"Think Variations #4" copyright Duncan Long

Seminal Images

by Christopher Clagg


When I was a child, I would have dreams of cabin beach houses along sand-pipered stretches of wet foamed washed sand. Bubbles coming up through small pockets and crabs underneath.

Long afternoons with the fading sun and a cooling breeze.

I would wake to tenement beige stained walls and lower-income life.

I would stand in the bathroom all of ten years old and brush my teeth and think of dreams.

 *  *  *

At thirty; coming home on the freeway, I would curse the smog and the crowds and feel the frustration rising up in my chest like a rubber band wound to the point of snapping suddenly. Eventually at home I would open the fridge and have a beer for dinner.

Sit at the kitchen table and listen to the Beach Boys on the radio and remember more innocent days when I was still a kid.

When I had had dreams of beachfront cabins and long porches and cool mornings, quiet.

Just the sound of the wind and the waves and seagulls out over the water.

But it is just a kids dream. Unattainable. A life better left to those with normal lives. Not those dropouts tied to dead-end lives in minimum wage jobs and dead-end inner city landscapes and tenement apartments.

I slam the can across the room where it bangs into the wall and slides down to the floor, spilling beer all over the wall,

the floor.

The can rolls until it stops, but I don't move to pick it up.

Eventually I get out of the chair and cross to the fridge and get another and open it.

Drink it.

And try not to think of the dream at all.

 *  *  *

At work the pressure builds.

I work on a factory assembly line and push buttons all day long. The secret is the right buttons at the right time. I missed two buttons and the line had to be restarted twice today.

 *  *  *

Snow falls on Mount Fuji half a world away.

Monks sit in the shade of trees and chant prayers.

I go home and slam a beer against the wall and scream at the empty rooms. Upstairs in another apartment someone turns off the blaring music and the door opens, closes and there is a sound of footsteps that fade down the back steps to the parking lot.

A few minutes later the sound of a car pulls out of the lot and drives away.

I get up the next morning and go to work again.

 *  *  *

At night I lay on my back and watch the ceiling and count the years of my life over and over on my fingers. It seems like a lot.

Too much.

Too many years fighting, struggling, screaming.


I close my eyes and feel the sound of waves come up. Feel the wind on my face. It is sundown. The arc of red-yellow spreads across the open sky in one long wash of color. I turn back and look over the rise of sand dunes and steps that climb back to the cluster of cabins, and through a window see myself in a run down apartment laying on a bare mattress in a empty room.

There are no pictures on the walls of that room. No effects scattered over the bureau. No toys on the floor or in the closet. None of that happened.

I turn away from the window then, feel the sand under my feet and move out toward the breakers and the waves and the cool water that rushes over my feet.

I decide not to go back.

There is nothing left in that life, that window. Nothing I want to return to. The window eventually fades with distance as I move down the beach. After sunset I climb up the sand dunes and eat crab legs and shrimp in a beach cafe.

Drink warm beer in the chilly evening air and laugh and smile.

Later I pay the waiter and leave.

Find a hotel on the beach with conch shell lamp shades and sand embroidered coverlets on the beds. I fall asleep to the sound of waves and sleep most of the next day.

I live on the beach everyday, have dinner on the quay at night and listen to reggae music. Watch the lights come up and people dancing.

Singers singing.

I forget about the apartment and the life I had before.

 *  *  *

I met her on the beach.

Dark hair, short cut, it fell around her neck and curved under her ears. She stood on the sand and watched the sandpipers run across the wet sand, air bubbles coming up from pockets underneath.

She looks up when I come close.

"Hi." She smiles.

I smile back, but don't know what to say.


She runs then, diving into the surf and swimming out aways. I retreat to the quay and have a beer and watch the surf roll against the sand.

Watch the sandpipers run.

And the sun move across the slow sky.

And watch her swim.

The next day I see her again.

And then not for a week.

When I see her again, she is on the quay eating shrimp and drinking a coke. She smiles.

"Been away." I say.

"Wasn't sure you needed me." She says.

I am puzzled, I frown for a moment, but then go on.

"Want a beer?"

"No, I don't drink beer. I'm having a coke." She says. "Sit down if you like."

I stand there for a moment contemplating what to do, and then suddenly sit down.

"You needed a woman in your life," She smiles and drinks her coke, "so here I am."

"What's your name?" I ask suddenly, awkwardly.


We eat dinner and later dance.

Later I sing badly, as we walk up the quay toward the hotel and my rooms, our rooms. We make love and sleep in each others arms.

