Chapter 1: The Book (Day One)
It was a beautiful summer morning, two weeks before Labor Day, at the prettiest beach in North Carolina.
The ocean was actually sparkling, as if diamonds were floating on top of the waves. The private beach had just enough visitors to make it comfortable, but not so many that one felt confined. Beach blankets and umbrellas dotted the white sand creating a colorful landscape. Several people frolicked in the water, splashing and swimming. There was a sand castle contest between some of the younger tourists led by one of the older gentleman as judge.
One could smell the sun tan oil being rubbed on warm bodies as the temperature continued to rise and the hour moved closer to noon.
A young teenager was frolicking down the beach carrying a large, well read book in her right hand. She had been walking along the shoreline towards the fence which delineated the end of the private beach when she suddenly whirled around and changed direction, her outstretched arms swinging back and forth as she moved about laughing, singing, and dancing her way back towards “home”. Twirling her body in a semicircle, she saw a man sitting on a yellow and orange beach towel shaded by an aqua green umbrella. Startled, he looked up and the dizzy girl dropped her book in the sand next to his right hand. Taking his sun glasses off and standing, he retrieved the novel.
“Ah, who do you prefer – Heathcliff or Edgar?” He asked with a friendly smile as he handed her back the tome.
“Oh Heathcliff, of course. Don’t you think the beach is the perfect place to read Wuthering Heights?” The girl beamed at the man.
“Aren’t you a little young to be reading such big books?”
“Oh, I’m much older than I look, but I’ve been reading Wuthering Heights since I was ten. I save it for our vacation. We come every year to the same spot, just before school starts, and I keep it for my special treat. No matter how many times I read it, the book keeps getting better and better.”
“Really? Why not give other books a chance?” He queried.
“Oh, I do. I brought another twenty books with me. Some are old favorites, but most are new ones. I plan to be a famous author one day, so I’m trying to read all the great novels, but this one is still my favorite.” Changing the topic, “Which bungalow are you staying at?”
“Over there!” He gestured a location with his hand.
“Oh, that’s right next to ours. Are you with your family?” The girl glanced around.
“No, just me.”
“But that’s the biggest one. Last year there was a family of eight. They rented a crib for the baby and the rest of the kids had to draw straws each night to see who slept on the sofa. Why do you need three bedrooms?”
“Well, one is to sleep in, one is for thinking, and the third is for my work.”
“Oh, what do you do?”
“I’m an artist.”
“Ooh, are you famous?” She gushed.
“Well, they reviewed my new art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art In the New York Times.”
“Wow, did they like it?” she exclaimed, sounding impressed.
Unbiddingly, a large grin crept on his face, “Actually, you might call it a rave.”
“Well, now I can say I met a famous artist and you can say you met a famous author, or at least one day you’ll be able to say that.” She couldn’t help but smile back. “Thanks for the book.”
Bowing his head slightly, the gentleman nodded.
Still dancing, the girl made her way back to her parents.
The man, after gathering his things, headed back towards his cabin, almost skipping through the sand.
Day One: The Girl
I have never been so happy. Here we are back at my favorite place. We always spend our vacation here to while away the days until school begins, and it’s the perfect summer day to be at the beach. There is nothing like the ocean to lift your spirits. The power and the smell and the little dots of spray fill me up with good memories of past summers. And then there’s the beach; sandy and smooth, hot on the surface, cool beneath. So many ways to spend the time, two weeks isn’t nearly long enough.
I was exploring the shore line when I suddenly realized I was hungry. I knew my parents had cold soda and snacks waiting for me so I headed back. The only way I could express myself was by dancing, so I hopped and leaped and twirled my way towards my beach blanket. Feeling a little dizzy, I dropped my book. A slight, handsome man looked up and then smiled at me as he retrieved my prized novel. Wuthering Heights is a special treat I save for this part of the summer. It’s the perfect story to read as I look out over the water and imagine the moors. So romantic. I am Catherine waiting, looking, searching for her Heathcliff. I’ve read it on our vacation every summer since I turned ten, and am looking forward to reading it for the fifth time.
I’ve always been a good reader. By the time I was in third grade I didn’t have to take reading class, they just let me pick and chose. I started with the classics at nine and discovered the Bronte sisters when I was ten. Jane Eyre is for Christmas break, but Heathcliff is my summer joy. Of course, I brought a lot of other books with me. When I was in grade school I lived in Manhatten close to the New York Public Library. Every week my mom and I visited the stone lions, returned our old books, and signed out new ones. Sometimes my mom had to check them out for me because the librarians didn’t think it appropriate for children to be reading adult books. She didn’t care. I was allowed to read whatever I liked, and I liked everything.
I used to place the various texts throughout the apartment. Certain publications were perfect for the bathroom, usually funny stories. My dad liked to read them, too. Others were bedroom books, for night time delight, and then there were those for the living room, to peruse during the commercials or when the TV show was boring. We are really lucky. My dad likes gizmos, so he insisted we buy a television shortly after they came on the market. We had to buy a second one after he fiddled with all the tubes and made it too expensive to fix. The new one has a clicker to switch channels. My dad loves to take things apart, but there always seems to be a piece or two left over when he tries to put them back together again.
