Story: The Verdant Palms of August
By: Brian Michael Barbeito
The stucco walls there, always in the day, and shining from sun that goes to visit. Jacob could hear the ocean gathering strength, at first almost silently, but it was a force that would grow to fruition, from the underneath, as if it had a rumbling engine presuming to shift into gear at the right time. The way the world was then, by the ferns and the abodes nestled in the seaside cove, was rich and textured with tropical flora and fauna, and accompanied by both passersby and seasoned fishermen that lodged their feet in white sands. Out a ways, coral waited, affixed like a planet in mutable sea, bright and white, with multi-hued species meandering in and out of its galleys and secret passageways. The countenance of the reef was ancient and new at once, boasting slight openings, with many hidden secrets and shells, full of interest and strength and that whiteness special to coral in the tropics, and could only really be seen by overhead planes or snorkelers.
The man was called Jim and the woman’s name was Jo. At that time it was the middle of day, and they sat on the balcony covered by half shade and watched out at the sea. Jo looked closely and saw that there were some green jellyfish creatures that were scattered here and there, like balloons left by nature, to show that it could create a myriad of items, endowed with vast intelligence as it was.
Beyond, the whitecaps formed only coyly at the tops of waves, and in the distance, a solid pier racing out faithfully to meet deeper waters, and past the local vessels fishing for trigger fish and other, there were cargo ships making way slowly as if about to fall off the earth’s horizon line. At all of this and more Jim peered out, back straight, hand cupped in chin, thinking and then not thinking, pensive and then vacant, by turns tense and then relaxed. Beside him in the chair Jo read from her novel, a work called Apogee and Valley, about a gifted clairvoyant struggling to come to terms with her life.
“I read the local papers this morning again,” she offered while still managing to read, “and the man that apparently just went for a walk two days ago, has still not turned up.”
“I know. There’s talk of it everywhere all the time. You can overhear bits of conversations at the coffee shop, at the pools, and even in the streets in behind here.”
“Are you walking today?”
“I am. I am going just now.” And he put his sunglasses down on his eyes from the top of his head.
“Be careful. Don’t talk to strangers little boy…”
And with that quip she laughed some, and closed her book. She retrieved some sun tea and took a sip. He bent over and kissed her on the cheek but she turned up at him in complaint and said, “What about the lips?” He kissed the lips and then gathered himself up, mentioning that he would be back in a couple hours.
Walking then through the village streets there were orange buses and yellow buses with Spanish markings, designations both curious and alluring, – language that for all intense purposes might be otherworldly. He looked at the old cathedral and the second he gazed up at the bell it began to chime. It was under renovations, but someone or something still rang the bell each hour. He consulted his timepiece and noticed that it was two o‘clock. A good hour, he thought to himself, and then realized that that was something his grandfather used to say sometimes upon hearing the time, “A good hour.”
Further along, he saw a man with no legs pulling his body along the street. Bearded, wearing a heavy dark coat and the bits of his face showed a strange color red. Going and going. Destitute surely, but somehow at home, a child still under the cover of sun like the rest of the souls in the summer streets. A group of men walked past, not seeing the man with no legs, and then a group of tourists. A ghost, thought Jim, among the living, though he knew well that the man was no phantom.
‘You look for some-thing?” The voice came from the side and Jim looked down to the right. It was a woman dressed in a gingham dress with swirling prints, red and some smaller yellow designs, like shells thrown from a dark blue sky into the world below. A beautiful woman and a dress that hung softly and perfectly from healthy and ample breasts. She had high zygomatics and the ancestry of ages, all the good of it, had come through to her, to be with her in life, and more specifically and immediately to be there right then on the sidewalk down from the cathedral.
The bell had stopped chiming.
“I say, you look for some-thing?” And she was non-committal, just to be sure. This was because though she was street smart, either a prostitute or someone connected to drugs, nobody knew for sure who they were talking to. He looked at her and saw that she had no beads, no towels, hats, bag, bracelets, anklets, no talismans or wares at all.
“You tell me what you look for. I show you what it is.” He brushed her off, and said no, that he was fine, and kept walking. He thought that these women were, through economic necessity, hardened somewhat, and knew too much of human nature and its trouble. They only approached with a vested interest, and there was no poetess, mystic, or even true one among them. But perhaps somewhere, on some village crossroads, he would see that one of them was secretly part of the same soul group or a sister figure, for he had never had a sister and often wondered what it would be like to talk to someone with the same blood as it were. Those, or else one of these women would be like a divine mother or saint, as of yet undiscovered by the larger world, and would be able to impart in a glance or word some great but esoteric gnosis.
