Pismo Beach – a short story

In June 2010, Gary and Gloria decided to take a vacation and ’do’ the Californian coast. They were an unlikely couple for Gloria was a vegetarian and ardent naturalist, and Gary was a personal trainer at a local gym. He loved any sports involving speed and, for a good meal, could think of nothing better than a thick steak with all the trimmings.

They flew to Los Angeles and, after a couple of days in that city, took their rented RV north along the coast on highway 101. They traveled leisurely, frequently stopping to enjoy the local attractions. After Santa Barbara and a visit to the Los Padres National Forest they came to Pismo Beach. They were both happy to detour down the 5 ½ mile drivable beach in search for the perfect camping spot. Their different tastes mirrored the dilemma of Oceano Dunes State Park, which has an ongoing disagreement between preservationists and recreationalists.

Gloria had her agenda mapped out in her aspiration to see some of the endangered species making the dunes their habitat – the endangered snowy plover and east tern in addition to eighteen or so named species. Gary, on the other hand, looked forward to renting a dune buggy and riding the dunes in the exhilarating thrill of jumping over their tops and spinning in the sand.

They both knew that the dunes are a favorite site for Hollywood and that when an audience sees clips of people crossing a desert, the scene was probably filmed at Pismo. When they saw the vast stretches of sandy undulations, they gave each other a quick high five in recognition of its size and beauty. An onshore breeze blew that evening. They both noticed that the beach smelled, not of seaweed or salt water, but of cinnamon.

At sunset, they stood together with the Pacific Ocean, and sinking sun behind them. They held hands enjoying each other’s presence while they admired the rolling sands. Each remembered a movie scene in which a group of people walked along the ridge of a dune just like those before them. Now that the drone of the beach buggy motors was over for the day, Gloria was sure that she heard the trilling high-pitched ‘purrt’ followed by ‘tur-weet’ of the snowy plover.

“Do you hear it’” she asked.

“Hear what, the ocean?”

“No, that – yes, there it is again…that high pitch bird call. I believe that it is a snowy plover.”

Gary drew Gloria into his arms, “That’s what I love about you, you see and hear things that others miss.” He drew her even closer and lifted her off the ground to twirl around like a doll.

She laughed as she spun and shouted, “And that’s why I love you Gary, your pure joy in living!”

When he released her, they took up their pose to continue to stare out over the sands. She was searching for evidence of a concealed bird’s nest and he for dune buggy tracks. That was when he saw the sands moving. It was a curious undulation of the ground, a sequence of shifting grains in a moving line across the dunes. He paused before he pointed and spoke,

“Hey, Gloria, did you see that – the sands are moving, and it doesn’t appear to be the wind. It’s like a rolling wave.”

“Where, show me where? It’s not an earthquake is it?”

“No I don’t think so, it is almost as though some living thing is moving just below the surface.”

Gloria looked where Gary pointed and saw the end of the movement as it slipped between two dunes and was gone. They turned away from the sands and faced each other. Perhaps it was the impact of the cinnamon spicy smell, or the fact that they were two people in love, whatever the reason they dismissed the rolling sands. Gary put his hand on Gloria’s neck to fondle her as they returned to their RV.

The next morning Gary drank his coffee quickly as he made plans to rent a dune buggy. Gloria said that she wished to skip the buggies and stay close to the RV. She told Gary that she wished to spend her morning walking the beach, bird-watching, sunbathing, and reading her book. Gary knew that she would enjoy her activities as much as he intended to enjoy his and set off to walk to the dune buggy stand. Soon he came up to them lined up in neat rows with their rear-mounted pennant flags flapping in the breeze and their large wheels facing inland. The wind now blew offshore and carried a much stronger smell of cinnamon. A man with a nametag marked “Joe” approached Gary,

“Want to rent one?” he asked. Gary evaluated the man and looked into his astonishingly blue eyes. He was tanned with skin, which looked like old leather and yet his stride was youthful and his voice strong.

“Yes please!”

Joe looked toward the hut behind the row of buggies and called, “Hey Jess, our first customer, could you bring a helmet and bottle of water?”

Jess emerged a few seconds later carrying a helmet and water. The two men watched Jess as she approached; she wore shorts and a scanty top. Her hair shone in the sun, her skin was tanned and healthy, and her walk had a sexy swing.

“That’s my girl,” said Joe, “it’s her birthday today, seventy-five, and not a day younger!”

“Did I hear right?” Gary asked, “surely you didn’t say seventy-five? She doesn’t look a day over forty-five!”

“Yep, ‘is indeed, after all I’m almost eighty,” said Joe.

“No way,” Gary exclaimed, “I mean you both look so young, healthy. What‘s your secret?”

Joe looked around and said, “Neat isn’t it? We don’t know how it is either, but we have our suspicions. It’s this beach; it’s that spice that smells like cinnamon. It turns out that it’s like a drug – a good one. We gather it when it blooms on the surface of the sands. We even carry a little with us when we go elsewhere for we are hooked!”

“Why doesn’t anyone know about this?’ asked Gary ‘A spice which slows aging, surely there’s money in this.”

Joe’s blue eyes sparkled, “Maybe, but the wife and I are happy, and we don’t want to see this place destroyed by the EPA and FDA and all those other acronym people. We are convinced that if they heard about it; they take over and destroy everything with their investigations. Why, they’d probably end up declaring the whole dunes an environmental protection zone, and the spice an illegal drug like marijuana. Then where would we be? Probably we’d be heading for the morgue.”

Gary nodded as though he understood although he didn’t. He wondered what Gloria would say. He signed Joe’s release documents, paid his fee, put on his helmet and mounted his buggy. He straddled it with ease. He felt good about his ride and felt anxious to get started. Joe showed him the controls and gave his final instructions.

“You may go where you wish in the unfenced area, and remember that this sport is dangerous. Recently, we have had more accidents than usual. Keep your helmet on at all times and watch out for other riders – the flags on their high pennants are to alert someone’s presence when they are hidden behind a dune.” Joe hesitated and looked around before he added, “Since it is so early in the morning and there is no dew, you may see a sand-worm. If you do, stay away from it.”

“Is it sand-worms that make the sand roll across the ridges and valleys? My girlfriend and I saw the phenomena yesterday evening and wondered what it was.”

‘Yes, that would be a sand-worm, these days they are getting bigger and more aggressive. Jess and I have discovered that they don’t like water, so, if you fall off, or one threatens you, just squirt a little water in its face, and it will leave you alone.”

Gary was off. Soon he was speeding up the smooth wind ward faces and jumping over the leeward slip surfaces. Each time that he jumped he let forth a cry of joy. This was exhilarating and fun. As the morning wore on other buggies joined him. They filled the air with their drone and masked the smell of cinnamon with their fumes. Gary drove further into the dunes in an attempt to escape them. He was only curtailed by a fence which carried a notice about its presence, and the fact that it cordoned off a section reserved as an endangered species habitat. He dismounted and walked up to the fence which he thought to open, to allow himself into the alluring reaches beyond.

