Orlando Scalzo 2019
Wind blew the sand across the beach, sprinkling it over miscellaneous belongings scattered in small clumps across it. It tapped lightly, as if rain on an iron roof, on his sunglasses. Gareth adjusted the hinges placed ever so carefully on his ears with his right hand. Gareth stood infront of a vast beach, populated with laughing children and happy families but Gareth did not smile. Gareth hadn’t smiled in a very long time. As he scanned the harsh white sand, muted from his sunglasses, he spotted a happy couple his own age. The two sat alongside one another on colourful but worn beach towels that looked as if they could tell a million stories. Their aged hands press into the towels making soft crevasses in the sand beneath. From a glance, Gareth would predict their age to be of seventy, possibly eighty years old. He felt a wave of sadness rush over his, a revelation of sorts. His eyes felt invisible to the outside world as they flew from one end of the beach, investigating, looking for something, to the other. It was as if he was watching a moving image. One that moved in real time. One with no story. One that was too good to be true. He saw his own thoughts as overdramatic and saw no gain from seeking help, an escape from his crushing loneliness. He was the waves, washing over reality but retreating before anyone even remembers it was there. Gareth, conscious of his current position, began to walk along the long strip of nature before him. He felt eyes on him, laughing children and families. Even though he knew that no one would be noticing his existence, it was as if everyone on the beach had ceased their current action just to laugh, to make him feel alone with his increasingly wild thoughts. He kept his eyes focused on the faint ripple patterns on the sand infront of him, undecided as where to walk or what to do. An epiphany of sorts rushed over to him; it made him feel philosophical or poetic. The kind of metaphor that is used in a common pop song or in a year seven English essay. Each step he took, Gareth felt, was an experience. He could almost look back on each footprint pressed into the sand and remember experiences to go along side. Each step represented a memory, good or bad, of one’s life. When Gareth began walking, he started his journey, not only along the beach but the metaphorical journey along his life, made up by millions and millions of little memories and footsteps towards bigger ones. However, each step he took, he felt his timeline get closer to tragedy. Each footstep became more daunting. Visits to the hospital, cleaning out apartments and losing sleep. Gareth hated himself for letting his thoughts go wild as they had. Letting them escape to think what he wanted to think. Finally, he reached the end of his timeline; the big tragedy fuelled his mind. Images of Shirly clouded his brain. Her lifeless hands falling limp on his lap. Her mask slowly emptying of oxygen, of life. He remembers the thoughts, the strong feeling to join her, but he had coped. Even with no one to comfort him all these years, he continued the footsteps but he could feel the pain. He felt it grow until his heart could not withstand it. Too weak to take his own life, he told himself night after night. Cursing himself, hating himself for having a simple strand of hope. Hope that there’d be someone to join him and help him through the pain, hope that it would all pass. But without fail, every second of his day was tormented by one memory, one footstep on his path to death, he killed his wife.
4 years ago, 9:12am, Austin Hospital
The room was noiseless except for an electric whirr of a crappy air conditioner and an uneven beep from a monitor placed beside a bed. The patient, who lay under a thin sheet, was Shirly. She wasn’t thinking much, she was incapable of doing much more than breathing through the plastic mask strapped on to her face. Her chest rose and fell in time to her raspy gasps muted through her mask. Alongside the bed sad a weeping man, Gareth. His eyes were leaking tears across his face as he held on to Shirly’s hand in his lap and an electrical plug in the other. He tightened his grip on her hand, wishing she could feel his love for her. Wishing she would rise from her horrific state and begin this day as it was any other. He still saw the truck speeding towards her in his sleep. The incredible snap still echoed through his ears as he watched his wife flop on to the road in a disgustingly unnatural fashion. The horror as he approached her seemingly lifeless body sprawled across the hot, black bitumen. The surreality of it all overwhelmed him and he found himself staggering on to the sidewalk and passing out. He still remembered looking down onto his shaking hands once he woke up and revisiting his previous experience. He wailed to himself, unaware of his surroundings or where his wife was, his brain incapable of processing the information. He then found himself seated next to a bed, where he currently sat, his sweaty hand resting on the plug and the other his wife’s dying hand.
