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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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Short Story: The Shore by Nilah Magruder

Our first short story!! Hooray! We are so excited to add this new content and we couldn't think of a better story to start it off with than The Shore by Nilah Magruder. 

A poignant and thought-provoking piece, The Shore is a reflection on life and that inevitable moment when we must leave it behind.

     A young man stood on the shore, gathering stones.  He picked only the flattest and smoothest, and there was quite an abundance of flat, smooth stones on this shore, more than he’d seen in all his life.  When he had a heavy handful, he stood and skipped them one after the other.
     “One… two… three… four….”
     “Come away from there,” his companion said.
     “Three, four… five.”  He skipped another.  “One, two….”
     “Enough.  Don’t disturb the water.  Come here and rest.”
     “I don’t need to rest.  I feel great!”
     “Don’t let feelings fool you.  Sit and rest.  It’s still early, and you have a long way to go.”
     The man pocketed the rest of the stones, then went to sit by his thoughtful companion.
     “How long till the ferry comes, anyway?”
     “It’s not a ferry.  It will be on time.”
     “But when is that, exactly?”
     “When it comes.”
     The man saw that he would get no straight answer this way and abandoned the topic.  “I love boats, you know.”
     “Have you been on many?”
     “Oh yes.  I was in the Navy.  I served in the war.  The…”
     He paused.  He knew he was about to say something significant, really worth listening to, but suddenly the thought was no longer there.
     “In any case,” he continued, “You don’t have to worry about me.  I’m not afraid of the water.  Never been seasick a day in my life.”
     “I know.”
     “I’m used to travel.  Been all over the world.  England, Greece, Cuba, Japan.  I love traveling.  Where are we going, anyway?”
     “You should rest.”
     “I can’t rest, knowing I’m about to be headed somewhere!  I was stationed in Paris for a year.  Can you believe it?  Me, in Paris?  That was the best year of my life.”
     “Sounds nice.”
     “You’re not very chatty, are you?  Well, that’s fine.  I’ve met plenty of not so chatty people.  Never bothered me.”
     “You’re a very understanding person.”
     “You know?  You remind me of someone.”
     “Oh?  Who?”
     “I’m not sure.  Someone I met, a long time ago.  Yeah… it was a long time ago.  But you’re just like him.  A silent observer, watching over the world.  That’s the impression I had with him.”
     They dissolved into a comfortable silence.  The young man stared over the lake.  It was a huge body of water, and it reminded him of summers on Lake Superior, some time ago.  He could remember the calls of loons and skipping stones off the water’s quiet surface, but he really couldn’t remember how old he had been.
     “The worst is, I really would have liked to say goodbye.  I didn’t say a damn thing.  I just up and left.  Do you think they’re worried?”
     “It’s possible.”
     “But do you think so?  Do you think they care?”
     “I’m certain they do.”
     “I don’t know if you know this, but I had a son.  You’d never take me for a father, would you?  But I was.”
     “I know.”
     “He was a great kid.  I remember that.  Just beautiful, and so happy.  I always thought, I’ll take him to a ball game when he’s old enough.  I just knew he'd get a kick out of seeing a ball game.  I almost took him, too, him and Dolores.  Was gonna pack 'em both up in my dad's car and take 'em for a day."
     “Why didn't you?"
     “I went to Korea instead.”
     The companion said nothing.  The young man took a flat stone from his pocket and turned it over in his fingers.
     “You know where else I wanted to take him?  Coney Island.  It had the biggest ferris wheel I ever saw."
     “Did you take him?”
     The young man didn't answer.  He stared at the water, still as a mirror.
     “Seems like I’m always leaving.  I’m always going without saying goodbye.  Sometimes I want to go look them up, y’know? Sometimes two, three, ten years later.  Just to say goodbye.  But it always feels too late.”
     “It’s never too late.”
     “Well, it is now, isn’t it?  You said I have a long way to go, and I don’t even know where I’m going!  Where are we going, anyway?”
     His companion shook his head.  “It’s never too late.”
     “More than anything, I would’ve liked to say goodbye to my son.  I never said goodbye.  I just left.”
     “I know.”
     “Sometimes I think back and I wonder, why?  Why did I run away?  What was so important?”
     “You did your best.”
     “Things always seem so important at the time.  But then later you realize just how small and insignificant they were.  And then the things you thought were small and insignificant, those were the really important things.  I guess that’s hindsight for you.  Why don’t we see things for what they are when it matters?”
     “I know.  I used to think those things, too.”
     “You’re so understanding.  That’s why I regret not saying goodbye to my son the most.  Most people I figured wouldn’t want to even talk to me, if I looked them up.  But my son… I always had a feeling he would understand.”
     The companion looked to the horizon.
     “There it is.”
     The young man looked up.  A long boat was approaching through the fog, a single lantern lighting its way.  His companion stood.
     “It’s time to go.”
     The young man stood with him, but despite his previous eagerness, he now felt uneasy.  He looked about him, and for the first time noticed that there were people all around the shore.  Dozens, hundreds of people just standing in the twilight, still and black as shadows.
     “What about all those people?  Aren’t they waiting for the ferry, too?”
     “No.  Not everyone wants to cross.”
     “What if I don’t want to cross?”
     “You don’t have to.  If you’d rather not, just say so.”
     “No… I’ll go.  I like to travel.”
     The young man walked out on the pier… but then stopped, realizing he was alone.  His companion was still on the shore.
     “Aren’t you coming?”
     His companion shook his head.
     “But you’ve got to come!  We’re in this together, right?  I can’t go alone.”
     “I have to stay here.  There will be others waiting.  I must wait with them.”
     The young man regarded his companion with a troubled stare, but after a long moment seemed to accept this, and he nodded.  The boat crept closer to the pier.  He turned to meet it.
     The companion called to him.  “The stones.”
     The young man stopped and turned back.  “The stones?”
     “You can’t take them with you.”
     “Oh… the stones.  I forgot all about them.”
     He turned out his pockets.  The stones fell into the water, one after the other, making a series of quiet plops as they broke the surface.
     The boat creaked to a stop against the pier.  A small step ladder dropped down.  The young man took one step and then two, then paused and looked back at his companion.
     “I really do love to travel, you know.”  He waved, and then took the last few steps into the boat.  On the shore, the companion raised his hand.
     “I know.”
See more of Nilah's work on her website:

1 comment:

  1. Even though not much description is given throughout the story, the continuos dialogue gives the story a very meaningful fluidity, and it's brevity only invites the reader to travel with the young man beyond this snippet of his life and into a realm we are so often tempted to visit in our imaginations. It's the perfect length and achieves exactly the feeling it set out to achieve.

    Very Eerie. I like the image of the shore with all the people on it.
    "Not everyone wants to cross."