Gordon Craig + Greta Jacobsen

Summer Night

Image captures from animation The air is cool and the sea spray resonant in the breeze that moistens my cheek and wafts against our bodies as we push open the heavy wooden door.  The day has transformed into luminescent evening.  The lamps lining the sidewalk are yellow, gleaming dots in the distance as we peek over our rickety wooden fence.  The night is fragrant with sea spray and anticipation.  I can hear the waves beating against the shore.  About five-hundred feet from the porch, the swells are both far and near.  I feel safe knowing that the surf can’t power up the beach and overwhelm our shingled home.  But standing here by our front door, the darkness reverberates with its sound and makes me shiver.  As we start to run along the hillocks of sand, my sister grabs my hand.  She has a carefully constructed plan and I’m her eager follower.  Older sisters have an amazing power to influence. “Let’s go tonight,” she whispers.

~

My parents have agreed to our bike ride.  As I securely zip up my light blue windbreaker, my mother looks out from the kitchen where she’s helping my father wash the dishes and tells us to be careful.  I almost feel frightened as the cool air rushes to greet us and the breeze flips my hair behind my shoulders.  I look back through the front window and the light inside looks warm and orangey-golden and secure.  The carpeted living room looks cozy and the sagging pull-out couch where my three younger sisters have been deposited, their small blonde heads tucked together against the pillows, looks safe and inviting.  The night is suddenly dark and big.  I hear the whir of wheels as a bike flashes past our house.  Perhaps I want to stay home, but…

“Ready?” my older sister calls.  Eva is waiting impatiently at the gate.  I quickly unlock my bike and wheel it around, brushing the wetness from the leather seat — the residue of damp sea nights — with a shaky hand.  I try to stretch out our departure, lingering on our brick path.  But Eva wants to go.  The gate creaks open and we push off.  I think of my parents at home.

The breeze rushes past our ears and my hair shoots backwards.  Sidewalk lamps cast a yellow glow on the horizon and form tiny spheres in the blackness that stretches all the way to the pier.  Our wheels race through the small puddles of gold on the pavement which quickly disappear — momentary splashes of light in the darkness.

My older sister’s pedaling is smooth and fast.  Her thick hair streams behind her and her slim form is erect.  Her ballet body looks strong and straight in the seconds when she passes beneath a lamp.  Otherwise, she is merely a dark figure gliding through the night.  We pass rows of houses, some quiet with darkened windows, others alive with activity, and we quickly twist our necks to catch glimpses of dinner parties, card games, conversations and solitary readers.  Occasionally, someone shouts “hello” or calls out to us (usually a peer inside the house).  But we race onward and don’t dare to stop.  We’re flying farther and farther away from our mother’s departing words, which linger in my mind.

I’m breathing hard but I can’t warm up.  At the pier we quckly turn.  In the last few blocks, odd noises have been growing louder and louder.  Tinny music, tooting horns guffaws and raucous laughter, teenage shrieks, ringing signal bells, clanging gates and loud shouts fill the night air.  Eva instructs me to dismount and we slowly guide our bikes along the edge of the sidewalk.  Our rubber jelly sandals slap against the pavement.  We’re very close to the epicenter of activity.  We stow our bikes in the rack next to the café where our mother buys us Orange Julius shakes in the safe light of day.  Tonight, though, the dimmed building seems unfamiliar.  My older sister waits until I finish with my lock, then she takes my trembling hand.  We walk together up the last fifty yards of sidewalk and look up into the sky.

~

It rises above us, the huge sweep of its curving body aglow with artificial light.  Its cushioned loveseats, suspended precariously, rock back and forth in the harbor breeze.  They’re so high that I can only see dangling legs swinging as the seats rise and fall.  I shudder a little, but I’m already picking out which one I hope we get.  The bright blue one with the delicately rendered mermaids along the back is my favorite.  We stare at the amazing contraption before us.  The seats sweep downwards with a “whish” and then sail upwards with amazing speed.  They arc overhead and then whiz past again.  All we hear are high-pitched squeals and screams.  I see my older sister fingering our carefully counted money in her pocket.  She pulls me toward the line, through the crowds of people, who seem enormously tall.  I don’t look up, though, when we join the queue, but grasp my sister’s hand tightly in my own.