Gary heard a hiss of moving sands before he saw the sand-worm. It surfaced between him and the relative safety of his buggy. It was about twelve feet long and almost three feet in diameter. It opened its mouth and bared a piranha-like set of small sharply pointed teeth. Its body was the color of cinnamon and had segments like those of an earthworm. Gary stood motionless and quickly realized that it couldn’t see him. He deduced that it was waiting for him to make a sound. Ever so stealthily he slid his body around the sand-worm, so that he could reach his water bottle and get back on his vehicle. He pressed the ignition; the engine gave groan and died. The sand-worm approached and snapped at his feet. He squirted water in its mouth. It backed off to burrow into the sand. Again, he attempted to start the motor, without success – it was dead.

Gary sat for some fifteen minutes; he wondered how he was going to get back to the shore. He prayed that another rider would come within shouting distance, but none came. He decided that he would be obliged to trudge through the sands to find help, but as soon as he took a few steps away from the buggy he heard the hiss of the sand-worm moving through the sands. He retreated to the vehicle’s relative safety. The sand-worm now seemed emboldened; it surfaced and circled the buggy ever getting closer. It alternately snapped its lethal-looking teeth at Gary’s feet, and rocked the dune buggy with its powerful body.

Gary became convinced that if he did nothing, the sand-worm would win. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but suspected that it wouldn’t include a pleasant outcome for him. He noticed that the sand-worm moved by rolling its body and saw that, like a snake, its cavernous mouth was an extension of its body. He tore off the dune buggy’s accelerator handle which formed a crude hook-like tool. Then he tucked his water bottle into his waistband. Gary had ridden a few Broncos and even a few bulls in his time and had decided that he would leap onto the sand-worm’s back and grip it with his ‘hook.

Gary knew that he only had one chance and that his leap had to be accurate. He jumped as it passed and landed on its back behind the gaping mouth. He straddled the creature and opened one of its segments to get a secure grip with his hook. A few grains of sand entered between the folds of the segment. The sand-worm writhed and started to move across the sand. Gary was pleased to find that it didn’t roll or attempt to burrow into the ground.

“So far so good,” Gary thought, “now I’ve got to figure out how to make this beast go where I want it to go.”

He experimented and discovered that he could direct the sand-worm’s movement by adjusting the location of his hook. He steered it toward the beach. As he approached the shore, the sand-worm became increasing reluctant to move, or maybe it was getting tired. Gary decided that it was time to dismount. He took his water bottle in his right hand and held it like a gun as he slid off his ride. The sand-worm immediately turned and burrowed into the sand. Gary watched the sandy surface undulations which marked its slow retreat.

When Gary got back to Joe’s stand, he saw that Joe was engaged with customers, so he found Jess and handed her the ignition keys. He hurriedly told her that the buggy had stalled in the far reaches of the dunes. Before she could question him, he turned and walked down the beach back to the RV and Gloria. He found her beside the RV lying on a towel reading; he lay beside her and began to tremble. Haltingly, he told her about his extraordinary experience. He had expected incredulity, but she seemed to register concern but little surprise. She pointed to her book which she had put down on her towel, Dune, by Frank Herbert.

“It is all in there, the rolling sand dunes, the cinnamon-colored spice, called mélange, causing blue eyes and treating geriatric symptoms, and, of course, the sand-worms.” She reached and hugged Gary. “My super-man, I can’t believe you managed to ride one!” She gazed out over the sands and added, “Now we have another endangered species to join the snowy plover.” After another pause, Gary noticed tears in her eyes. She spoke quietly. Her voice pitched almost as high as the snowy plover’s call. It was Gloria’s plea for planet earth. “What shall we do? It’s going to become our mission, we have to make sure that our beautiful planet doesn’t degenerate into a desiccated sandy replica of Herbert’s planet Arrakis.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gabriel’s Story

My name is Gabriel although I like to go by Gabe. I, and my best friend, Lucifer, exist in the interwoven continuum of space and time.  I can tell that you are bewildered and shocked by these statements, so I’ll explain myself.

First, when I refer to the interwoven continuum of space and time I refer to the status of the universe, an entity more complex than any humanoid definition or attempt at an explanation. It is a continuum in which the vastness of space and time interweave to become an instantaneous comprehensible whirling circle.  In the middle of that circle, without beginning or end, is the Life Power, or God, whom I adore.

Second my best friend Lucifer is no longer my best friend; in fact he is now in opposition to everything which I, and God, hold sacred. Even though I abhor what Lucifer now espouses I still love him and long for the time when we will reunite in brotherhood and dissolve into the vastness of eternity so that our differences are nullified.

I write this epistle to explain how I almost slipped into derision to align myself with Lucifer. It began when God instructed me to find an innocent virgin on earth to act as a receptor for a temporary union of man and God. The child was to bring the earth a message of the oneness of God, of grace and redemption, and to teach humans how to live together in brotherly love. Given human nature this, in itself, was an ambitious objective.

Once I had my mission I reviewed human history and decided that the Roman Empire which lasted almost one-and-a-half thousand years encompassing the lands around the Mediterranean Sea provided the right environment for God’s plan. I knew that, when delivered, the Roman Empire had the capacity to spread the man/God’s message to entire length, breadth and timespan of the empire and beyond into the Roman legacy. The Romans worshiped a troupe of man-made idols whom they called ‘Gods’ so I looked for a virgin belonging to the Jewish people as their concept of eternity and their monotheism most closely matches the entity of God.  I found my virgin, a sweet fifteen-year-old who possessed the right combination of innocence and genuine goodness coupled with a strong belief in her God. We are not permitted to show ourselves to humans except under very special circumstances and this seemed the right occasion so I did just that.  She was terrified when I appeared but when I gently explained my mission she accepted the difficult task which I laid upon her. My job was not completed for then I had to appear in dreams to her betrothed to make him understand that her pregnancy was not due to illicit sex but, rather, the will of God.  

Imagine my distress that in the ninth month of her pregnancy, at the decree of Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor, she and her betrothed were called to travel to Bethlehem to be registered and taxed.  The journey, on foot, was arduous and when her water broke along the road they could do nothing but press on into town. Here they found no relief and, relegated to a stable, delivered the child in a cow stall. Not unexpectedly both mother and child died. Looking back I suspect the hand of Lucifer and absence of divine interference in deference to man’s free will. 

For the next three hundred years, a nano second in the space time continuum, I sought, without luck, for another virgin comparable to the first. During this time Lucifer was constantly mocking me, and invited me to drop my search to join him. My mounting frustration made his offer tempting but I resisted, thank God.

By the time that Constantine arrived a full three hundred years had passed since the first virgin and her child had died and I was going nowhere. I decided that I needed to expand my candidate field by inducing the Romans to drop their gods and adopt monotheism. Constantine was a good man and a good general so before the pivotal battle of Milvian Bridge I made my move. Constantine’s army faced Maxentius’ army who were double in size. As before all battles everyone on both sides prayed for victory. Obviously, I couldn’t intervene on either side’s behalf except I chose to suggest a symbol of a universal single God. I created a distinctive image of a circle, something without beginning or end, in the clouds.  Both Constantine and Maxentius saw the apparition but Constantine was receptive to its message. This was probably due to his earlier exposure to the concept of one G when he lived, with his uncle Diocletian in Nicomedia in the eastern part of the empire.

