As If In The Heart
by Matthew Goldstein
He paced back and forth and back and forth again, along a small stretch of lonely beach. He watched the grass atop a sand dune sway gently in the evening wind. The grass moved with him as he walked, right and left and right and left.
A window above the swaying brush sat still, nestled into the second floor of a quaint oceanfront home. Its extending light sliced through the otherwise complete darkness. But in a battle of window and nightfall, the dim glow was smothered like a flickering candle in a long empty hallway.
A gust of wind pierced the back of his neck and a thin layer of water crawled along the shore toward his bare feet.
In the solitude of night, the ocean is black like its surroundings. A black wave reached toward the black sky and dropped harshly onto the beach. The water sizzled along the earth brushing past his feet. He sunk a little deeper into the soft sand.
Wisps of kaleidoscopic seafoam segmented the water’s inky facade. He looked to his right, gazing into the dark expanse of a vacant beach. It was only him - it was his beach.
Thick clouds sailed eastward toward the horizon. He ignored them completely, staring at the stars instead. Later, he would notice the clouds, notice them coming and going and morphing along the sky. Appearing and disappearing beyond his field of vision into an infinite expanse. He would see the curvature of the Earth. The clouds moved not just east, but up and around and down - to a place beyond his comprehension. He would feel like the sky was falling, something horrible was happening. He would be filled with regret. He was standing at the end of his world. He didn’t do enough to stop it or even really do anything at all.
Ocean water cooled the pads of his feet, and he inhaled saline air.
A silhouette appeared in the second floor window and he watched the shadowy figure as he took a sip from his glass. Melted ice watered the bite of a poorly made gin and tonic, and although he loved a well mixed drink: a cooling pucker around his gums, leaping acid from tongue to cheek, the sharp prick in his throat.. at the moment, he didn’t notice.
The air whispered behind him. An osprey descended toward the tumultuous body. Inches above its surface it tilted up and soared parallel to the water. It moved motionlessly. A paper airplane. And without a moment passing, it rolled to and fro and disappeared into the water. It popped up to the surface, flapping its wings, and parallel again - looking for food. To him, the ocean was a barrier, an impassable force. An osprey just used it as a dinner plate, an evening out, passing by and floating atop - a playground for coastal fowl.
He noticed for the first time the tide was reaching the lower cusp of his knee. He walked toward the base of the dune and sat. The waves were raucous and destructive and he marveled at their
beauty. Smashing against the earth, clapping loudly as they hit the beach. Violence was elegance.
A crab emerged from the sand and scuttled across his ankle. “Eeeck!,” he yelled into the wet void as he jumped to his feet. He saw a crab sidestepping away. Then looked back at his ankle. A splotch of beach grass danced in the breeze, it twisted around and tickled his leg. “Could it have been the grass? Did I even see a crab?” he second guessed himself. But he didn’t want to sit back down.
He walked up the dune, and saw movement in the window. It resembled someone dancing or an emotive conversation or something else. He couldn’t tell. He stood atop the granular mound edging the beach, and watched the window. But he only thought about the ocean.
He turned to watch a wave smack against the slick sand as the last remaining cube of ice clinked against his glass. It reminded him to take another draft. It tasted like the ocean.
He turned back toward the house and put his drink in the sand. He stared at the window as the figure moved around the room.
But he wanted his drink back. Unfortunately, it had been swallowed by the night. He bent down to look for it and noticed little footprints in the sand. Three toe pads and sharp little nails. He followed the prints down the other side of the dune.
When he looked up, a fox was standing right in front of him. They both froze. It was bigger than any fox he had ever seen. He looked at the creature. Its back had an exaggerated curvature. Rising strong and high in the center. It crouched low and its arms looked like they bent the wrong way.
He looked back at the fox’s head, staring intently, waiting for his eyes to refocus in the darkness so he could see what he was looking at instead of what darkness had distorted. Time passed for a while before he got a look at its face. When he did, he realized it wasn’t a fox. It was the face of a man. A human being crouched on arms and legs. He gasped and the four legged man leaped, and then sprinted at him. He couldn’t scream, he was too scared, so he ran. He ran away from the infinite expanse and onto a patio attached to a home, where in the second floor window no shadow could be seen. He ran toward the back door and turned around, “What the fuck! What the fuck are you doing!” he screamed into the nothingness of night.
He swung the door open and bolted it shut. He looked out the window, and saw only nothing. He waited, breathing heavy. His chest rising and falling. Rising and falling. And he sipped his gin and tonic and water.
He took another deep breath, and chugged the rest. There was nothing outside. Nothing. He walked backwards, waiting for something to happen, which it didn’t.
He looked away from the door and up at the woman on the second floor balcony.
“Look, Walter! I’m changing! I can feel..”
“What? Are you sure?” he interrupted, as he walked up the stairs.
“Look at my arms!”
Her arms were completely flat and had little brown feathers poking out.
“It feels amazing. I can’t wait. To feel the air breezing by, to have mobility, experience a truly simple life.. I’m becoming an osprey, I’m gonna be so beautiful. I’ve heard you speak about becoming a fox..”
She had succeeded and it wouldn't be long before she’d be gone forever. He stood, looking past her, out a second floor window where he noticed the clouds.
Eventually, he remembered someone was talking to him.
“Do it tonight. Become a fox.” she continued.
He looked at the ground. “I want to be the ocean,” he muttered.
The next morning, he woke up alone and in a great deal of pain. He walked down the stairs and out of the house. Up the sand dune and back down. He walked into the blue ocean submerging his full body and closing his eyes. Then, it was black again.
Matthew resides in Brooklyn, New York by way of the Garden State. He is a sea hawk with arms instead of wings. Everyday, he tries - desperately - to transform his feelings into words. As If In The Heart was written after a week in Kitty Hawk.