Surface Temperature, Part 4 of 4Posted: October 5, 2008
>Many years ago, I wrote this short story, “Surface Temperature” — I think I was 18 or 19, or something like that. It’s mostly bad, but there’s something charming about it, sort of, maybe. It’s a bit heavy-handed. Lately, I’ve felt the need to go back and read things I wrote long ago–maybe it has something to do with turning 30. Or maybe not. So, for what it’s worth, part 4 of 4:
I have come to a conclusion. When everything is blown up, all you have is what is behind you. No matter what you plan to do, how many experiences you hope to live, who you plan to marry, what you want to be when you grow up, where you want to buy a house, and what you want done to your body when you die – none of that matters. Because all that can be taken away, and it will. I hear people who are thirty years old asking each other “what do you want to do with your life?” They talk as if life somehow begins as soon as you decide that it has. They’re waiting for the defining moment to alert them to the fact that life has indeed begun. But the thing is that waiting doesn’t get you anywhere. Waiting is what those people back at the grocery store are doing. Waiting is what that man selling kites is doing. Waiting is dying, and they’re just doing it slower. I can’t live that way. I’m afraid of dying that way.
So here I am sitting on the sand with just the ends of my toes in the water. I wiggle them back and forth and the heavy sand covers them. I move my ankles a bit more and the sand cracks open to reveal my now nuclear skin. Funny, it still looks the same. The air around me is becoming more and more chemical. When the wind blows now, it smells like boiling ammonia and ozone. My UFO kites block the sun and spin a shadow on my chest that dances across my torso and shoulders. There is no one, as far as I can see.
What is my life? I am terribly disappointed in what I have accomplished so far. But there it is again, so far. In a few hours there won’t be anything left to desire. All I’ve ever worked for, hoped for, asked for, has come down to this moment, and all I have to show for it is a couple of UFO kites.
I shove their strings deep into the sand and pile more on top so that they are well anchored. I pull off my swim trunks, then lie down again. The chemical air is blowing across my entire naked body. The heat is greater now, and the sun has moved directly above me. I move myself down onto more of the wet sand. I shift my weight from one shoulder to another to push the sand out from under me, making a hole. I wiggle and writhe until there is room enough to cover my whole body. I slide into the hole I’ve made and begin to cover myself up with wet sand. I even cover my face. I’m taking a hint from those turtles. I move down into a hole in the sand to wait for the surface to cool, so I can come bursting out to make a mad dash towards life. My UFO kites are flying like tethered birds above where I’m buried. I wonder will anyone see them. Every few minutes (or every few seconds, I’ve lost all time now) I check the surface of the sand for coolness. Only it gets hotter and hotter each time I check. I’m beginning to wonder if it will ever again be cool to the touch.
I eventually fall asleep. When I wake up (who knows how much later) I check the sand above me, knowing that now is the time. But it’s still hot. The sand feels so hot that I think it might be cool at first, but I know that feeling all too well from standing barefoot in the road as a kid. I don’t have enough guts to burst out like the sea turtles did. I’m too afraid of what I might find out there. I’m too afraid of how hot it actually might be.
I can only wait. Wait like those poor crying mothers in the freezer case. Wait like the kite salesman. And the waiting feels like dying, only slower.