Consantine ordered his troops to paint circles on their shields and to fight under the banner of ‘The one living God.’ That day they had a decisive victory. It was probably because the men were motivated by the concept of a universal God so superior to their host of quarrelsome man-made Gods. My plan worked and Constantine embraced his new God whom the Romans named Alpha-Omega or “I Am”. They gave him the characteristics of the Jewish Jehovah. The religion, thanks to Constantine’s adoption of monotheism, flourished throughout the Roman world, and later beyond its boundaries. Now I now had a much larger population of monotheists in which to find my innocent virgin.

Time passed and although time is a meaningless dimension to me I had to face it as I evaluated a multitude of young women. It was during this period that I continued to hear my friend Lucifer urging me to abandon my quest.  I’m glad that I resisted his arguments and remained faithful to God.  Almost two-thousand earth years passed and mankind developed a new instantaneous communication medium which they dubbed the ‘Internet’. I instantly knew that this medium would provide the perfect tool for the man/God to disseminate his message. I also determined that, while Mandarin is spoken by over 14% of the world’s population, the combination of Spanish and English at over 11% made good sense as many of these people still believed in the one and only God. I intensified my search for a sweet virgin who spoke both Spanish and English.  The young woman had to resemble the first, be smart, gentle, full of grace, a staunch believer in God, and able to accept the difficult task which I would lay upon her.

At last I found Maria in Nazareth, located in the Texas panhandle. I pondered on the best way to approach her, in a dream, through the internet or in person. In person seemed the right avenue for my task but at what time and where? She had to be alone and my Maria was seldom alone. I decided on evening in her bedroom where she did her homework. It was a small room and so I appeared in a smaller form than I would have liked, even then I knew that I filled the room. I kept my wings furled for they would have touched the pink walls. When she saw me as I gradually materialized she gasped in terror. I spoke,

“Greetings O favored one, the Lord is with you.” A good beginning I thought, but she was not reassured, so adopting my most soothing voice, I went on, “Do not be afraid, Maria, for you have found favor with God.” I continued with an explanation of God’s intentions. When I paused she said,

“How will this be since I am a virgin?” She still hadn’t got it but I went on to explain how it would be. It took all my skill to persuade her to accept the task, but accept she did accompanying her acceptance with the sweetest of prayers; it made me feel good and reassured that I had touched the right girl.

Early on in her pregnancy Maria told her mother what had happened and, surprisingly, her mother reacted in a supportive role. They ran a confirmative drug-store bought pregnancy test. Later Maria’s mother took Maria to an OG GYN. The doctor was a friend of the family and privately told Maria’s mother that his pelvic exam seemed to confirm Maria’s unequivocal affirmation that she was still a virgin. He also told Maria’s mother that he wished that he could write up his findings in ‘The Green Journal’ but he feared that his exam had already destroyed the astonishing proof. He tentatively reviewed options with Maria and her mother. Fortunately Maria’s mother was a staunch Right to Life advocate; she rejected any consideration of abortion and supported Maria in her commitment to keeping her baby. Other forces were also at play, Maria’s school counselor, Miss Wright, saw Maria as an all A student, who was now ruining her prospects of University, by having a child.  I’m sure that she was egged on by Lucifer as she urged and pressed Maria to consider terminating her pregnancy. As Maria’s condition became more difficult to disguise others took up Miss Wright’s relentless suggestions. They made Maria so miserable that her parents decided to temporarily take her out of school. Although they had little money they decided that they should take her on a vacation away from the derisive forces at school.

Yes, you got it they took an Eastern Mediterranean tour which included several days in Israel. Their Israeli tour guide was a young man named Joseph who, although privately questioning Maria’s pregnancy, instantly became smitten by her, and she him. I helped things along by appearing to Joseph in a dream and explained the source of Maria’s condition. I even went on to boldly suggest that he should marry her and become a surrogate father to the child. In due course this would come to pass.

But Bethlehem is my nemesis for when they arrived in Bethlehem Maria went into early labor.  Joseph instantly reacted with calm and escorted her and her family to the Holy Family Hospital. I couldn’t have been more pleased for it is located 800 meters from the very spot that the first Mary gave birth. We were on track.

 

The Chair – a short story

I apologize that this post is 2,576 words. I considered breaking it up into two posts  but decided against this as it breaks the flow. I hope that some of my readers can read it at one sitting. 

The chair was located in the entrance hall of an elegant single story home in Austin, Texas. He wasn’t sure if he stood or sat in his place; stood because he had four legs, but sat because that was his function. The dilemma constantly puzzled him for he had ample time to ruminate. From his location he could see the dining room with its long polished table and set of eight perfect matching chairs in a similar Chippendale style to his own.  How he envied those chairs with their table and how he hated to see them in use.  He creaked with sadness every time someone sat in the regal arm chair at the head of the table for he regarded this location as his rightful place. He was, after all, the oldest, most decorated, most elegant armchair in the home and yet the only person who sat upon him was his house mistress when she was putting on or removing her walking shoes. On other occasions, when the family had guests, he was reduced to clothes-horse and repository for discarded overcoats, purses, socks and shoes.

He wondered how long his boring life would drift on in this way and sometimes dreamed of Edward Lear and the chummy relationship between the table and chair of his poem The Table and the Chair.  He was particularly fond of the first two verses with the table’s suggestion “If we took a little walk, We might have a little talk! and tried to imagine what it might be like for him to go for a walk with a table at his side. His real fascination was his private dream that he might be able to use such an expedition to initiate a search for his lost family. Daily he repeated the verses to himself, letting the words tingle his ribbon back.

When it was first put in place the chair noticed that the elegant dining table of the next room didn’t have legs in the traditional sense it stood on two huge wheel mounted pedestals; it could roll, perhaps, but never walk. As for the chilblains mentioned in Lear’s poem, thankfully Austin, Texas, never got cold enough, but the heat, also mentioned in the poem, oh the heat and the often desert-like low humidity; they were a curse from which the chair did suffer. He could feel his wood dehydrating and becoming more brittle as the years rolled by. He took vicarious consolation that the same conditions were assailing the occupants of the dining room. He was sure that going for walks never occurred to those youthful chairs.

The chair was located opposite a tall stately grandfather clock with ancient dial and gently disintegrating veneered case. Initially the chair didn’t like the grandfather clock because the incessant ticking and hourly bouts of noisy chimes upset his dreary thoughts. In 2005 his attitude began to change when old grandfather announced that he intended to celebrate his 290th birthday with a set of twenty-nine chimes at mid-night. The chair gave his approval and unexpectedly, even for him, asked whether the celebration could include his 255th birthday.  This, of course, was a lie as the chair knew that he was only 140 years old. The moment that he said it he regretted his bravado and wondered why he needed to impress the friendly clock. The clock instantly agreed and seemed to give the chair’s purported age special credence by suggesting that he would give 25 chimes at midnight for the chair and add another 4 at 1:00 am for himself. Their celebration back-fired because the mistress of the house awoke and heard the chimes; she might have missed the  twenty-five at midnight, putting it down to her being partially asleep but the four at 1:00 am were unmistakable. The next day she called in a clock ‘doctor’ and the clock’s head was dismantled and hauled away to ‘The Clock Shop’. That was when the chair realized that he missed his companion, the old clock, and even longed for the return of ticking and regular chimes.

