A novel of Provincetown
Shafts of light tremble in the darkness between pilings. Patches of eelgrass loom, like holes in the yellow sand. Foot-wide starfish quiver, as though painted on the underside of ripples. Moon-snails wander at the heads of meandering trails. A bulge of sand curling off each side, like the wake of a steam tug with the scent of salvage. Sand eels shiver and coalesce. Schools, turning, disappear under the shadows of a flock of terns, Dah-Ta-Da, dee-te-dee. Overhead for a moment. Lost down the breeze. Sharp-pointed, sharp-crooked wings slicing into the fish below.
Albert steps forward. Peers at its surface. Close enough to smell linseed oil in the fresh pigment. He steps back, squinting to take-in the overall massing of tone and value. His footfalls are the only sounds in the room, echoing back up the open stairway. A dog barks a block away. Sand swishes as a wagon rolls past. Muffled voices on the street. These sounds barely register.
A needle-sharp drizzle drives into his exposed skin. The air saturated by a fuzzy dampness. A fine aerosol mist rushing into his nostrils, settling on the fuzz on his cheeks. An insistent wind strikes him everywhere at once: tugging at his hair, his face, whistling in his ears, flapping the ends of his rough scarf so that it slaps his side in a never repeating and forever improvised beat. The noise of the exhaust, a steady, mechanical exactitude, modulated by his mind’s inability to accept such precision. It fluctuates with the ebb and flow of his attention, the uncontrollable rush of taking it all in.
Riding high on this perch the breeze feels cool. Tickles the hairs on my neck and arms. The warm sun on my cheek. Provincetown marked by a series of curls and mounds. Blips, peaks, and spires centered around a flat-topped rise. The monument flanked to the West by its water-tower squire. The lighthouses of Long Point, Wood End, and Race Point picket in line before the dark silhouette of the town, Darker than the clouds. Crowded, above and below, by bright sky and bright water. The land’s solidity somewhere between that of the massive clouds and wispy moon.
I realized then that anyone falling or jumping into all that would be crushed, battered, tangled in the scraps of sail and skeins of rigging trailing off her sides.
At one point I felt bottom. Thrown from the sea onto the shore, spat out. As if my salvation were a sign and result of nature’s contempt for me. Survival the price of my guilt.
I knew no one else would come ashore alive.
The Hunt is Over