In a few moments, we’re at the front of the line.  The man leaning carelessly against the controls gives us a querulous smile.  My older sister motions for him to bend down, and she points towards our chosen seat.  He nods, and lets the huge machine go for another half circle.  The seat’s inhabitants disengage themselves — it’s a teenage couple who languorously make their way to the exit.  The man, who displays strong, wiry arms underneath the rolled-up sleeves of his denim shirt helps my older sister in and then hoists me into the air and places me next to her.  “Just big enough!” he says as he tucks us under the seatbelt, pulling the strap tight and pushing down the iron bar with a loud clank, shaking it to make sure it’s secure.  He flashes a grin and pats my arm.  My face feels pinched.  I’m terrified!

“Have fun!” he calls as our chair launches with a rattle, as though every piece of the ancient wheel is groaning.  My stomach drops as we are whisked upwards into the sky.  The fun zone below us is dotted with miniature people and fluorescent light.  Out to sea, the lanterns on the sailboats are tiny sparks on an oily black surface.  Around and around we go.  Each time I’m equally afraid, clinging to my older sister’s arm and leaning into her shoulder.  My hair flies in my face as we swoop down.  We look out at the rooftops of the small beach city.  My whole body throbs with excitement.  I think of my parents, peacefully sitting in front of our house, and I feel very far away.

~

Finally our ride ends.  We thank the man, who waves us on.  We scurry down to the street to find our bikes.  They’re still there — how long has it been, I wonder?  Eva tells me to hurry as I fumble with my lock.  We’re off again.  She pedals faster than before.  My legs grow warm and ache as I feel the wind pushing against my chest.  I grip the white rubber handlebars tighter; hear the whirring wheels in the moist air.  The waves crash and then tumble onto the beach.  I can’t see them — the ocean beyond the expanse of sand is dark — but I can imagine their frothiness as I hear them sweeping up and down the shore.  The crash-sweep-crash-sweep is almost frightening.  But I’m also oddly comforted by its consistency.

~

I pedal faster than ever as we race past the same houses that looked so welcoming on our trip down.  Now darkness envelopes the bike path, and windows and lights are dimmed or extinguished.  The card games have been cleared away, barbeque scents linger in the still air, and porch lights flicker in a few doorways.  We finally roll to a stop at our front gate.  My mother is waiting outside.  Her face is expectant and concerned.

“How was the bike ride?  I was starting to get worried.”  She pushes open the gate.  I’m shocked that she can’t sense the exhilaration tingling along my skin.  The thrill has not faded.  My older sister gives me a knowing look.  I feel more than a twinge of guilt, but I don’t dare to betray our unspoken pact.  I’m silent and my mother answers for me.  “Good?” she says, assuming that I’m tired.  “I promise that tomorrow we’ll go and ride the ferris wheel.  I’m sorry that we haven’t been able to take you two yet.  Things have been so busy with having family here.”  I freeze.  What if the same man is there at the ferris wheel?  What if he recognizes us, makes some joke about how scared I looked as our seat whirled through the air?

“It’s okay Mama, we don’t have to go tomorrow.  Katie and I have plans.”

“Oh, you do?”  My mother chuckles a bit at Eva.  “Well, you’d better get to bed then.”  She nudges my body towards the door.

Eva and I just nod and smile and ascend the smooth wooden stairs to our room.

The buzz of excitement at being out in the cool open night still rings in my head, and I’m wet and cold from sea spray.  I reach the top of the staircase and climb onto my bed.  Looking out from my window, I see nothing but black.  But I hear the waves and feel the roar of the night.