The clock was very chipper when he returned and smiled gently down upon the chair. At night he talked of his trip. He talked of the several dozen clocks whom he had met. He regaled about the joy of chiming is unison, and of the cacophony of sound. The chair responded by quoting Edward Lear sighing sadly that he had no-one to walk or talk to. The clock knew the poem and asked the chair whether he heeded the last three verse in which the table and chair get lost and employ a duck, mouse and beetle to guide them home. The time away had made the clock loquacious and he went on, “I abhor mice. First and foremost I because they are dirty creatures who are known to chew wood with their awful pointed teeth.” He paused to chime and then continued, “A nasty family once nested in my case; you can’t see it but I have a hole in my heel where they nibbled a door for themselves.” After an hour the clock chimed again, it was 1:00 am, he sighed and took up his dialogue where he had left off, “Yep, I hate ‘em because every kid imagines a mouse running up my case and quotes that trite nursery rhyme Hickory, dickory, dock. 

The chair tapped his four legs in approval when  the clock quoted the lyrics; then he continued his monologue, “I dislike that rhyme on many levels. It is older than I, not that age is particularly important.” At this point the chair wondered whether the clock’s comment was an indirect jab of the clock’s at his deceit in reporting his age. While the chair let his thoughts wander momentarily the clock continued, “The rhyme was originally coined in 1659 to ridicule Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard, or Hickory Dick who only ruled England for one year, hence the strike of one. Second verse is a little better because now Richard is a pig to be brought down by Charles 11. Few people know this verse.” said the clock gently hummed the words which go like this:

Dickory, dickory, dare,
The pig flew in the air.
The man in brown
Soon brought him down,
Dickory, dickory, dare.

Then there was silence only broken by the clock’s regular heart-beat ticking and the outside distant roar of night traffic. The chair continued to agonize over this deception and was beginning to formulate a way to tell the clock when the clock took up again,

‘Beetles!” he said, “Never, ever, let a beetle close to you,’ his ticking almost lost a beat in his excitement. He repeated, “Never, ever, let a beetle get close to you! What’s more,” he added with a loud creak, “What’s more the smallest ones are the worst, the most to be feared.”

“What’s so wrong with beetles?” inquired the chair, “after all, the beetle guided the table and chair home.”

“Maybe,’ came the reply, “but surely you know that wood worms are a type of beetle and so are termites. Beetles are our doom they eat our substance. Stay away from beetles! Don’t let them into your home and don’t fraternize with them. In Lear’s poem they dined on beans and bacon but I bet you that that loathsome beetle was eyeing his hosts with gluttonous desire!”

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As time went on the friendship between grandfather and the chair strengthened. They often reminisced about the old country, for they were both made in the United Kingdom and had shared the same package container when they crossed the Atlantic. Grandfather invited the chair to closely scrutinize his face to observe his maker’s name proudly etched into the brass ‘Bradley, London’ He boasted that Bradley who was apprenticed in 1688 and member of the ‘Clock and Watchmaker’s Company’ 1695-1748 becoming well known for his turret clocks including St. Paul’s, London and St. Giles, Edinburgh. The grandfather’s pride and joy was the upper mechanism of his dial which depicted the faces of the moon synchronized for London so that his first owners knew when the tide was low and they could ford the Thames.

The chair admired the clock’s assets and gradually began to share his story, “I’m built from solid mahogany ‘in the style of Thomas Chippendale’ so they say.” At this juncture the chair saw the clock’s veneer tremble and so he continued to elaborate. “Thomas Chippendale, was baptized in 1718, and died in 1779. He was a successful London cabinet maker and furniture designer. He is best remembered for The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director which is a book of his designs published in 1754. There are many chair designs in the book, most with ball and claw feet. But I like my plain feet don’t you?” The clock looked down and nodded in approval. “You can see my exact back among the pages – it has been copied everywhere. Why even the youth at the dining table yonder boast a similar design probably taken from Tomas Chippendale’s book. The chair was pleased with himself for he hadn’t said that he was a Chippendale chair or made any remark which referred to his age.

The clock again quivered in approval and commented “I love the tasteful scrolls of your back and the fact that all that carving, I assume, was done by hand out of a single mahogany plank.”

“Right-on,’ responded the chair, “and don’t forget my hand needlepointed seat with its Chippendale style image of bird and flowers.”

Several days later the clock asked, “So, chair, I’ve thought and thought about Chippendale and your heritage and can’t understand why you are always so miserable. Surely your heritage should bring you pride and joy?”

“Maybe,” responded the chair,” but there is more to my story. You see I am part of a matched set or, I like to think, ‘family’ of ten. Yes, don’t shudder like that, ten is a nice number.” He sighed. “There was me, and the lady whom I regarded as my wife. We were the two arm chairs who commanded the table from either end. We are branded I and I. I am II, ladies first you know. Then there were our eight companions. I liked to think of them as our children, four girls, and four boys, branded I though VIII. They were always located on the long sides of the table. How I miss them.”

“I can’t imagine having a family.” said the clock. “We grandfather clocks are designed to be loners. I may have enjoyed the comradely of The Clock Shop but it is exhausting and only good for short periods. The worst part is making sure that you are true to yourself and don’t slip into ticking and chiming at the exact times as everyone else. Of course they did give me respect due to my age. I was the oldest there by a long shot. Now tell me more about your family, how did you come to be separated?”

“We were all together until about 1960 when our owners both died and we were inherited by their son and daughter. The both ‘loved’ us and wanted to keep us, so they did what so many heirs do – they split us up. It happens with silverware and dinnerware all the time. Even with us chairs it is quite common; it explains why full sets are so valuable. The son took my ‘wife’, the other arm chair, and the ‘children’ IV, VI, VII and VIII. The daughter took me and I, II, III and V. We were shipped to the north of England.”

‘Ah yes, I arrived in 1965. I stood in the hall. I’m always in the hall.”

“So you were; I heard you but we were always in the dining room which, I suppose, is why we never officially met. It was a cold draughty house wasn’t it? That’s where I learnt about chilblains. In those days we never suffered from the heat. Temperature wise it was a cold place but in other respects it was warm. We were sat upon every evening when the family dined; oh the conversations, oh the food!”

Grandfather interrupted with a chime of 3:00 am and an apology. “Please go on.” he urged.

“The good times ended slowly as the family of five disintegrated, the children left home, the mother died. The best thing that happened during those years was the father’s undertaking to needlepoint seat covers for us all. He finished the covers before he died in 1998. Then there was another split up when one of the daughters took me and I, II, III and V went to Oxford with the son. I often dream of them and try to imagine what happened to them and how they are doing.”