He kept walking.
Across from where he soon sat he noticed a grouping of men. They were in coats too hot for the weather, but were not local law enforcement, and were not businessmen. They moved quickly and one had darting eyes and an awkward energy. He seemed like he had stolen something and portrayed a look of guilt or else fear, perhaps both mixed, and if it was not really for himself and his strange emanation, he would not have been noticed. The group of men hurried towards a large sedan and got in while the car pulled off.
In Jim’s mind he saw a castle and a moat, and got the feeling that something was inside of the castle.
Uneasy from the vibe he had received from the collective of men, and seeing no other expatriates that he could speak with, but only a couple of tourists here and there, he left. Another coffee was gotten on the way back, and the hour was changing, though the bells had not chimed again. The sky he noticed now had become somewhat overcast; the clouds dishevelled and rambling; not the perfect billowy portraits of themselves as earlier.
They were leaking.
Not rain, but parts of themselves, coming loose and going back to the vast tropical blue canvas sky.
Just as the vibe of the attractive but cagey woman leaked out to the street and sullied it somewhat, as beautiful as she was. And just as the character of the men, especially the one with the darting and wrong eyes had been too much of a reminder of the larger world, the real world, the life of bustle, a series of small city streets in a village.
Jim longed to return to the villa, to get lost in books, to partake in drinking, to stare out at the sea and imagine.
Longed to be in close proximity to Jo.
Back at the small villa, where the paths meandered like interesting and intricate mazes, and the smells of white fish cooking on grills parcelled themselves and went to different areas of the air,– benevolent wafts, things from the local good earth and sea themselves. He walked through this, and reached out to touch a palm leaf.
More green than green could be.
Like a child in a labyrinthine world, with transfixed eyes and mind and the heart gladdened by the tree and its leaves, he looked upon it longer yet. The leaf that he was touching was thick and strong and proud- it knew who it was. It was not better than humans that passed its way, but it was different, as far off in persuasion as something could be.
Something indigenous, yet foreign. Foreign for worldliness so ripe and present, that it somehow slipped into the categorization of another world, or other worlds. Jim continued to press the leaf, like some autistics that enjoy touching certain materials, or like a savagely passionate savant, a modern madman or mystic, or curious visitor to the planet and region.
For minutes he stayed there, and noticed the roots below him, spreading out to terrene grounds and then disappearing beneath, perhaps on a mission to go down and out to the water for a meeting with Poseidon. He looked curiously upon small red ants and a few black ones, at the wrappings around the tree, which he had not noticed before. There were colored electrical lights, small bulbs on strings that cast an otherworldly glow upon the leaves at night. He had seen this other places, and became breathless with awe in the nights when he had forgotten about them and then found them again, shining, turning light brown trunks to gold, to hues of odd astral yellows, calm deep purples, or somehow smart oranges in the breezes that came past in the deep hours after the sun had gone to slumber. And what of the deep nights? What secrets were held with them, layer upon layer of dark and black, everything textured and the world wanton, opening itself up to the night in places, yet other parts receding, closing,– the shutters, the drapes, the bars and the cars and the no longer clanging of plates or laughter of fellows and women? The night, where the verdant august palms turned moods and dozed a bit before being lighted by what some people called diwali lights and others called Christmas lights but by what Jim designated simply as electrical lights.
Soon after he released his hand in one gesture and walked on and up to his room, to see Jolene, who only went by Jo, and to see the insides of stucco walls for moments before embarking on balconies, keen to observe and absorb what was beyond them again.
[Brian Michael Barbeito is a novelist, short story writer, and poet. A resident of Ontario Canada, he is a Pushcart Nominee for the story The Motel by the Stereo Sea (Mungbeing Magazine, 2012), and for the story The One Single Note, (Lunatics Folly Magazine, 2011). Some venues where his work appear include NFTU Notes from the Underground, Whisperings Magazine from Mountain Tales Press, and Kurungabaa: A Journal of Literature, History, and Ideas from the Sea. His most recent work, Chalk Lines, a book of short fiction and poems, is published by Fowlpox Press in 2013. He has writing forthcoming at Birkensnake Magazine and is at work on the novel Pockets Full of Memory.]