The Last Stop

Last StopJim had been waiting a long time now, squinting through the fog and intermittently taking off his wire-rimmed spectacles to clean the lenses.  He’d all but given up on retrieving the valise and there wasn’t an officer in sight to put in a report.  Straightening, he shifted his weight from his cane and strained to hear any particle of sound.  Nothing.  He knew he was on the platform.  Just a moment ago everything had sounded like the usual Friday-induced frenzy as passengers jostled for a place on the walkway when the city-bound train approached, the warning horn shouting a powerful greeting.

~

Right before he’d left for the station, Jim had felt a bit agitated.  He didn’t trust his brittle bones and he hadn’t traveled at all since Mary had passed.  They used to go into the city at least once a week until her illness.  Mary had a penchant for the theatre and their weekly sojourns had become a much anticipated tradition.  Mary also had a sweet tooth, so Jim would walk to the corner grocery each Friday and pick up their favorite snacks: chocolate covered raisins for her and toffee crunch for him.  He would wrap each carefully and individually in a small brown paper bag and slip them into the pocket of his suit jacket.  She was always delighted each week when he revealed them during the interval.  That’s just the way Mary was – she scooped up life with both hands and reveled in the simplest pleasures.

But it had been three years since he had taken that Friday evening city-bound train.  Heartbreak had been followed by acute loneliness and he had fought against giving in to depression.  What had been saddest in those last few weeks was how suddenly the change had come.  Mary had grown silent and weary, and then had drifted off and no longer knew him.

~

Jim stooped to pick up his valise, which rested sturdily by his foot.  It was shiny and square.  Inside were his neatly folded pajamas, toothbrush, toothpaste and a clean shirt for the next day.  There was also his favorite picture of Mary – one he’d snapped the weekend that they had first met.

The platform was crowded and Jim had received more than his fair share of elbows.  A voice over the loudspeaker blared that there was a delay and he glanced up to see the green fluorescent numbers on the departures/arrivals board rearranging frantically.  His train would be late.  Jim shuffled back down towards the main concourse and across the driveway where cabs crowded the lanes, hovering expectantly for passengers before whizzing around the curve.  The news agent took his silver dollar, examining it and looking so perplexed that Jim thought he might bite the coin to make sure it was real.  “It’s old but it’s still legal tender,” Jim said, a bit grumpily.  He crooked his cane over his arm, took his paper and finding an empty bench, sat down to read.  It was hard to concentrate, though, and after ten minutes, decided to walk back and brave the crowd.

Steadying himself with his cane, he began to amble towards the taxi lane when a whiff of vanilla blossom stole his attention. Where had that come from?  It was the scent that Mary had always worn.  She had been wearing it the first day they met — now 58 years ago — that summer at the lake.  The smell enveloped him in memories.  He could imagine her the way she had looked that August evening, her slim arm peeking out from her sundress as they walked out from the club where the big band music was languidly playing and sat on the edge of the dock together before taking out the boat.

The heavy sense of past, and the jarring consciousness of his current solitary existence, overwhelmed him and he brushed away tears.  Shading his eyes, he balanced himself and set down his valise. He was about to start determinedly across the street when he felt a man’s body knock roughly against his own. The force almost took him off his feet.  He was about to mutter something under his breath when he caught sight of his valise in the firm grasp of a man who was dashing away.  Jim called out to stop him, and a few passersby glanced at Jim confusedly.  Without looking about, Jim started after the man as best he could, stepping quickly across the driveway.  He heard a shout but didn’t turn around…

~

Feeling a little disoriented, Jim tottered up the last step of the platform where he thought the thief had gone and rested to catch his breath.  Now where was the man? And why was it so foggy all of a sudden?  Why was there no one in an official-looking uniform to help him?  Suddenly he was aware of the pain in his back that now stretched all the way around his side.  It was excruciating.  What a time for his arthritis to flare up, he grumbled inwardly — and it was so much worse than usual!  He took a few more steps and paused to reach into his breast pocket for a handkerchief to defog his glasses.  Instead, though, he felt what seemed to be a thin piece of cardboard.  He pulled it out and found a crushed and empty box of chocolate raisins.  He must not have worn this particular blazer since his and Mary’s last city visit three years ago.  Another quick vision of Mary passed before him and his hand trembled a bit.  Her picture had been in that valise.  His favorite picture, and there was no copy.  Jim blinked back tears.  A longing to speak to her again washed over him.