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Another day the clock inquired about the chair’s experiences prior to the owners who died in 1960. It might have been an opportunity for the chair to come straight over his age but he didn’t, he responded,

“That part is loud and hectic. We were table four in a regimental mess hall. Look closely at my legs you can see the chips and scars where sabers hung from the men’s Sam Browne belts cut into the wood. We were happy to leave that place for the calm of a private residence with quiet family meals and a lovely elegant dining room looking out upon a fine rose garden.”

In 2015 the chair and clock shared two exciting events. Grandfather planned to celebrate his 300th birthday and the chair overheard talk of a reunion with I, II, III and V. Festivities were dampened when tattered shipping boxes arrived and I, II, III and V fell out in what looked like a pile of mahogany kindling. The mistress of the house set up a chair workshop or hospital in the garage and began the arduous task of piecing together pieces to resuscitate the four chairs. The chair in the hall waited in silence for his longed for reunion. Daily he agonized over the activities in the garage; every bang of a hammer made him shudder. The moans of chairs in vices made him flinch and the stench of finish remover made him queasy.

The clock told the chair that he planned a special chiming to celebrate his 300th birthday and offered to include the chair’s reunion in the celebration. He suggested that they perform the ritual when the mistress was on vacation and the house empty. He asked the chair, “How do you and I, II, III and V wish to celebrate your 265th?”

Chair responded, “We will celebrate our reunion by listening to your chimes. As for our birthday, I have to confess that I lied about my age. I don’t know why I did it – to impress you I suppose, but now I have other things to impress with and confess that we are only 150 years old. We are in the style of Chippendale not made by Chippendale!”

The clock chuckled, “Of course I knew. I’m glad that you are now content enough to tell me.”

“You knew, how did you know?”

“I’m a clock. We clocks always know. Time is our business!”

“You went along with my deceit?”

“Yes, after all who cares about a few hundred years?”

The red barn and the mad sheep – a short story

The red barn was glad when the sheep arrived as they represented a new lease of life for her old timbers. When they appeared to go mad, as she knew that they would, she enjoyed the notoriety which accompanied their antics.

The barn had all the standard features of a barn of her era and area; in her happiness she stretched her hipped roof upward in an attempt to conceal a sagging section to the north which leaked onto the rotting wood on that façade. She was pleased that her good south side faced the dirt road in front of the abandoned farmyard; and hoped that the distance was great enough to disguise her peeling red paint. She regarded her west gable end as her face and the upper eaves projection to be her nose although it had been built to accommodate a pulley for lifting bales into the upper loft. Now, where she had once looked across fields to a shelter belt of trees she faced a new retirement house which her new owners, Katrina and Mark, had constructed. The presence of the sheep and the new vista helped her to ignore the town to her east which she knew crept toward her, annually decreasing the distance until, she knew that one day, it would swallow her up.

The barn had been lovingly constructed by the surrounding neighbors for the original homesteader and his family. They painted her red using whitewash pigmented with red oxides from the earth. She was content to be red so that she stood out in all weathers including great snowstorms. Her first function was to house a milk cow, a few chickens and Ben and Jeb, the work horse team. Ben the lead horse was spirited and had a mean streak which he displayed when he kicked his stall walls. Perhaps, the barn mused, this accounted for the structural problems to the north. Jeb, on the other hand was calm and gentle. Oh how the red barn loved Jeb. She enjoyed the seam which arose from his shanks when he came in from a day’s work. She moaned in pleasure in union to his whinnies as he ate, and felt thrills of ecstasy when he rubbed his huge flanks against her structure. On cold winter nights she attempted to make him the most comfortable and to direct draughts from entering his stall.

When the horses were replaced by a John Deere tractor the barn had little time to grieve for she was converted into a busy milking facility. Twice a day her interior hummed with activity as cows took up their stalls patiently eating while they waited their turns to be relieved on their heavy udders of milk. Cats nested in the hay loft and two small boys made dens among the hay bales.

But times change and men age; the boys grew up and one was killed in Vietnam while the other left the farm to take up a career in teaching physics at a remote University; so that when the farmer and his wife decided to retire they sold their farm. The new owners were ‘gentleman’ farmers who leased out their land and sold off the farmyard equipment and ancillary buildings. Only the barn, a well and the original homestead remained. Everything fell into disrepair while the town, relentlessly, crept closer and closer. One November evening the empty homestead burned down. No-one knew how the fire started although the town’s police suspected the carelessness of local youth who had been using it as a hideaway, a place to hang out, smoke and drink. The red barn now stood alone. She projected a sad image of abandonment and neglect.

When Katrina and Mark retired from farming they bought the vacant homestead together with 40 acres of surrounding farmland. Katrina had a new house built on the west side of the property as far away from the barn and charred house ruin as possible. Here she set up home and planted her spacious kitchen garden and flower beds. Mark fenced Katrina’s compound and subdivided the remaining property with fencing into what he considered useable units. These included the old farmyard with land up to the road, two back sections, one with an apple orchard, and a field which he planned to lease to a local farmer for raising crops.

Now Mark didn’t like mowing and so he decided to house a friend’s sheep on his land. The set-up was perfect, the sheep could corral in the barn at night, drink the well water, and during the day they could graze on one of the three fenced sections. The barn accepted her new function with pleasure, tinged with a sense of foreboding. Every morning Mark went there and escorted his charges to the section of land in which he wished them to graze. In the evening he corralled them back to the barn. Over the course of the summer the sheep did an excellent job of keeping down the weeds and giving the property an air of upkeep while Mark only had to mow the gardens in the immediate vicinity of their home. Everyone was happy, the red barn, the sheep, Mark and Katrina, and perhaps even the town still gently creeping toward them.

One October day Katrina wandered over to the red barn looking for a good angle to take a photograph. She noticed that, although most of the property looked well kept the area behind the barn was full of weeds and needed “attention”. She mentioned her concern to Mark and asked him to scythe and mow the area. Mark went to investigate and saw that a fallen tree had blocked the area off so that his sheep couldn’t gain access. The barn creaked a warning,

“Leave this area protected, it is danger and not merely from my north façade instability.”

Mark wasn’t in tune with barn language and so he removed some of the rotting wood and the following morning made sure that the sheep entered the area. By mid-day the sheep were frolicking like lambs. When Mark noticed he told Katrina. A passing famer also observed the strange antics and when he got to town he told his buddies in the coffee shop. Mark and Katrina sat on their front porch watching. Soon they were joined by a parade of people who had heard of the spectacle from friends through the coffee shop.

At first the sheep forgot their age and played like lambs, jumping and chasing each other with abandon, while  making more noise than usual. The gathered crowd cheered them on and a journalist from the local paper took pictures. As the afternoon wore on the sheep became increasingly lethargic and eventually they lay down and slept. The voyeurs dispersed each with their own theory. Mark anxiously checked the prostrate animals, they were breathing peacefully in their sleep. The event was too curious not to get a second opinion and so Mark called the vet who, was regretfully unable to come that evening but, promised a morning visit. With difficulty Mark managed to wake up the sheep sufficiently to enable him to guide them into the red barn. He even spoke to the barn,

“Now you take care of my sheep.” The barn rustled a reply, but Mark didn’t hear her voice.