My parents are great. I’m their only child so they spoil me a little. I know they’ll give me whatever I want, but I try not to abuse them. I like to save my wheedling for the big things, not the small stuff. I wanted to be the first one on the block to own the new transistor radio as soon as I saw it advertised, but when my mom said “No”, I was okay with it, because I knew she’d buy me one anyway. And she did. My true aim is for them to let me visit Europe.
The thing is, I’m really smart. I try to keep it on the QT because I’m already considered a little odd. It’s tough being different from everyone else, even if it’s in small, but measurable ways. However, I still allow myself to be tops in my class. Well, it kind of goes back and forth between James and me, but even then, James is a year older, so my success should count for more. I’m a December baby, December 10, 1939. I’ll be starting my Sophmore year in high school in September. I should be in my Junior year because the district wanted to accelerate me, but both my parents said no. Sixteen is too young to graduate from high school, I guess. So my compromise is to graduate at seventeen, go to Europe for a year, and then start college.
I want to be a famous author like the Bronte sisters and write compelling romantic novels. I want to take classes taught by famous writers and impress them with my style. By the time I’m eighteen I’ll be ready. I can’t wait. So you can see why I want everyone to share my happiness.
But the man didn’t look happy. When he took his sunglasses off his eyes were hazy, like a passing cloud on a dismal day. He was polite and kind. We had a nice chat and when he left, he had a little bounce to his step.
That’s my mission. I’m going to try to spread my joy to others, but first I’m going to get something to eat.
Day One: The Man
This should be a memorable day. Here it is, the summer of 1954, with exactly two weeks before Labor Day. Yet, while I’m sitting at this private beach on The Outer Banks bask in the ocean breeze, all I can think about is the fact that I am one week closer to my 31st birthday. How did this happen? Where did my youth go? Already thirty and none of my dreams realized. Well not exactly none, I did have that glowing review in the New York Times about my last exhibit, but that was piddling. Yes, I was known in the art world, but I wanted name recognition like DaVinci and Michelangelo, names that even a fucking idiot would recognize. I didn’t want to emulate Van Gogh whose fame came when it had no meaning. The dead don’t need to be renowned, it’s the living who appreciate adulation. And I deserve it. I’m a fucking great artist. Brilliant! Even the Times says so. But here I am at thirty years and seven days and time for me has ended. Of course, my brain knows that there’s a great span between youth and death. There’s even years between young and doddering old fool. At least I’m not drooling yet.
I suppose it’s all because I didn’t have a youth. Oh, I had a fantastic childhood. The only child of only children with no other family in the United States. I was coddled and loved and pampered. Even at an early age it was apparent I was a gifted artist. I suppose I inherited that from my father who was a famous architect and my mother who was a Poet Laureate. He had designed and built our stunning home in Connecticut and she had won literary acclaim throughout the world. My parents spared no expense on my education, exposing me to all the arts, introducing me to experts in various fields to get different perspectives on life, encouraging me to follow my dreams. Everything was planned out. My father was financing my summer in Europe after high school, then I’d start at Columbia University in the fall. Life couldn’t get more perfect.
Then in my senior year, the plane, with my parents on board, crashed on takeoff and they were gone. I didn’t even had time to mourn, because less than three weeks later was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Uncle Sam paid for my Continental Tour.
War is not the way to see the world.
Of course the army doesn’t stop an artist from pursuing his passion. All soldiers carry trinkets with them to look at, touch, or kiss, such as a photo, a rosary, a miniature bible. I had no need for any of those, but my small sketch books kept me grounded. They were a light weight model, about the size of a stack of photographs. Combined with my pencil, I noted the world around me. My sketches provided glimpses of war, the fodder for nightmares. While there was beauty around with snapshots of kindness amongst strangers, our lives were consumed by the shear brutality of the times. Yet I still feel compelled to carry these images with me, as both a reminder, as well as an inspiration to create. I want to forget, but I’m driven to remember.
It wasn’t until after Germany surrendered that I was able to restart my life. I traveled aimlessly throughout the northeastern hemisphere and even into parts of Africa and Asia for over a year. Afterwards, I settled down in a rented studio loft in Paris and began my career. I didn’t need to worry about finances, my father had left a generous life insurance policy, a hefty sum in his bank accounts, a diversified stock portfolio, and eventually a settlement from the airlines, so I focused on my painting.
By and by, I returned home to the house in Connecticut, now mine, and continued my craft, hiring an agent, and starting, what I hoped, was my path to fame. Everything was going so well until this past August 15th.
I had to get away. My neighbors had rented a bungalow at this beach resort, but were unable to travel due to the illness of their youngest child, so they were grateful when I agreed to go in their place, offering the proper renumeration, of course.
So here I am at thirty plus seven, staring out into the ocean, contemplating all I have lost and how little I have gained.
