainbow that was almost shouting at us. Suddenly, he stood, brushed the sand off his surf trunks, looking again toward the rainbow.
I stood up as well, brushing the sand off the backs of my legs.
“Yes,” he now explained. “I am you, as a much older man, obviously. Today is my 100th birthday, and this is my present to myself.” He took a few steps toward the water, and I followed, mesmerized.
“You look … good,” I muttered, trying real hard to say something and not freeze up in astonishment. I still couldn't quite believe it and was trying to pick out familiar parts of him that I might recognize better. His feet looked like mine, his hands not as much. His hair was still curly, if not some serious shades lighter.
Turning to me he almost put out his hand, and then withdrew it quickly. “You're so young,” he grinned. “You're still learning to fly rainbows!” His laugh suddenly sounded very familiar, exactly like the one I heard when watching a DVD of myself telling jokes at a birthday party recently. “Oh, by the way,” he continued. “Thanks for inventing that.”
Flying rainbows? What the hell was he saying?
“What are you talking about?” I asked, as he started to walk down the beach.
“Oh, that's going to be a while yet. Brilliant though. Good job!” He moved away from me, making some distance toward the rainbow that was now impacting the beach only a few dozen meters down the beach. I could feel little sprinkles of rain floating over like snow might in a breeze.
I watched him as he strode confidently down the sand. He looked damn good if he was actually 100 today. Damn good. I stood a little taller for a moment, somehow proud of myself.
Suddenly, he stopped , turned back to me and yelled. “Keep drinking that coconut water !”
He waved and walked briskly now, heading directly into the rainbow that had somehow brightened even further. I could hear the rain now and it was moving toward me, and about to engulf the old man.
I glanced over at the surf quickly, hearing another wave crack hard on the reef. The water was choppy now , and metallic gray as the squall moved closer and closer. The wind suddenly pushed into me, cold and wet. I looked back toward the old man, but the rain must be so thick it was hiding him. The rainbow was pulling back and in a few seconds was gone as the squall moved on top of me, and my dream. I stood my ground, getting soaking wet, afraid to turn and run.
“Honey … honey!” Sandy was gently pushing against my shoulder. “Wake up.”
I felt her pulling me back to the hammock, the warm sun and what I knew better as reality.
“You must have been having a good dream,” Sandy said, her big brown eyes sparkling as she knelt down next to me. She was holding a tall smoothie of some kind.
“Really?” I asked, rubbing my eyes. “Why?”
She handed me the smoothie and waited for me to sit up a little higher in the hammock. “Because you were singing.”