Grains of Sand

By James Heaton

It was beautiful and radiant outside. The blue of the sky was so comforting and the leaves of the tree in front of the house were the most beautiful shade of green with a soft hint of yellow. It was his mother’s dogwood tree, the soft white flowers were so incredibly small but sitting on his couch he could see the branches moving ever so gently, up, and down with the wind. It was blooming early this year and his mother was upset about it. She told him if they bloomed too early, and it got cold again it could kill the tree. But the end of winter longed to come earlier this year. But maybe it was just some absurd weather anomaly that he had read about in school.

The room was warm from the sun that made its way into the room, casting from the windows across the floor and onto the wall at the end of the room. The dust in the air made the room seem hazy, or maybe it was the fever that he had been fighting for the last day or was it two? He had been on the couch all day today, and all yesterday. This pain in his stomach had kept him home from school, but this was normal. The sickness he had, kept him from everything. So many doctors’ visits, and so many test. But he knew the cause of his sickness.  It was his fathers yelling, that horrible terrorizing yell that he had whenever he we would become angry at the slightest thing. And he knew it was the reason he was sick, he knew because every time his father would yell or punch a hole in the wall, his stomach would hurt. But today was just another Wednesday? Or was it Thursday?

“Mom! What day is it?” he shouted into the kitchen from his reigning spot on the couch.

“What? Did you say what day is it?” His mother answered from the kitchen. She walked closer to the door and looked in on her son. He was curled up into a ball on the couch. Covered with blankets and a trash can on the floor in case he got sick to his stomach again.

“Its Wednesday dear, I’ll bring you some crackers and ginger ale in a minute.”

He turned the cable box to channel 3. They had the old movies on all day, and he liked to fall asleep to old black and white movies and then dream some abstract mix of the dialogue he heard from that movie. He had never been able to sleep soundly, even as a baby he awoke at the slightest sound. But he should be accustomed to those sounds. He should have found it second nature growing up with a father who seemed to love being loud all the time.

“Today’s feature will be A Farewell to Arms starring Gary Cooper”. The announcer said during the commercial break.

It was times like this that he felt as if his body was floating on the ceiling, looking down at himself, looking at the television. Floating on the ceiling, he could see the entire room and out the windows at the tree swaying with the winds. As he closed his eyes tightly, and then opened them, he could see the television. It must be the fever, he thought. What else could it be? I’m not crazy, he pondered. Does everyone feel like this, he asked. But the voices in his head didn’t answer, he simply fell into a trance as the movie started. Oh, how he loved the black and white movies. Guessing what color things really were and if it was as bright and brilliant as it was outside right now. His little mind drifted as the movie told of a solider wounded in battle. He lay in the hospital, wounded and feverish. And the nurse, she was so beautiful. In his mind he felt complete euphoria at the idea of loving someone like that soldier loved that nurse. Would he one day find someone like that? He drifted further and further into the dream. And then his mother awoke him with crackers, ginger ale and some medicine. It wasn’t from the doctor; it was his mothers nerve pills. She would give him one of the little blue capsules when he was sick and out of school. The doctors had done so many test but found nothing that could be causing his sickness, they just told him to drink lots of water. But he thought of his mother, how she was looking out for him. She gave up her own medicine for him. He worried that she would not have enough for herself.