A single tear leaked across Gareth’s face and slowly rolled down his cheeks. The doctors voice was but a mere noise and blended in with the television set, high above the bleach white shelves. His hand still lay on top the plug as the doctor explained the procedure that was soon to take place.
“Pull that plug there and you should here the long beep like in the movies, we are very sorry for your loss…,” the doctor droned on, without noting Gareth’s painstakingly emotionless face.
After ten more minutes of this blank information, Gareth noticed a silence, an indication to complete a task. How funny it was, that this task just happened to be ending his wife’s life. He looked upon his wife’s cold eyes and felt so incredibly sad. The emotion was so strong it was indescribable. Too strong, to cry, too strong for his brain to even recognise and although he had heard the doctor’s instruction, he simply sat there in silence. The only noise was the TV, placed high above the shelves. The white, white shelves. And as the doctor leant over to check if Gareth was still there, still alive, he pulled the plug. The beep rung out and burnt his ears, heard all around the world, not as a tragedy but as another unfortunate death. One of millions that day. That beep indicated another life forever gone. Then Gareth fell onto the cold ground of the hospital floor, the beep blinding him, deafening him, but worst of all, the beep wasn’t his own.
Gareth continued to trudge in the sand, through the memories that plagued his life, until he could bear no more. He pulled his shirt over his head and threw it in the sand, closely followed by his hat and sunglasses. Without the protection from his glasses, the sea glistened with the reflections of the sun and the sand was so white it burned his eyes. He began his walk to the water, feeling a rush of relief. Something about swimming had always protected him, the water a safe haven for when he felt troubled. His aged feet plunged into the colder, moister sand and the comforting feel of nature relished him. This water had been on Earth, unchanged for millions of years and Gareth had the pleasure of swimming in it and letting it take him in. The water was no longer the sharp glisten and now flooded his eyes with a deep, pungent blue that seemed to stretch forever. Each step closer to the small waves splashing over each other. Each step closer to safety, to comfort, to peace. Suddenly cool water rushed over his feet, he breathed a sigh of happiness that contained all the guilt, all the depression over the last years, and he felt his chest begin to exhale once more. The lungs no longer clogged with the dark memories as the sand washed away his footsteps. The waves thrashed on top of each other, racing to the shore. The wrong way, Gareth laughed to himself, stepping through the shallow water. He looked down and he could see the memories, the sand, being pulled back by the under toe to remain buried forever. He saw his past being erased and felt a new future for him, one with simplicity and without the loneliness. Because that’s what he feared most, what everyone fears the most. When all around you leave and you’re left alone, surrounded by the darkest of memories to cultivate in your mind. But no more did this haunt him. He couldn’t be left alone because there were so many more memories to recreate, footsteps to take towards a brighter future. As many years as he had left he would make them last. The water now splashed against his pale waist as he continued to wade out into the ocean. The cold never bothered Gareth; it in fact soothed him, along with everything else about the ocean. The serenity, the vast planes of nothing but water and, most of all, the feeling it gave him that he was surrounded. Surrounded by great waves and wildlife, invisible to the eye. Each step he took, he moved closer and closer to the perfection he saw in the water. Infront a wave came crashing down and he dove under, submerging his head in the cool water, letting the wave rush over him. Soon his feet lifted off the ground and he began to slowly, calmly stroke towards nothing. The feeling of invincibility holding his heart high, the feeling that the water would support him, not only water but everyone else. All his friends, allies and acquaintances he’d made throughout his lifetime. But, alas, the further he let himself go into this state of mind, the further he travelled from what kept him sane all these years. Unknowingly, Gareth was far, far beyond the waves. The beach but a speck in the distances, the great yellow and red flags nowhere to be seen. He looked back and noticed this catastrophe, beginning a confident swim back to shore, not realising the rip rushing him out to the sea. The place he felt supported. The place he felt calm. His smooth strokes quickly became more frantic as the beach got smaller and smaller in the distance. His memory, his sanity out of sight. The footsteps pulled away, just as he was being. He the realised as his arms flailed to stay afloat of how incredibly alone he was. The water, the thing that had caressed him out to sea had been pulling him to death. His wife, his only friend had virtually died before his eyes and now as the water flowed through his lungs he felt stupid. Stupid for believing in things, stupid for trying. As he took one last mouthful of water, he did not drown, rather get crushed by neglect that had been with him all along.