When I looked up I saw a young girl close by, spinning in semicircles and swinging a large book. It dropped in the sand beside me. I reached down to pick it up, amused, thinking, “quite young for Wuthering Heights”. She was an enchanting waif, full of youth and enthusiasm. Intelligent, challenging, fearless!
All of a sudden I felt a resurgence of vitality as if generated from her fingers on the book into my soul. I was filled with a passionate need to paint all the emotions which were blocking me from moving past my birthday.
As she continued on her way up the beach, I started back to my cabin. Dammit, I’m not ready to give up yet. There’s a whole 358 days until next August 15. This is a time to create, not to brood.
Chapter 2: The Painting (Day Two)
It was mid-afternoon and the girl was just leaving her cottage when she noticed the man from yesterday gentling rocking on the porch swing outside the back door of his bungalow. Upon noticing her presence, he immediately stood up and beckoned to her.
“Come here!” He called with an excitement in his voice.
“I have something to show you – my new painting.”
“Oh, that’s where you’ve been. I was wondering why I didn’t find you at the beach today.”
“Quick, come inside.”
The girl paused in reflection for a moment, but her curiosity had a stronger pull than her wariness towards strangers, so she entered his cabin.
“After we talked yesterday morning, I was suddenly filled with the inspiration to paint. I’ve been up all night, I couldn’t stop. Here, I want you to see for yourself,” he proudly exclaimed.
“Wow. This is really incredible.” she responded with obvious admiration in her tone.
“It’s because of you. You are my muse!”
“I had nothing to do with this, you’re the one with the easel and paints.” She replied in confusion.
“Yesterday was not a good day for me, but after seeing you I became consumed with this vision. Let me show you. Tell me, what do you see?”
“Well, it’s our beach and the ocean, but then there’s this massive tornado.”
“Cyclone,” he corrected.
“Okay, cyclone. And it’s filled with all sorts of evil things.”
“Now, look over here.”
“Well, that’s a hint of the sun.”
” Good. The cyclone is all the funk I was carrying around inside me, despite the beauty of my surroundings. Then here’s you – the sun. You are my salvation, my hope that there will be better tomorrows even though there has been a horrific past.”
“So the sun is rising?”
“Or maybe it’s setting and tomorrow will be a new day. It could go either way.”
“But don’t you have to know which one it is?”
“Honestly, what happens next in my life will determine the answer. Maybe the sun is leaving me to my misery, but right now I am hopeful it will be positive. Now, come to the thinking room, I have a present for you.”
“You weren’t kidding, you do use all the rooms,” she laughed.
“Funny, the only room I haven’t used yet is the one for sleeping. Ironic, isn’t it?”
They entered a small bedroom with two single beds, a maple dresser, and a comfortable chair. The man led the young girl to the chair, while he took a seat on one of the beds. He then opened the top dresser drawer, and took out a paper bag containing a small writing tablet and a pencil.
“What’s this for?” She asked as he handed her both items.
“I like to return favors. How about if I be your muse and help you with your writing?”
“I don’t understand?”
” Let me explain. As an artist I always have a small sketch pad, about the size of that notebook, which I carry around with me so I can put my impressions of the world onto paper. See this rucksack? It’s filled with my sketchbooks. I use them for inspiration in my art. I use drawings, but you, my dear, if you are going to be an author, need to do the same thing with words. You must look around you and record what you see and hear – phrases, quotes, reflections, jokes, reactions, feelings. Good and bad. Then when you are ready to write, you will have the tools you need to be great.”
“Thank you. I never thought of doing that,” she grasped the items with appreciation.
“Now here’s how we can inspire one another. We’ll meet each day to look at what we’ve put in our little books, and share. I’ll bring some of my drawings, and you’ll have your memo pad. You can even write your impressions about Heathcliff.” Continuing, “Next we’ll correspond during the year and send our best ideas to each other for comment and review. Honesty required. And finally, we will meet next summer, same time, same place, and bring a finished piece we are proud to share.”
“I don’t know what to say. Do you have your bungalow reserved yet? They fill up fast. My parents already booked ours for next year,” she stammered.
No, I’m still working out the details, but I’ll talk to the registration office tomorrow.”
“So now, what shall we call our painting?” he asked with a smile in his voice.
“How does that work?”
“Let’s brainstorm some names.”
“I can do that. How about ‘Storm at Sea’?”
” Good start, but that’s too general, how does ‘Tempest Within’ sound?”
“Oh I like that one, let’s see, what about ‘Morning Sun?”
“Remember, we’re not sure of the time yet. What about ‘Sun Tide’?”
“Oh yes, it combines the sun with the ocean, but you don’t say anything about the cyclone.”
“Maybe the cyclone is the sun tide,” he grinned.
“That’s clever. I really like it – open to interpretation.”
“Well unless we think of anything better, this will do. I still have to put on the finishing details, but that can wait until after I get some sleep. How about I treat you to a sundae at the Ice Cream Stand? Well actually I’d like a stiff drink, it’s been a long night.”
The girl nodded in agreement as they made their way to the small boardwalk. They sat at the picnic table with their treats happily talking about nothing until the man returned to his cabin to finally get some rest.