He took the pill and drank some of the ginger ale. He laid back on the pillow, his hair hurt when he laid on it. When was the last time he had a bath? He couldn’t remember. He was so tired from laying on the couch. He just wanted to be normal. He was sure other boys his age didn’t think the way he did. He knew that he was different. Maybe that’s why he didn’t have a girlfriend. He wanted to be like his friend David, who had a new girlfriend ever few weeks. All the girls loved David’s hair, so he tried to make his hair like David’s. All these thoughts swirling and colliding together, mixed with the movie on television, the nurse who loved the soldier. The light from the window became fuzzy, was it the dust in the air or was it the pill. He started to drift into sleep, feeling numb and he could see the light at the end of the darkness. It was peaceful with the sound from the television, an old jazz guitar playing a hopeful tune. A third to a fifth and then the minor chord. He could see the music in his mind, colors floating around the nurse and the soldier. She told him she loved him; he heard her soft voice with the transatlantic accent that everyone had in the old films. He felt like he was floating, oh how he loved this feeling. “The only place I can go to leave the pain and the fear, its like heaven but here everyone loves me”. His eyes moved as he slept, back and forth. It was the only movement on his face as he slept under the many blankets on his mother’s couch. The sweat rolled off his forehead onto the pillow.

In the dream he could see her face, her dark rich brown hair that laid on her shoulders. Her beautiful nose hovering just above her pink full lips. Every feature on her face was beautiful, no it was more than beautiful. He just couldn’t think of the word, or maybe there was no word for her grandeur. She was the one he always saw when he took the pills. He liked to think he created her, that she was the person who would love him like the nurse loved the soldier in the film. Someone who would care for him when he was sick, but also someone who loved the real him.

It had been six days since Valentine’s Day, when his day and mom fought. All the noise, the screaming, the yelling, the crash of the lamp against the wall. He wished she were real, that he could meet her. He stood before her in the dream state, he touched her hand with his. Her skin was softer than a baby’s skin, he looked into her beautiful hazel eyes.

“I want you to be real, I want to see the real you.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek.

“I will find you, no matter where you are.. I will find you. Never stop looking for me. One day I will need you to save me.” And then she drifted away, all the colors that he saw when he looked at her, swirling into brown and pink, and then from pink into the white of emptiness. And like that she was gone from his mind.

His mother watched him on the couch. He was sweating profusely, she turned back toward the kitchen. She reached for telephone on the wall, she lifted it and searched through the list of numbers on the paper tacked to the wall. She called the doctors office and put the phone up to her ear.

“Hi, this is Thomas’ mother, Marie. Thomas is having a heavy fever again. He has been drifting in and out all day long. Ok, I’ll bring him in as quickly as I can.”

She hung up the phone and readied herself for the trip to the hospital. She opened the door and then bent over Thomas. Cradling him and his blankets.

“Honey, your fever is up again, we have to go see Dr. Batson again.”

She lifted him and carried him out into the cold and wind, she opened the car door and put him in the back seat. She covered him with the blanket and got into the car.

Twenty Years Later…

Thomas sat on the beach; it was the middle of the day. The sun was intense as he tried to read the pages of the book. The words almost disappeared in the splendid white of the page. It was just too bright out to read. He sat the book down onto the towel. “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway, the copy was worn, and the ends of the cover were worn round. He stood and took off his sunglasses and grabbed his surfboard. He walked to the edge of the water. The rush of the waves as they crashed onto the sand and ran over his feet. He sprinted into the water until it was at his thighs, then he leaped onto his board, slapping against his chest. Pushing out into the water, he began to paddle through the water. He watched the waves building in the distance, the swell of the water, as it surged and crested. He dove under the wave, pushing his board under the water. The act of submerging was refreshing to him. Being under the roaring water, feeling the force on his face gave him intense pleasure. This was his church; this was where he saw God. But his God was the sense of being surrounded by not just the beauty but actually feeling the water engulf you, surround you and then you become part of it.

His entire childhood he had heard his parents speak about a God who would punish him or a God that would heal him. He knew all the bible stories and could recite scripture, but he could see no evidence that any such being existed. As a child he battled depression and an ulcerated appendix that almost killed him. And there was never a God to offer him a moment of peace from the pain or fear. If there was a God, then he created all of that pain and fear. He unleashed it on a six-year-old boy. How could any caring deity do such a thing? So no, he didn’t believe in a God. But he did believe in the ocean. And the sharks and the waves. One was on top and could give him such bliss, and the other was below and could devour him. It was his balance of life. The good comes with the evil and the evil comes with the good. He had sought that balance his entire life. Growing up with such pain and an abusive father, and a mother who contributed to the father’s madness, he was tortured by his own mind. The ocean offered release from that internal prison. It was where the early man would build boats to float out into its mystery. It was where men-built surfboards and learned to ride on top of the ocean, conquering and converging with the water. It was the purest form of balance that he had ever experienced.