In the morning I wake and watch her and try to forget the words she had said in the cafe. I watch her sleeping face and get up and make breakfast. I wash her clothes and have a cigarette on the porch and feel the sun move over me.

When she stirs I bring her breakfast, and it is the first time I have ever thought of someone else first. Other than me.

Someone else first.

 *  *  *

We spend the day in the beachfront shops. She looks at scarves and bathing suites. I buy her a sculpture of a mother holding a child, carved from driftwood.

 *  *  *

Snow falls on Mount Fuji half a world away.

Monks sit in the shade of trees and chant prayers.

We live together for over a year before the accident. Driving up the coast to Caitland Island. I had been watching her, when I should have been watching the road. I took a turn too wide as we wound up the long coast road and went over the line.

A semi-truck appeared in the lane coming around the corner as I yanked hard back on the steering wheel. Yanked harder than I had ever tried at anything in my life.

But it wasn't enough.

As the car slammed into the front of the truck, the front end of the triumph exploded into a thousand pieces of fractured metal. The air was screaming.

 *  *  *

In the wreckage I lay holding her, the steering wheel is buried in my chest. The front of the car has collapsed onto us and I can't see beneath our waists if we are still whole.

I can't move.

"I love you." I say to her.

She smiles.

"I won't let you die."

She touches my arm with her fingers and rests her hand against my skin.

"I love you." She says.

And closes her eyes.

 *  *  *

I un-dream the dream because it is too painful. Because I don't want her to die. Because I can't face it. Can't face losing the only person who has ever meant more to me, than myself.

In another dream I wake.

"Sienna...." I whisper.

She rolls over from the bed and opens her eyes. outside the surf pushes up against the shore in an even and melodic rhythm.

(Are you alright?) I hear her voice in the back of my mind, before she even speaks.

"Are you alright?" She asks me.

See her movements and gestures before she even moves.

(She sits up and touches my shoulder, her hands are warm. I can feel her breath on my face.)

She sits up and touches my shoulder, her hands are warm. I can feel her breath on my face.

(Honey?) Her voice is a dream.


(She stops then, moves her hand away. 'You know,' She says then. She drops her eyes and looks away.

She stops then, moves her hand away.

"You know, don't you?" She says then.

She drops her eyes and looks away.

Her voice is soft but underneath her voice, is my voice.

Her face is delicate, but underneath her face is my face.

"I'm not real." She says. "I'm sorry if that hurts you."

I sit up and sit on the edge of the bed. Feel the cold floor against my feet. I shake my head and put my face in my hands and try not to think.

"But I wanted to love you." I say.

"I know," she says.

Though she is only a dream.

"I know," she says.

 *  *  *

I step back into the brownstone apartment and the empty walls, the neon of streetlights streaking the windows and the cold and low hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen that goes on and on and on.

I am standing in the apartment. Beer stains against empty beige walls. Looking through empty windows out onto empty streets. The trees are barren and don't move.

But the feeling is un-convincing, hollow.


It is all only another dream.

And then the walls melt away and the blaring music that rushes into the void, fades, and is only my voice screaming at the emptiness.

 *  *  *

Snow falls on Mount Fuji into the trees above my head. Stones whisper prayers in the cold.

The earth underneath my mat is warm in the doorway of my hut.

"Sacrifice, is giving that what you love away, for someone you love more." I say to an empty wind.

" I give up a dream life, for a dream love."

From my robe I take a picture, faded, creased from long holding it in my hands and hold it once more. It is a photograph of a woman with dark hair, cut short, resting against her neck, and curling under her ears. Soft eyes.

"And love, is finding fullness, even when there is emptiness."

But the wind does not comment, and the stone is silent. And my words like fragments of leaves falling in the falling snow, fall. Are covered over and forgotten. Unseen.

Like whispers of dreams that fade, when we awake.

I move across the snow and watch the gray sky. Having stepped back from the dreams to my small reality. This cold reality that knows only these few walls, this snow covered cap, these fellow monks that also sometimes believe we are men in other countries, with other lives and dreams and pains...

And loves.

I move across the snow and feel the snowflakes fall over my shoulders, the wind on my face. Yet I still dream dreams of people that I have never been, in places that I have never seen, and loved loves that I have never known.

Because no matter what we are,

or where we are,

the soul must always hope.*

Story copyright © 1999/2000 by Christopher Clagg <claggc@bellsouth.net>

Artwork "Think Variations #4" copyright © 1999/2000 by Duncan Long <duncan@kansas.net>






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