Friday, 5 October 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: Section V of The Book of Dreams by Vahni Capildeo


For JanaLee Cherneski

It was not a holiday but we were going to this house by the beach. Just my
mother, and a friend who had escaped from her family for half a day. There
were no tourist facilities and the house did not belong to a village. It had a roof
but no ceiling. The main room, hall-like, peaked at around twenty feet. The
trestle table inside was cheap wood but covered with a white cloth. The metal
folding chairs were stackable and chipped, oxblood paint under the gun-grey
paint. A few were set around the table. The house belonged to a man who
was tall. His curly hair, full of sea salt, almost made dreads. I did not like the
way that my mother and my friend both knew him and smiled at him. I had
not expected him or even the presence of his house in this place. Now it was
clear that if all went well perhaps I would marry him.
The dirt where anything could grow ran out abruptly. The rough tussocks of
lawn became skimpier and interspersed with bone-white sand. A graceful
curve of coconut trees huddled up to the house as if marking a garden
boundary. I had never seen coconut trees planted this way before. Their
normality was the wind’s wild punctuation. Planned planting belonged to
inshore mansions, tulip trees and (if there was room) cassia.
Still he was smiling at me and in his cutoff trousers he half-danced his way
into the very turquoise sea. Three-foot waves chopped up the tideline. He
turned around with his back to the horizon. The curls waved. His eyes were
I like the sea. I started walking into it.
He laughed and started walking backwards. Then the sea chopped at me and
laid rope after rope around my calves and ankles. I staggered on the spot.
He laughed and continued walking backwards. I felt drawn towards where the
sun sinks.
Anyone who has been knocked down by a wave in such clear Atlantic water
and kept their eyes open (accustomed from young to the salt) will have seen
the epitome of nothing. The force of the wave’s crash raises a sandstorm
beneath the sea. As the wave retreats, the undertow pulling the felled
bather with it, clouds of sand silently roar in changing formations. The desert
sandstorm advances as the wave retreats. The open-eyed bather feels all her
limbs being dragged under, some of the water chill with the chill of deep sea,
while her eyes are confounded by the utter and absolute darkness beneath
the stirring sand. It is a lightlessness like no other.
He stood too tall and too far immersed in the sea, looking like brightness. It
would be death to join him. Did the women expect it?
With the greatest effort I began to turn and found them looking appalled.
They called my name. I dragged myself upright to shore. Whether or not he in
the sea had vanished I do not know; his satisfaction was at my back and his
house was still in front of me. I felt he was many.
My mother and my friend welcomed me as if there had been no changes.
I asked to leave the seaside and start finding our way home.

Vahni Capildeo (b. Trinidad) writes both poetry and prose. Her fourth collection, Utter (forthcoming 2012-13) was inspired by her time at the Oxford English Dictionary. She teaches at the University of Glasgow. Learn more about her work here.

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