He sat in the deep, with only a few feet of visibility beneath him. The coast of Georgia was far enough from the tropics of Florida that the water was dark and murky the further north you went.  There had been several times through out his life that he felt the presence of a shark, and a few times they had made their presence known. A bump or a nudge wasn’t uncommon. It made you alert, even when you were experiencing the elation of being in the warm water and sunlight. The swells would come in threes, wave by wave, they flowed closer to Thomas. He aimed his board down the beach and paddled for the swell that lifted him quickly. It was only four to five feet but the drop in and ride across the face of the wave was unlike any drugs he had ever experienced. And he had tried them all, searching for balance.

After a few hours of riding the waves, he became tired and paddled in toward the shore. He walked his board up the beach and laid it down beside his towel and his bag. The book had a bit of sand on it now from the wind. He fell asleep laying face first on his towel. His bronze skin covered in tiny water droplets over his back. His long curly hair covering his face.

Less than a tenth of a mile away Catherine had spent the day enjoying the beach. It had become her refuge, her safe place. Every day off she spent sitting in the sun next to the ocean. Hearing the roar of the waves and the wind took away all her anxiety and worry. She had been sitting in her chair watching the surfers during the high tide. The water had made its way up the beach leaving her a smaller area to walk back to her car.

She walked through the sand, and she likened it to walking through snow in the winter of her hometown. It was only seven hours from this island, but the winters were cold and less and less snow every year. But there were always freezes, the roads were like glass in the winter months. The winters were depressing and dark with ice cold nights. At least the upper states had snow, anything was better than the dark, dreary days of winter in the South. But that was all behind her now. This was her home. She had moved here three months ago after living through the last southern winter ever. She came to the beach almost everyday to look for him. She would park her car in the parking lot, never mind it was $6 every time. Or sometimes she would just ride her bike. It was a good twenty minutes, but it was free. Today she drove and as the sun had made its way into the west, she was making her way back to her car. Another day of searching for the man of her dreams, with no results. “Why don’t you just go to a bar like everyone else?” She would ask herself. But she wanted to meet the man she had dreamed of her whole life on the place she loved the most. Was that too much to ask? Two simple things in one place, just two things in a universe of billions of billions of stars and galaxies and she wanted two things to occur at the same time. When she said it like that it made sense. But she felt it was as likely to happen as winning the lottery or being struck by lightning. When she was little her grandmother had told her God would send a man to love her when she was ready. She had long ago ceased to believe in a God. This beach was where she went to fill an uplifting. This was her sanctuary with the dolphins and the waves. But finding someone that felt the way she did, at the same place shouldn’t be so hard. After all the Sun disappeared into the ocean and the Moon hangs high in the sky, just missing each other every day.

Thomas had been laying in that spot for an hour, sleeping. He felt the sun going down on his face. It was time to get up and get back to his car and head home. His dog was waiting patiently for him to return. He had given up on finding someone to share his life with. He often felt his standards were too high, but he knew how he wanted to be loved. Was that too much to ask? Just to find someone to love you the way you need to be loved.  He gathered his towel and his book and placed them in the bag. He grabbed his board and started off to his car. But then he remembered his sunglasses. So, he stopped and turned, just missing the young lady with the beautiful brown hair that was walking behind him. He didn’t even see her; he just turned and grabbed his glasses. And he made his way to his car. The two passed each other and it was like a cosmic storm of particles colliding in the farthest point of space.  They both felt the energy that surged at that moment, but both just passed it off as a rare moment of elation that comes from being on the edge of land and the edge of the ocean. A convergence of two mighty energies and mass, a place where people have traveled for thousands of years to feel the calming cogency of the waters edge. For him it reminded him of the dream he had as boy. That euphoric surge that he received when he looked at her, the nurse in his dream. He remembered; he felt the vision return to his mind. Her long wavy hair and her eyes that were as bright as galaxies through a telescope. The intensity of the moment caused him to pause and take a breath.

