Novellas and Poems

An untitled novella by Radi Safi – Part 2

There was blue sky everywhere and we were both in a very good mood for there are few things more pleasant than a suburban stroll when the weather is just so. I couldn’t actually say for certain if it was morning but hazard a guess at it with regard to the conversation we were engaged in. Sally and I discussed the afternoon’s chores and errands in a manner that assumed there was still some time before any serious consideration had to be given to them.

Daily chores do leave their mark. Sometimes for longer than you would care to imagine.

Our walk took us south along the strip of thirty or so houses toward the busy traffic lights where three suburbs meet. I do not recall having any specific destination in mind although the car felt close. We hadn’t gone but three or four houses past my aunt’s when we found ourselves crossing a small street not unlike the nameless street of which the larger aspect of my aunt’s house faces. A street that I can assure you does not exist.

Among other things, Sally and I often like to discuss future discussions; it’s like making a date for a talk which simply must take place but that neither of us particularly want to have. I cannot recommend this enough. Stacking dishes neatly when one would rather slit their wrists than wash them is another highly recommended act of behavioral avoidance. As we both looked toward this unfamiliar sight and discussed the afternoon’s errands Sally slowly noted while still looking down the phantom street:

We should probably talk about the trip later. I noticed her pants and top. Was that new?

What trip? I knew what she meant.

The lake. She knew that I knew but humored me all the same.

The lake?

The family trip.

Yeah, we probably should. We could discuss discussing something for hours. But I was distracted and with good reason. During this exchange which included one or two other things like dinner and the boy, neither of us had looked the other in the eye. I was no longer interested in the fact that this street shouldn’t be here. I was walking down the slight decline to take a better look around. Very quickly Sally no longer mattered and I slipped into investigative mode. This is a boy thing that most girls are familiar with and ignore and most boys aren’t familiar with and indulge in. I thought I could smell the ocean. I stepped slowly along the new cement footpath and was a little saddened to notice that no one had had a chance to mark the cement while it was still wet. It threw me back some twenty years. My brother had a passion for this art form and there was seldom a new strip in our suburb without his name on it. I’m pretty sure he’s even written his name into no-so-wet cement that needed some very serious convincing to take-crack  his-crack markings-crack.

The cement path was very pale and had, in the traditional manner, been run over very lightly with a broom except for a thin border around each slab. I only saw this technique being done once and although very simple, is such an ingrained standard I can’t imagine a cement footpath being finished in any other way. A blue-green turf had been laid and had taken very well in the first half of the street closest to the corner but visibly yellowed as it got further away down the hill. A pale blue mist which blurred the houses and asphalt further down above the yellowing grass gave the street an indeterminable depth. Again, a faint scent of the ocean. The houses were all new and in various stages of construction. One in particular caught my attention and I made my way toward it. At first I didn’t realise how far away it was and found myself walking a good distance. This was a larger block than most of the others and was probably the least complete. It had an arrangement of steel ropes that looked as though they were there more for the aesthetic than any other purpose. Straight up, down left, diagonal right, with tight polished knuckles where two lengths would meet and change direction. There were quite a few of these. The angle would change only very slightly and the effect was that of a curve rather than of straight lines. The walls were unfinished and nothing of the inside had been established in any way. Large blocks of unfamiliar materials were stacked, placed, roped, bolted one after the other with large gaps between them. The pieces were ever so slightly rounded as though cut from a very large sphere and each of a different texture and colour. One got the impression that the architect may perhaps have been designing as-he-went. This of course was not the case and he would one day win an award for his design although it would be many years after his death.

I called out to Sally who had for the most part seemed far less interested in the houses and street than I had. She was however on the phone and just like that, as though it had come out of nowhere but as familiar as though it had been there all along, I heard the unmistakable sound of waves breaking. I turned back away from where Sally was chatting and noticed for the first time that I was standing no more than fifteen meters away from a set of four or five sandy cement steps that led straight to a small beach and breaking shoreline. It was morning. The mist was in fact spray and the air was as salty as you would expect it to be. I would have imagined it to be colder for this time of year but that wasn’t a concern. There was a net. A large one extending from end of the beach to the other. A shark net. It didn’t look new and the water on the shore’s side of the net was visibly teaming with life. There were also many birds along the sand busily racing around the tide as far up and down as the eye could see. This was a well established spot. I looked out toward the open ocean and there were islets. Many of them. Not very high, mainly sand and some had rocks. Some also had birds. I had recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle. I fancied myself an explorer as a child would do, visiting the Falkland Islands for the first time. Last I checked we were some 20 miles from the nearest beach so this was all a rather pleasant surprise. I gave little thought to the miles worth of land, houses, suburbs, shops, people, animals, plants, between where I stood and where the ocean should have been. This was how it was and had it been warmer weather I would have liked to have gone for a swim. I turned around, headed up the hill and collected Sally on way to the car and we made our way home.

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