Something broke loose. No longer tethered to the earth’s trajectory I defy gravity, a reverse shooting star. All the things, all the things gathered, all the things forgotten for later, all the things rise up ready to have their day at the beach. But this is no Bathsheba Beach with white sands and tiki bars. This is after the hurricanes when I feel defiant because life can batter me no more than it already has. My batten-down hatches have survived. I’m no longer afraid.
I run down to the riptide.
Beneath hatch number one an anthology wakes up. It has incubated long enough. Next Monday is THE DAY it uploads to its publisher. Already I’ve printed the proof and discovered its formatting errors. Its writers have peeked at the pristine white pages and pointed to spots where error mars. This is good. Nothing ever hatches in perfection, yet often the creator’s fond gaze misses the flaws. Other perspectives round the view, and I apply the polishing cloth. A missed word here — polish — an incorrect British spelling there — polish — pages out of format — polish — headings mismatched — polish.
If anyone believes independent publishing is a shortcut (to what, I wonder when I see this idea bantered about) they have not published. My experience with publications resides mainly with magazines, newsprint and company material. I served as co-editor for a literary journal once and it took a year, following a seasoned and fast-paced process. An author once asked to use a magazine column I wrote as a chapter in her book, How to Go to College on a Shoestring. I received a copy two years later. I’ve watched friends in the literary community fuss and fizz over formatting and issues I feared to poke with a stick.
I run down to the riptide.
Hatch number two is a home. Forever homeless I might be, and yet I’m secure with the three things homelessness taught me to appreciate: a bed, desk and toilet. The RV developed electrical problems shortly after our arrival with a slide-out sticking and batteries dying. Our SIL’s boss said we could store it at his place in the country, along with our truck which is too large for mining town streets. After six weeks, the Hub has finally resolved the issues. The RV is set up as a guest place in the country, free to the generous person allowing us the space and to any writer who wants an RV retreat to the Keweenaw.
Home is not ours and yet it is homey nonetheless. After a year of crushing my own self-esteem against the injustices of a rental market in rural America and fighting the VA for the Hub’s right to healthcare, we’ve soothed our wounds in a new community. Our daughter and SIL have graciously allowed for us to take the time we need to resolve it all without expectation. And they are true to their word, practicing meditation daily to stay calm in a house full of dogs and parents. It has allowed me to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix and become the Agate Hunter.
I run down to the riptide.
You might say that beneath hatch number three is a can of worms. It’s necessary to access the VA healthcare system. As a paratrooper and US Army Ranger, the Hub jumped into Grenada overloaded with his pack, radio gear and a mortar. Easily it all weighed an extra 120 pounds. On top of that burden, he was shot at like a landing duck. He hit the ground so hard — feet, knees, hips, back, shoulders, head — he bounced. He bounced he hit so hard. He bounced. Reeling in his parachute he saw it riddled with bullet holes. His adrenaline rushed so fast he had no idea if any holes were in his body.
For the next 33 years he lived with the pain of that bounce. Early on, his knees locked up and revealed bone fragments. The VA denied his claim, stating no x-rays from his service dates existed. In fact, the military refuses to release his full medical records. We were young and didn’t care to fight the system. How would twenty-year-olds know what growing older would be like? Over the past ten years the pain worsened. To a former Ranger, he pushes through. But employers don’t like to hire broken men. We learned what beast combat anxiety morphs into.
I run down to the riptide.
Like a treasure chest, I carefully unearth my last hatch. Gems glint beneath. I hold each one, attempting to identify the raw material, gems embedded in ancient matrix. I’m tasked to sand each hint of gem quality by hand. Practice, polish, practice, polish. One day I might master revision to make cabs of books and platform. Carrot Ranch, Rock Creek, Miracle of Ducks, and ones barely showing promise yet.