The vet came the following morning, looked at each sheep individually and shook his head,

“Strangest thing, I’ve never seen anything like it. They seem healthy enough. I recommend a light diet and I think that they should be fine in a day or so.”

Mark took the vet’s advice and herded the sheep into one of the pastures which they had already grazed fairly low. After several days when they were completely back to normal. By now the townspeople had lost interest and no one passed casually by to have a look. Everything was so calm that Mark again let the sheep graze the land around the red barn. Again the barn warned,

“It’ll be trouble. Make sure the fence is secure, and don’t let them onto my north side.”

Mark didn’t hear the barn, and went about his business. Sure enough by noon the sheep were madly frolicking in the giddy abandon of lambs.  Mark asked Katrina,

“What do you think has got into their wooly heads?”

They called the vet. This time he arrived accompanied by his recently graduated son and a horde of inquisitive townspeople who stood in the road watching. The vet examined the sheep.

“If I didn’t know better I’d say they are high,” he said. “We need to search the property; they must have found an abandoned still or something.”

At this his son became agitated and jumped up and ran toward the north side of the barn. “I know, I know,” he shouted. “It’s behind the barn. I guess that it must have seeded when we were teens!” The barn nodded her “I told you so” although no one heard or understood.

Mark and the vet followed. When they arrived they saw that most of the weeds in the area had been eaten. Now they could smell a potent aroma. The vet’s son looked forlorn,

“Such a beautiful marijuana crop, and they’ve eaten off all the buds.”

 

Jane Stansfeld, November 8, 2015

Good design.

Recently ‘Urban  Home” invited the Texas female AIA fellows to meet with them to discuss architecture and to define “good design”. The link below will take you to their site. If you are interested follow the link and be sure to click on ‘download pdf’ to get the whole article with images.

My response to describe good design is as follows:

To paraphrase Sir Denys Lasdun, “Good design is when the client gets, not what he said that he wanted, but what he never even dreamt that he needed!” Good design is so much more than aesthetics. Of course it includes form, and response to the site, but function and economy are equally important. In addition, if a client knows exactly what he wants, then he doesn’t need an architect; he needs a good builder. Good design also includes a meticulous attention to the use of materials and details so that the construction awes at every level.

http://www.urbanhomemagazine.com/article/1459

The Dream – a short story

At first Marian couldn’t pin-point when the reoccurring dream started. Her acknowledgement of its presence was so slow that it was hard for her to place when it had first come to her. As time went on she became increasing aware of its presence until she awoke every morning with its essence consuming her. This is when she realized that, in a bizarre way, she had fallen in love with her dream; or, more precisely, she had fallen for the man in her dream. It was the man who, accompanied by two white dogs, always walked beside her or away from her. Marian, who was over sixty, had lost her libidos; yet in her dream she burned with desire, and an intense longing to get to know him.

This consuming desire gave her resolve and, by careful concentration she was able to analyze when the dream had first come to her. It was spring, when she moved houses, about a year after her husband had died, and after the last of her two daughters got married and left home. One had gone to Sussex to take up a position with her husband’s firm in London the other had emigrated to join her Canadian husband in Ottawa. Marian even wondered whether, in some inexplicable way, the man in her dream symbolized her dead husband and the small white animals her daughters,

At this time Marian was alone in the north of England. To cope with her solitude, she had sold her large rambling out-of-town house and garden and bought a prestigious townhouse on South Street, in Durham City. It had a tiny back garden but no garage which suited Marian, as she no longer drove. What drew her to the house was its view. It had a ground-floor living room bow-window and second floor master bedroom window both facing east, to look across the, tree-shrouded, River Wear to the magnificent west end of Durham Cathedral. It was a picture post card view. Her analysis confirmed that her new address had triggered the onset of her dream.

The conundrum associated with the reoccurring dream was the man. He was clearly elderly with a slight limp and yet still had a good stride. He was clad in dapper clothing and was constantly accompanied by two white dogs. The strange thing about the dream, apart from its incessant reoccurrence, was that Marian never saw the man’s full face. In her dream she moved stealthily behind, or beside, him attempting to catch a glimpse of his face so that she could look into his eyes, hear his voice and study his smile. Sometimes she lifted lightly off the ground and flew over him but she awoke before she was able to gather enough speed to get in front of him. Because the dogs might be a clue to his existence Marian researched and found that the dogs were West Highland White Terriers or Westies. One day she took the train to Newcastle to visit a pet store to see a Westie up close. She petted a small female Westie puppy with affection but didn’t buy.

Although the man and his Westies were constant the rest of the dream continually changed. Marian watched him, clad in a navy blue jersey and matching pants, walk through green woods, the filtered sun-light dappling the ground, the woodsy smell of damp leaves permeating the air, the dogs scampering in and out of lush fern undergrowth. She heard a cuckoo calling its mocking call and doves cooing. She saw the dogs chase a red squirrel up a tree and watched the man stoop to examine a wood sorrel. In the spring she saw him walk the same wood, now wearing a brown corduroy jacket and khakis, the ground bathed in a brilliant carpet of bluebells, and the musty wood smell mingled with the distinctive scent of bluebells. In the morning she had awoken to smell the same sweet fragrance on her sheets.

Another time he walked along the sea shore, his shoes in his hand, his trousers rolled up to the knee, the sound of gulls overhead and the waves rolling upon the shore, and the dogs in and out of the water. On this occasion she managed to move to his side, her shoes in her hand. He picked up pieces of drift-wood and threw them for the dogs to retrieve. She was glad that at least they were able to run toward her, or more precisely toward him. She noticed their footprints in the damp sand, his with a slight emphasis to the right, the dogs’ prints a jumble and another pair of human footprints, smaller than his, imprinted beside his. When she woke up in the morning she was convinced that she had sand between her toes.

Yet another time she saw him walk a country lane, the ground muddy from recent rains, the hedge-rows bursting with birds and greenery, the dogs running hither and thither in and out of the ditches. Their white fur dirty up to their bellies. She never heard the man speak but on this occasion she heard him laugh at their dirt and saw him pause when they shook their coats in front of him.

“Yes,’ she thought, “I like this man!”

In the fall the trees along the banks of the river Wear lost their leaves and gave Marian a clear view of the path on the opposite banks. It ran parallel to her window with one branch climbing the steep side of the river valley leading to a passageway under the buildings and out to the close on the south side of the Cathedral. That second fall after her move she had taken to napping in front of her bow window as she gazed at the changing scene before her. One afternoon she awoke to see a man with a barely perceptible limp, walking up the path on the opposite bank toward the Cathedral. She thought that he looked like her man as his gait matched that of the man of her dream. The only inconsistency was that he had only one white Westie with him. As she wondered whether she was asleep or awake he disappeared under the buildings. She knew that he must have taken the passage leading to the south side of the cathedral. She continued to stare; soon to her amazement, he reappeared accompanied by a small figure clad in the purple uniform of a chorister. They walked down the path toward Prebends Bridge. This is when Marian deduced that this was not a dream as he walked across her field of vision rather than away from, or beside her.. Soon she lost sight of him as the path descended to the edge of the river. That night she didn’t dream but the next day she stationed herself before her window and watched him walk up the path with his dog, and back down again accompanied by both dog and boy. After Marian had established that this walk was a daily routine she decided that she would take the same route to effect an encounter.