She sat in her car, overwhelmed by the feeling of absolute bliss. Had it just been this day? Was this a chemical response from her brain thanking her for another beautiful day in this wonderful seaside town? She understood the complexities of the human brain enough to know that it rewards us with dopamine. But this was untangled euphoria that she felt. She put her car in reverse, looking forward to the ride home where she could cook herself a dinner and curl up with an old black and white love story on television. Tonight, was going to be one of her favorites, A Farewell to Arms. She slowly reversed and then felt a bump and loud thud on the back of her car. She hit the brakes and shifted the car into park. She swung open the door and ran to the rear of her car. All she could think was, please don’t let it be a human or an animal. But there he was, a man and his surfboard on the ground.

Thomas felt the car strike him on his right side, knocking him down. He heard the car strike his board and he felt it in his right arm. The pain was sharp and coming from his forearm. He felt the searing heat from the pavement under his leg and his shoulder. He hadn’t been paying attention, he was processing the intense moment of the daydream about the girl from his childhood dream. He looked up and he saw a woman standing over him, her face was blocked by the sun that was behind her head. He couldn’t quite make out her face, but the shape of her hair, he could see the waves.

“I’m so sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t look before I backed out.” She said with a sense of calm.

“I wasn’t either, I didn’t see you coming back. My arm, I think I broke it.” He looked down to see his contorted bone. It was clearly broken, and his board had a large crack where the car had hit it.

“Its okay, my name is Catherine. I’m a nurse. I can help you. Just be still and let me get something to splint it with.” She turned quickly to get something from her car. He had seen a small glimpse of her face as she stood up. Had she said Catherine? And did she say nurse?

A small crowd had gathered around Thomas as he laid on the pavement behind the car. Catherine ran back to him and crouched down beside him. She had a first aid kit and was putting a splint on his arm.

He could see her face, the beautiful hazel eyes, and the nose. That flawless nose that centered itself perfectly above her pink lips. He felt like he must have bumped his head as he stared at her. She had been staring at his arm this entire time as she looked up at his face. There eyes met, and what felt like years flowing, time stopped between them. He remembered the fever as a child, floating and dreaming of her. The nurse from his dreams. And she stared at him, his face so familiar and calming. She felt as if she had known him her entire life. It was as if their molecular structure had been magnetized and they were drawn toward each other. But they had just met. It felt like they had been staring at each other for days, but it was only a second.

“Let me get you up and I’ll take you to the hospital and we can get that arm taken care of.” She helped him to his feet. She put his surfboard in the back of the car with half of it hanging out the window. She helped him into the passenger seat and then she sat down and turned the car back on. She backed out of the space and headed to the hospital.

“You said your name is Catherine?” He said staring in her direction.

“Yeah, what is yours?” Her hair was beautiful, wild, and blown by the sea.

“Its Thomas. You said you’re a nurse?”

“Yeah I work at the VA hospital, you know taking care of soldiers.”

He smiled, looking at her face with the sun shining around the edges. She had a glow from the setting sun. The yellow haze leaked around the edges of her cheeks and glistened through her hair.

“Catherine? Can I ask what year you were born?” He asked softly.

“Sure. 1978. Why?” She said with a soft southern accent.

“When I was six, I was very sick. It was my appendix. I had fever dreams and hallucinations. This is going to sound weird, but I dreamed about you. And you were the nurse.” He waited for her to laugh. She was simply quiet.