College did not teach me to write novels, though under guidance I started one, ghost wrote another and published a thesis the length of a novella. Books did not teach me to write novels, though I gleaned good practices. Workshops, retreats and closed writers groups did not teach me to write novels, though they deepened my resolve and kept me on the course. Writing novels did not teach me how, though I mimicked process to keep and discard what did or didn’t work. Writing flash fiction week after week has taught me powerful lessons like facing a riptide and writing a book.
The Superior riptide roars, the result of wind and waves. I don’t run, I pause. What do I know of riptides? I’ve come to this shore to hunt the agates that glow like lumps of red wax, so the experts claim. How many experts does it take to write and edit and publish and market a book? All I know is that for mine, I’m the only expert those books will get, and if I don’t figure out how to find an agate, only the experts will continue to cultivate them. I write. I hunt.
Strategy first. From the eroded and forested bank, I watch the roaring waves, surprised because the day behind me was sunny and merely tickled the leaves. How can it be so windy on the sea-side of the front-line of trees against its force? I spot a lone beach half a mile into the shoreline’s curve. My strategy is to walk farther out that average agate hunters. Discipline next. I take the upper trail through the muffled forest. I measure my pace and walk, knowing others might be tempted to start hunting. I follow the trail to that curvature I spied.
After following trails least traveled, under low-hanging branches and over toppled birch, I skitter down a sandy bank and face the wind and waves. Despite the tumult and cacophony of rocks tumbling over rocks, the late afternoon sunshine warms my face. I think it wise to avoid the waves, but they don’t avoid me. Crashing five feet out they skim water over my agate hunting shoes. I decide the surf is not as dangerous as it sounds. Testing my theory, inch by inch I allow the waves to surge across my feet and ankles.
The riptide draws rocks like marbles caught in a vacuum. I don’t turn my back on the water. I can see rocks bobbing in waves like discarded apples. The first one to hit me feels like a gentle bump. Rocks in water are like a barking dog you discover to be friendly. Some waves grow so big that they shadow the sinking sun to cause a momentary false sunset. It’s unnerving but causes no harm. I’m alert to multiple factors and yet focus on the hunt, amazed at the size of my catch. Garnets abound. I find pyrite so well-formed in polished granite, I can see its cubed crystal structure. A waxy red agate shines in the intermittent sun.
Satisfied, I continue to walk back to the trail-head, taking the beach. I’ve noticed it’s empty now. The dog walkers, joggers and agate hunters have all left. And something shifts in the riptide. The rocks sucked out like marbles don’t return. Sand fills what was rocky shoreline. Still, I test my solidity and I feel good. It’s not like I’m sinking or getting caught up in quicksand. But I notice something that even expert agate hunters might have missed in avoiding a riptide. It’s like writing, while also paying attention to pitfalls and staying observant to discoveries.
The riptide tumbles lumpy rocks differently.
Curious as to why these rocks are lumpy, I find unusual gems — matrix with knobs of prehnite, rare golden pumpellyite and a copper nugget. Because they are worn unlike the other rounder stones, they remain defiant to the pull of the riptide. Each lump reveals a different gemstone and I’m reminded of how we all have bumps and barnacles. We can polish the gems, and allow expression of the lumpy matrix. This combination of light and dark surprises me, teaches me that not everything has to be so smooth. In life and writing.
September 14, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a riptide. How can it be used to move a story? It could be a stretch of turbulent water or a pull of another kind. Go where the prompt leads even if you find it unexpected.
Respond by September 19, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published September 20). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Lost at Sea by Charli Mills
“That son-of-a-pup! Toughest crew chief ever.” Howard grinned.
Stella hoped the young couple at the café didn’t mind her husband’s sea of stories.
“Didn’t know what a big deal he was. Me fresh from ‘Nam and him a World War 2 hero.”
The woman asked, “How did you know?”
“His funeral. Never saw so many brass. Laid him out with enough medals to topple him!” Howard laughed.
The couple nodded politely. Stella touched Howard’s hand, sensing the riptide.
“Battlefield sergeant he was. Omaha Beach. That’ll tell ya something. Good boss.” Howard’s eyes watered.
The couple shrugged. Nebraska has beaches?