Marian didn’t know where the man came from or went before or after the bridge, so she planned to place herself there at the time that he and the dog began their climb up the steep side of the river valley toward the Cathedral. She underestimated her speed and was breathing heavily when she arrived on the west side of the bridge to watch behind him and then, taken by a wave of embarrassment, she hid in the Charles II hollow oak.

This hulk of an oak tree stands close to the east side of the bridge. It is dead and black inside. It looks, for all intents and purposes, as though it was burned out after being hit by lightning. Local myth has it that this was the tree in which Charles II hid after his defeat at the battle of Boscobel. It is true that the tree is hollow and a good hiding place, but as the battle took place in the south of England and Durham is several hundred miles to the north; this means that geography doesn’t support the claim. The smell inside was rancid; it consisted of an overwhelming the odor of urine. Marian shook as she stood and tried not to breathe the putrid air. The Westie approached and barked at her. She waved him away and listened as the man called,

“Wally, heel, Wally heel.”

Marian quivered at the sound of his voice. It was authoritative, but to her ears it sounded pleasantly inviting. Wally returned to his master. Although Marian couldn’t decipher their conversation she realized that the man and boy were talking. When they were half way across the bridge she emerged from her hiding place and followed at a distance. After all she had followed him so often that this action felt familiar. She was careful to note that they walked up the path to Pimlico. She heard a car start and assumed that they drove away.

“So,” she thought, “he isn’t a neighbor. Pity!”

Marian didn’t like being a stalker but she confessed to herself that this is what she had become. The following day she opted for a different strategy and called the pet store in Newcastle. When they confirmed that they could locate a female West Highland Terrier for her she made arrangements to purchase the dog and have it delivered to her home. She named her Phoebe and began a rigorous routine of training walks mostly along the river banks. By now school was out for the Christmas holidays and she no longer saw him or his dog or the boy. In some respects she was thankful for this opportunity for her and Phoebe to bond and for her to become fit enough to walk the steep river valley paths with ease.

It snowed during the night before the first day of the spring term. It was a light snow but it was cold enough for the magical dusting of white to last all day. When Marian took Phoebe out for her morning walk she noticed that against the snow the white dog looked almost grey. In the afternoon she timed herself perfectly so that she and Phoebe walked up Pimlico at the moment that he arrived in his car. When he opened the car door his dog immediately ran to Phoebe.

The dogs sniffed each other and twirled in a circle of noses and wagged tails. Then they ran off together into the undergrowth of the river banks. Marian wished that humans could accept each other and become acquainted so easily.

“Good afternoon.” She almost stammered.

He turned and looked at her. His face was clean shaven, his eyes a deep blue, his cheeks a little ruddy from the cold, his smile gentle and reassuring,

“Good afternoon,” he replied, his voice gentle and sonorous, “lovely cold afternoon isn’t it?”

“Yes it is, perfect for a brisk walk!” Marian said this by way of explanation of her presence.

He nodded as though he already knew why she was there. He spoke as he locked his car, “I agree, and look the dogs seem to like one another. They are already exploring. Perhaps we should join them?”

They fell into step together and chatted as they walked. After they crossed Prebends Bridge he hesitated,

“I generally go up the steep slope to the left to pick up my chorister son. Where do you go from here?”

“I think that I’ll wait here,” she said “perhaps we could walk back together?”

“I’d like that.” he replied as he took off his glove and offered his hand. My name is Michael and my dog is Wally. We are pleased to meet you.”

Marian pulled off her mitten and shook his hand. It was warm and slightly callused. “I’m Marian and my dog is Phoebe, we are likewise pleased to meet you.” She hesitated and then added “Could Phoebe accompany you up the hill – she and Wally are having such a good time together?”

Marian waited beside the oak tree. She enjoyed watching them walk up the path. It was a familiar scene; a man and two dogs exactly as she had witnessed so many times in her favorite dream. Soon she saw them returning. Michael introduced his son. On the way back the boy entertained them with his narration of the first day of the spring term.

When they reached the cars she asked whether she could join him again on the morrow and was pleased by his happy acquiescence. The next day, when they met, he told her about his son. He said that after his first wife died he had been lonely and had remarried a much younger woman who was the mother of this chorister boy. He told her that they had divorced when the boy was six years old. He mused that youth and old age don’t blend well in marriage partners. He explained that every school day he picked up his son and took him home to give him his tea and to guide him through his homework, so that his mother could pick him up on her way home from work.

Time passed and the walks became a central aspect of Marian’s life. By the end of the spring term he asked her to accompany him to Newcastle for a concert. Over the Easter holidays they spent a different time together until one day, perhaps loosened by wine, she asked him about his other dog.

“What happened to your second dog?’ She asked.

“Second dog?” He paused and looked at her quizzically. He reached for her hand, “No there is only Wally. Why do you ask?”

Now she had to tell him about her recurring dream and how she had seen a man going on daily walks accompanied by two dogs. She described the beach walk in detail. He nodded as she spoke, and stroked her hand. When she paused he responded,

“I’m glad that you told me this for I have had similar dreams. In my dream I am always accompanied by two dogs and feel a presence beside me. I wondered whether the dream was a subconscious response to the fact that neither Wally nor I have female company. My most vivid dream was walking along the beach, as you describe. The oddest part was that morning Wally had sandy paws and I, sand between my toes.”

Pirates of Roatan- a short story

The island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras, is now considered part of Honduras even though it has a heritage of British rule which results in many islanders using English as a first language. Long ago, between 1550 and 1700, the island was virtually uninhabited except for a society of buccaneers who used its deep harbors as a base of operation for their piracy of English, Spanish, and French shipping who were transporting their own stolen treasures between the new world and their European home bases.

Today, in 2015, the pirates, who robbed at sea, are no more and the island is well populated. Its natural beauty consists of tropical vegetation, sandy beaches, warm seas and a coral reef second only to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. These assets combine with a good harbor to attract cruise ships and tourists from around the globe. These visitors are willing targets for a transfer of wealth which, no doubt, exceeds the magnitude of the ill-gotten gains of the pirates of yore.

On a glorious early September afternoon I walk the soft sands of the West Beach. The sand is almost white and as fine as granular sugar. I stroll along the edge of the ocean where the water creates a good hard walk surface. The beach around me is a hive of activity ranging from visitors lounging in the sun on deckchairs ($10 a day rental) to others swimming in the waters and yet others, like myself, ambling along the shore admiring the sights. I notice that half the population on the beach are local ‘islanders’, as they like to be called. Some sell their wares; dark glasses, hats, jewelry, drinks and food. Others, mostly attractive well-toned young men, sport seductive smiles in their attempts to sell scuba dive trips, water taxis, reef rides, horseback rides and other attractions.

“Don’t let them catch your eye” urges my husband. But how can I not look these youths in the eye? I have been taught, since birth, to always face anyone who addresses me; and, facing them, well, when facing someone, especially a tanned youth, you look them in the eye.

