a novel of Provincetown
The tide is half-way down. The bottom clearly visible. Shafts of light tremble in the darkness between the pilings. Patches of eelgrass look like deep holes rather than rippling tufts rising from the sand. Foot-wide starfish quiver as though painted on the underside of the water’s rippled surface. Baseball-sized moon-snails wander at the heads of meandering trails. A bulge of sand curls off each side, like the wake of a steam tug with the scent of salvage. Schools of sand eels shiver and coalesce, turning they disappear under the shadow of a flock of terns cutting across a shaft of light.
A shrill chorus, Dah-Ta-Da, dah-ta-da… Dee-te-dee, dee-te-dee. Overhead for a moment. Gone down the breeze. Black-crested terns, their sharp-pointed, sharp-crooked wings mirror the schools below.
This land is small, precariously perched on the edge of things. The bay not much more than a salt lake whose far shores can be glimpsed in clear weather; but many of its inhabitants live large lives. This bay opens to ocean. Their conduit to the globe. Alongside a narrow parochialism exists a deep awareness of a wider world.
People who look to little Barnstable as their county seat have visited Hawaii’s volcanic peaks, the rolling hills of Hong Kong, the silvered expanse of the Plate, the teeming Pool of London.
Albert steps forward. Peers at its surface, standing close enough to smell the fresh pigment. He steps back, squinting to take-in the overall massing of tone and value. His footfalls are the only sounds in the room, echoing back up the open stairway. A dog barks a block away. Sand swishes, a wagon or cart drives past. Muffled, indecipherable voices out on the street. These sounds barely register.
So many sources of discomfort: A needle-sharp drizzle drives into his exposed skin. The air saturated by a fuzzy dampness. A fine aerosol mist rushing into his nostrils, settling on the fuzz on his cheeks. An insistent wind strikes him everywhere at once: tugging at his hair, his face, whistling in his ears, flapping the ends of his rough scarf so that it slaps his side in a never repeating and forever improvised beat. The noise of the exhaust. A steady, mechanical exactitude. Imperceptibly modulated by his mind’s inability to accept such precision. It fluctuates to the continual ebb and flow of his attention. The uncontrollable rush of taking it all in.
Riding high on this perch the breeze feels cool. Tickles the hairs on my neck and arms. The warm sun on my cheek. Provincetown is marked by a series of curls and mounds. Blips, peaks, and spires centered around a flat-topped rise. The monument flanked to the West by its water-tower squire. The lighthouses of Long Point, Wood End, and Race Point picket in line before the dark silhouette of the town, Darker than the clouds. Crowded, above and below, by bright sky and bright water. The land’s solidity somewhere between that of the massive clouds and wispy moon.
“Realized then that anyone falling or jumping into all that would be crushed, battered, tangled in the scraps of sail and skeins of rigging trailing off her sides. I had no control over my own passage. At one point I felt bottom. Was thrown from the sea onto the shore. I felt spat out. As if my salvation were an act of nature’s contempt. My survival the price of my guilt. I knew then that no one else would come ashore alive.”
The Hunt is Over
Shoal Hope is a work in progress.