~

The minutes passed and Jim grew more acutely aware of the silence around him.  The cries of the child in the pram had disappeared, as had the announcer’s voice monotonously stating delays and departures.  He couldn’t hear the engine brakes screeching, or baggage banging down the steps onto the platform, or the train crew’s shouts or the tap and clatter of high heels and men’s shoes on the concrete around him.  The barrage of sound had vanished.  He looked down what he thought was the track and couldn’t make out anything but a grey mist.

Jim reached out his cane to start walking, hoping to find some sort of assistance, though he felt gloomily certain that the thief was long gone.  As he aimlessly fumbled his ticket in his pocket, Jim’s thumb brushed across a circular gap.  Startled, he ran his thumb over the ticket again.  There it was – a distinct hole.  Yet no one had clipped his ticket. He hadn’t even gotten on the train.  How had this happened?  Jim stopped and attempted to retrace his steps.  There was no possible way the ticket could have been clipped.  Feeling increasingly disoriented, he reached out his cane, but felt nothing, the cane plunging into emptiness.  As he stumbled forward, a heavy hand grasped his arm.

“Careful there.”

“Thank you,” he replied and felt a strong arm buoying him up.

“Have you been waiting long?”

He could only vaguely make out the speaker’s visage.  It was a young man.  Surprised at this person’s unexpected appearance and still bewildered, he momentarily forgot about his stolen valise.

“About a half hour now, in fact.”  He felt concerned about his ticket.   Perhaps this was some sort of staff member, though he didn’t appear to be in uniform and had no cap.

“I’m a little confused and my…” he began, but was interrupted.

“I’m sure you are. Don’t worry, though, I’ll get you sorted.  Now that you’ve arrived, I’ll…”

“Oh dear, I haven’t just arrived.  That’s just it.  I’m here for a departure.  And I think that I’m on the wrong platform.  And my ticket…”

The young man laughed, “Oh no, you’re in the right place.  But we’ll need to hurry.  We don’t have much time.” Without asking, he took Jim’s elbow and started to lead him along a path that slowly became visible through the parting fog.

“I must have forgotten the layout of this place.  I haven’t been here for a while.  But I’ve also lost…well actually; I need to report that my valise was stolen. ”

The young man turned and cocked his head.  “Oh, it wasn’t stolen.  You didn’t expect that you could bring luggage, did you?”

Jim was confused by this remark.  “Well, of course…” he paused.  Was he going crazy? And who was this man anyhow?  Was the mist that had enveloped Mary’s mind now beginning to seep into his own?  He was also perplexed by the length of time it was taking to get to their destination.  He knew that the two platforms were several minutes apart, but he hadn’t imagined such a maze.  Up several stairs and down a curve, then through a tunnel — he was losing sense of their direction.  This must be the new addition to the station that they had been working on. Though confused, Jim felt surprisingly invigorated by the walking.  In fact, the daily arthritic pain in his legs which emerged on his morning strolls around the block had dissipated as he and his companion continued through the mist.

The young man finally stopped. “Here we are.”  They had reached a plateau above the fog and Jim was standing on a platform, but unlike any he had ever seen before.  Standing at least 200 feet above the ground and silver, it shimmered in what must have been moonlight.  He looked down and could see a spiral staircase which twirled off into the distance below. He could make out a sea of flickering lights.  Jim stood in awe.

Turning about, he realized that the young man had disappeared.  Panic seized Jim.  Should he call out? Confused, he instinctively reached to tighten his necktie — a nervous tick that Mary had always noticed but had said that she liked — a sort of litmus test for how he was feeling.  Jim had never been a big talker.  Adjusting his necktie he was more aware of his clothing, and realized that his blazer felt incredibly tight.  He tried to push up his shirt sleeves, and was shocked by the hardened contours of his arms.  He rolled up his other sleeve and felt the newfound definition.  Just at that moment, another hand took his.

“This way,” a voice said.