“Do you remember when you had that dream? What month? And what year?” She asked.

“Well, it was six days after Valentine’s Day, 1978. So that would have been February 20th, 1978. I believe.”

She looked ahead at the road. She had no expression on her face. She looked over at him, staring into his eyes.

“That was the day my parents were married. They waited until my dad got out of the army. He got out on Feb. 19th, and they were married on February 20th, 1978. My mom said that she conceived me that night. She said she felt something special happened to her that night, not just getting married but something spiritual. Nine months later on November 18th I was born.” She looked back at the road, waiting for Thomas to say something.

“I had a dream that day, I was on my couch watching an old movie. I used to love to fall asleep to old movies. I dreamed that the nurse from the movie would save me. And she looked exactly like you. Do you know what she said to me before she disappeared that night?”

“What did she say?” Catherine looked at Thomas, with her eyes starting to tear up.

“One day you have to come save me, you told me I needed to save you.”

As they pulled up at the hospital, Catherine helped Thomas out of the car and into a wheelchair at the door. He had a scrape on his leg and his arm was wrapped with a splint. She turned to him and said she was going to park the car and that she would be right back.

He sat there thinking about that dream as a child. Maybe he needed to be loved so badly that he created the energy that became Catherine. Was life that way? Was life created by an intense need for love, and could someone just manifest someone into being just by that desire? Whatever existed, he knew that she was special. She was the one he had always searched for. He felt so at peace with her.

Catherine was locking the car and before she closed the door she grabbed Thomas’ bag in case he needed it. It was unzipped and his book spilled out. It landed cover down on concrete. She reached down and lifted the book. She saw the cover, and she clinched the book to her chest.

She walked to the entrance of the emergency room with no sign of Thomas anywhere. She walked in and asked about Thomas at the front desk. The lady at the desk gave her a visitors’ badge and directed her to emergency room.

She walked in the room, holding the book and his bag. He sat in the bed with a nurse and doctor examining his arm. Catherine turned the book, showing him the cover. She smiled softly and he looked up at her holding the book. She waited for the doctor and nurse to leave the room. And she laid the book on his lap.

“My moms favorite movie was A Farewell to Arms. She named me Catherine after the character. My mom was a nurse, she is the reason I became a nurse. And tonight, I was looking forward to going home and watching this movie all alone. Like I do every night, all alone.”

Thomas reached out and touched Catherine’s hand. He felt how soft her skin was. He looked up at her standing beside his bed.

“In real life Hemingway was in love with a nurse. He wrote that story based on his actual life. Agnes was the name of the real nurse. She broke Hemingway’s heart. In the movie when Catherine dies it destroys Frederick the same way Agnes broke Ernest heart.” He touched her fingers softly. She wrapped her fingers around his. Softly grasping his hand.

“I’m not out to break anyone’s heart. But I need someone to save me from a very lonely place in this world. I always said I would know him when I saw him. I go to that beach everyday looking for him, thinking that something magical would happen when I see him. That beach is the most important spot-on earth to me. I feel like I am connecting with the universe when I just sit looking out at the water.”

Just then a nurse came in and grabbed the edge of the bed.

“Hey Thomas, we need to take you into surgery to set that arm.”

The nurse looked at Catherine, “We will bring him back shortly.”

Thomas had the nurse stop for a moment.

“Hold on a second. This is the lady who hit me,” Thomas said to the nurse.

“Hey Catherine. Would it be awkward if I asked you out on a date?” Thomas said.

The nurse pushing his gurney was smiling, waiting for an answer.

“I’ve been waiting my entire life for that. So yes, I would love to go on a date with you Thomas.”

She smiled at him as he was rolled away. She held the book tightly and in that moment, she felt the loneliness disappear. Her heart filled with the love of every ocean swelling onto every beach through out the galaxy. She sat down in the chair and opened the book to the first page and began reading.

Copyright 2021 James Heaton All Rights Reserved

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