Iowa Writes

MADELEINE BAER
By the Sea (Part 2)


        In November, it was already snowing. Huge flakes and clumps were being tossed down so thickly that the students couldn't look up to see where they were walking without getting a face full, and that combined with the slippery sidewalks caused someone to skid close by Julia on a bike, and when she stepped out of the way she slipped, and found herself almost face to face with a red coat.
"Julia!" Michael said. "Hi, how are you?" He smiled and handed her a book that she had dropped. His eyes were uncannily blue. But throngs of people were rushing by from every intersection, and before Julia had time to answer, they were walking in separate directions. Snow drifted down into her hair and onto her shoulders and the top of her backpack. For a minute she forgot where she was walking, and was just carried by the crowds. She quickly glanced into the sky and saw the slightest gleam of yellow, far, far away, and very obscured.


        In the middle of the night she got a text that woke her up, and it was from Harry, which was very unusual.
        Remember those stories that mom wrote for us when we were little? Your's was about a bear and mine was about a lion and Johnny's was about a lizard or something? I can't remember . . .
        Yes, I remember, but I can't remember what they were about. I know that they got lost when we moved, and mom didn't want to rewrite them.


        She stared at the screen for a few minutes until it went black, then tried to go back to sleep. She dreamed that she was sitting on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean on a gray day. She laid down on her stomach and peered over the edge and saw a man sitting down below, facing away from her, and looking out at the sea. He looked like he had a beard but she couldn't tell.

        In November, it was already snowing. Huge flakes and clumps were being tossed down so thickly that the students couldn't look up to see where they were walking without getting a face full, and that combined with the slippery sidewalks caused someone to skid close by Julia on a bike, and when she stepped out of the way she slipped, and found herself almost face to face with a red coat.
"Julia!" Michael said. "Hi, how are you?" He smiled and handed her a book that she had dropped. His eyes were uncannily blue. But throngs of people were rushing by from every intersection, and before Julia had time to answer, they were walking in separate directions. Snow drifted down into her hair and onto her shoulders and the top of her backpack. For a minute she forgot where she was walking, and was just carried by the crowds. She quickly glanced into the sky and saw the slightest gleam of yellow, far, far away, and very obscured.


        In the middle of the night she got a text that woke her up, and it was from Harry, which was very unusual.
        Remember those stories that mom wrote for us when we were little? Your's was about a bear and mine was about a lion and Johnny's was about a lizard or something? I can't remember . . .
        Yes, I remember, but I can't remember what they were about. I know that they got lost when we moved, and mom didn't want to rewrite them.


        She stared at the screen for a few minutes until it went black, then tried to go back to sleep. She dreamed that she was sitting on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean on a gray day. She laid down on her stomach and peered over the edge and saw a man sitting down below, facing away from her, and looking out at the sea. He looked like he had a beard but she couldn't tell.


        In drawing class they had to do an exercise where they turned off the lights in the studio and closed their eyes and drew an object only by feeling it, without looking at it or at the paper.
        "Feel that line from your senses to your brain!" Michael said, "And do not open your eyes! I will be walking around the room, so I'll be able to tell if you're cheating!"
        They were allowed to look at their object for one minute before they had to close their eyes. Julia's was a coral conch shell with white tips and an imperfect spiral. The inner edge was sharp and chipped but you could see through a small hole almost to the inner core. A tunnel of the softest pink gloss that twisted and grew narrower and curved until you couldn't see it anymore. A passageway into the heart of the shell. It had once been someone's home.
        "Alright, any questions?" Julia raised her hand.
"Can we hold the object, or can we only touch it with one finger?"
"I would say that working on one small section at a time is best, so try touching it with just one finger."
        He turned off the lights and put some "liquid mind" music on. Some people snickered, but soon the only other sound was pencils rubbing and scratching and Michael's footsteps, which would stop whenever he came close to someone's easel to look at how they were doing. The shell in her hand— it's atoms rubbing and crashing against her skin cells, drowning them, one after another, overcame her. She couldn't hear Michael's footsteps anymore, but she sensed when he was standing next to her and when he would walk away to look at someone else's drawing.
        Her eyes followed him wherever he passed by, since she didn't have to see anything, she could look wherever she wanted to. He came next to her again, and she turned her face towards him, and he walked away. He was going around the room again, and he would soon come back. It would come any minute now. The hovering of two sets of skin cells against a soft, hardly-there barrier. He would put his hand on her shoulder. He walked by again— there he was. She could feel it happening already, any second. . . . She could feel his entire form. He was standing in-between her easel and the lamp behind her, and his arms were moving, fiddling with his shirt and running his fingers through his hair. She could feel the soft padded weight on her shoulder already. But his hand did not rest there. It never did.


        Michael walked around in the dimly lit room. He would get so absorbed into watching one person draw while he was walking that he would forget where he was going and almost bump into someone else's easel. It was odd— sometimes he felt as if the random pattern of students standing around the room would shift while he was walking and looking. Andrew was over there in the corner by Susie, wasn't he? No, that was Miles, and there wasn't anyone else in the corner. He passed behind Julia and had to mind the cord of the lamp lest he should stumble and disturb everyone. A floating piece of dust drifted down from the ceiling and landed on Julia's shoulder. He watched it settle. He felt tired suddenly, like he wanted to sit down, or something.

        He kept walking. Lars was coming along splendidly. He drew with his whole body, never stopped, was always in constant motion. That was what one must do. Live as if you are bathing in the sea. If you stopped, you might drift.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


MADELEINE BAER

Madeleine Baer enjoys taking summer writing workshops at the University of Iowa.  She has been inspired by many people and places in Iowa City

By the Sea appeared on the Daily Palette in two parts.  If you missed Part 1, be sure to visit yesterday's page.

This page was first displayed
on August 31, 2016

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