A clean-looking young man accosts us, “Ride in a glass bottomed boat and see the coral reef?” I turn to my husband; after all this is a good idea, then we get to see the reef without having to scuba dive. The young man walks beside us. He quotes prices which, seem to me, to be increasing as my interest mounts.

“Yes let’s do it.” I say, hoping to pin down the cost.

Five minutes later we are escorted down a narrow wooden pier and helped on board the yellow glass-bottomed boat. We climb down into the hold where we sit on one side on a blue plastic bench. There is one on each side with a raised area between the two sides. A baby sleeps on the raised area, and sitting on the opposite side to us are his parents and older brother. Further inside are other tourists seated on the benches.

Within minutes we are off, floating over a field of sea grass waving gently in the current. In a surprisingly short time we are over coral and begin to see the associated fish. The first school is a         group of blue neon fish which resemble the neon blue tetra which I once had in a fresh-water fish tank. The small boy shouts,

“A barracuda. It’s a barracuda” His baby brother awakes. While his mother hushes the baby his father gently tells him that these are not barracuda. I’d like to know what a barracuda looks like but the chart of fish over my window doesn’t show one. Later, when we are back in our room I research on line, and find that they are long and thin and sport a lethal mouth of vicious-looking pointed teeth. I also note that they may be seen on some of the Roatan reefs.

We pass additional coral outcrops each with their own fish. Again the small boy calls out, “It’s a barracuda. A barracuda.” His father draws him into an embrace and says something to him. We cruise on.

A school of sandy-colored flat fish adopt us and swim beside us almost at the surface of the water. The boy wriggles out from his paternal embrace and points, “A barracuda! A barracuda!” We are now accustomed to his excitement and turn to smile at each other. Everyone enjoys his youthful enthusiasm.

Our movement is gentle and seems alien to the concept of a predator like a barracuda. As the refrain repeats itself I wonder whether the pirates of old could be considered the barracuda of their time, while today’s islanders, who service visitors and tourists, a form of modern pirating barracuda.

As we draw back to shore floating over white sand and willowing sea grass the boy gives one final cry “It’s a barracuda. Look, a barracuda.” I turn and look at a crab in the grasses below.

Later, after a long siesta, we return to an almost empty beach and take seats at a table in one of the shore restaurants. We sip creamy ice–cold Pina Coladas and watch the departure of today’s two cruise ships. Their decks glow with lights as they sail across the horizon of the setting sun. Peace reigns.

In the morning we rise with the sun. We walk along the shore expecting solitude. Instead, we witness the arrival of the first vendors – a group of coconut sellers. The men are bent over under their heavy sacks of coconuts. They set up in the middle of the beach with a small shade awning and take out a machete. Soon one of them deftly strikes away the outer husk at the tops of the coconuts to expose a place where a straw can be inserted to create a coconut drink. They will sell these to tourists later in the day. I marvel at the host of men who rake the sands to restore the beach to its pristine status. I remark, “So this is the secret of the clean sands!” My husband nods in accord.

The day passes in a mix of walks, painting and tourist activities and in the evening we return to the beach to watch the sunset. We are early. I select a group of lounge chairs and sit on one. My husband stands nervously beside me until I persuade him that he would look less awkward if he were sitting. After all the worst that could happen is that we be asked to move. He begins to relax with me and we comment on how far the sun appears to be from the horizon when we know that it will set at 6pm. That is when “Charlie” arrives.

Captain Charlie wears a strapless green dress. Her smile demands attention. She stands between me and the sun. I disregard my husband’s maxim of “Don’t make eye contact” and return her gaze.

“Massage. Body massage. Two for $35,” she says.

“No. No thank you.” I politely respond.

“Tomorrow?” she questions unabashed.

“We shall be gone tomorrow. No massage please. We are here to watch the sun set.” My words are useless and before I know it she kneels before me and takes off my shoes.

“I give you a free foot-massage” she says, and starts to rub my feet. The soft sand is not so soft when rubbed against the skin. The movement of her hands feels like sand-paper. She calls up two attractive young women and a bottle of oil, I assume coconut oil, appears. Soon another bottle, this time full of water appears. It is splashed over my legs and the massage is in earnest. Charlie reintroduces herself and I foolishly engage in conversation by asking how she says her name in Spanish. She tells me; it sounds like ‘Shirley.’ She motions to the two attractive young women to approach and introduces them.

“My daughters, this one is Celeste, she is twenty. This one is Carmen, she is twenty-three.” They squat down next to Charlie and she draws them toward her. Celeste is very dark skinned with braded kinkled back hair. Her teeth are brilliant white and her dress clings to her body like a skin. Carmen is much fairer with straight black hair flowing down her back. Her colorful dress is also skin-tight and short enough to expose her young legs. I look in disbelief.

Charlie explains “My daughters, after them no more. Different fathers. But see, they both look like me.” Again she pulls them in beside her and I have to admit they both do look somewhat like her. The foot massage starts to extend up my legs and I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable. A good looking young man emerges from behind the chairs. Charlie introduces him as her brother. Then another woman appears. Charlie introduces her as her sister. The sister starts to massage my arms and even approaches my neck where I really do need a massage. I am about to mention this fact when my husband stands up. He pulls out his wallet and gives Charlie a twenty dollar bill. She barely looks at it as she deftly tucks it into the top of her strapless dress.

I think that my husband had hoped that the money would purchase their retreat. In a place, where a domestic maid on the Honduran mainland earns $1 an hour, $20 is a lot of money. I know that he gives $20 because he had no smaller bills.

The money does not have the desired effect. It only wets their appetite and the two daughters begin an intense massage of my husband’s feet and legs progressing up his legs and into his shorts to a point where he becomes uncomfortable. Charlies, expert that she is, detects the trouble and orders him to take off his shirt and to roll over so that they may work on his back. He complies. My massage is evidently finished as now all I have is Charlie. She continues to kneel before me in the sand and to gently massage my feet. She babbles on about her daughters, her age, my age (grossly underestimated), and her family. She asks me about the value of my necklace. I truthfully tell her that I don’t know its value.

At this point my husband leaps to his feet, puts his shirt back on and gets out his wallet. A second $20 passes from his hand into Charlies’ upper dress.

“Thank you, that is all,” he pronounces.

This time Charlie rises and kisses my hand as she marshals her entourage a short distance away toward the water. They stand in a group and talk. Charlie is the center of their discussion. I watch with fascination as she takes out the contents of her dress and appears to share it with her family. The brother withdraws a wallet and gives her something in exchange for one of our bills. The two daughters and sister are given a share. Charlie comes back to us,

“Could you do another $5?” she pleads.

I explain that we have no more money, that my husband’s wallet is empty. This is the truth. Charlie accepts my statement and grabs my hand for another kiss before departing back to her family. They stand together a few more minutes and then disperse. I watch Charlie disappear down the beach before I return my gaze to the beauty of the sun-set. It is the reason that I sit here. When it slips below the horizon and the tell-tale residual pink leaves the sky we arise. We walk down the beach in search of another creamy, ice-cold Pina Colada.