SHORT STORY by Bob Riche

Every few minutes he would stop and wait for her to catch up, never
allowing himself to get more than 50 feet or so ahead. The hip that she had had replaced years before didn't slow her, it was just that he was too
energetic, with the swiftness and agility of youth, leaping from rock to rock,
balancing on an edge for an instant before wheeling, arms outstretched in shadow and black against the bright sky, dropping down, then springing up and ahead to the next granite block on the unevenly filled breakwater that linked the shoreline with the hook of sandbar encircling the harbor and ending at the stunted little white lighthouse gleaming in the sun there in the
distancl on the tip of the Cape.

When she would catch up with him, he would generally have something to
show her, some bit of seashore flora or fauna that he had come upon while
simply sitting and sunning himself on a rock and waiting, or as likely, while
letting himself down to the level of the water where the outrushing tide
opened dank caverns festooned with slime and clumps of mussels and
beady-eyed crabs rattling backward into sequestered vaults. She was always interested in what he would come up with, as the bits and pieces of things he would uncover only an ocean- ographer would seize upon, or possibly David Attenborough. Curious that not being a scientist he would have such an observant eye, she would be thinking, though perhaps not so curious, either, he being in the process, as he was fond of stating importantly, of becoming an artist, spending this first summer on his own away from home he-re on the Cape, eking out a bare living as part-time dishwasher
in a fisherman's diner to buy time to put together his bizarre sculptures.
often the things he found on the breakwater and along the beach, and
behind the fisherman's diner by the garbage pails went into the figures he was making and showing, and beginning, he had told her, just beginning, to
attract the notice of some of the gallery operators and serious buyers in
town, though no one had put up any large sums yet for a purchase.

It was his determination, he didn't mind admitting to her, since she was
always his most sympathetic audience, to shape the direction of men's
minds in the 21st century through his art. Inwardly she would smile. How like
a young aspiring artist of 23 to think of himself as having this weighty mission in life. Admirable, of course. That grandiloquent thinking; the artist, still caught up in youthful dreams, forever playing, building castles in the sand. So much the better, then, a mother's good luck, the prolongation of their deep-rooted special relationship. Here they were on the Cape, doing
what they had done every summer for the past 23 summers. Even though he
had his own place here now, and was, in fact, a resident, whereas she was
there, a vacationist again, for the customary two weeks.

Always in past years they had trekked out across the breakwater, the first
two years Daddy carrying their newborn in a sling on his back; then, later,
when he could toddle, Mommy leading him by the hand, lifting him over
some of the larger gaps in the rocks from one to another. He would stand on a baking granite slab, his tanned, nude little body so familiar to her, darker
still with the sun behind him, looking in his mother's memory much as he
looked now in his ragged jean shorts and bright tie-dyed T-shirt.

From the start, as now, he had had a free adventuresome spirit, running on
ahead from time to time, flinging himself through the air, leaping from one
rock to another, it must have seemed to him like traversing vast chasms,
though, in fact, the gaps were only a few feet wide. There was the time
when he had slipped, started to slide down an incline of rock, had accident-
ally rolled to his side, and like a jellyroll had tumbled forward and off the
ledge, and she had somehow managed to catch him in the midst of his
fall, on the instep of her foot, checking the descent, and reaching down quickly and grabbing him, then drawing him up to her breast, and he was giggling. "Let's do it again," he had said.

Then, later, at seven, or eight, he would be scrambling down into the grottoes along the edges, the receding or incoming tides rushing over his ankles and pulling or pushing with the threat of carrying him away. It was then that she had first clambered down to keep a watch on him, and peering in for the first time, had shuddered at the primordial sight and smell of the breakwater's dark interior.

Later, she had steeled herself, standing by as, at the age of 12 or 14, he
would snake himself into the hellish caverns, bucket in hand, and pluck
bunches of mussels,, the plumpest and sweetest in the world, to be lugged
back to the little white dilapidated house they were renting that summer, and
Daddy and Mommy would scrape and scrub the shells, and Daddy would make his version of moules mariniere, mussels in their own broth, with a touch of white wine, preferably vermouth, bits of garlic and scallions, and
parsley and thyme, and bound together at the last moment with a good quarter pound of butter. You could put in a bay leaf, or a fennel seed or two. But that was the basic recipe.

As she caught up with him now he was fondling the frayed strands of a
seaman's rope that had washed against the breakwater and that he had
clambered down the rocks to retrieve.

I can use this," he said, running the sandy strands through his palm with

"A piece of rope," his mother said. There was no hint of questioning it. It
would somehow end up in the construction he was in process of putting
together in a desolate sweep of dune at the end of the breakwater, midway
between the inner curve of the bay and the outside scallop of sand facing the
Atlantic Ocean. He had told her about it. It was where they were headed
this afternoon.

He had always collected junk, his favorite haunt as a child having been the
hometown dump, in the days when the authorities still allowed youngsters
they knew to scavenge for old bottles, pieces of electric machinery, bicycle
parts, old picture frames, doorknobs, glass electrical connectors, whatever.
That was before a child had cut himself badly on a jagged piece of glass, and
the town had had to settle a lawsuit. After that he had found other dumping
grounds to scavenge.

The first inclination they had had that there was some creative purpose to
all of this scavenging was the time when without a word to anyone he had
put together a seven foot high assemblage of abandoned tires, a vacuum
cleaner, an old mop, a cylinder head, bits of rag, rusted license plates, a
dented oilcan, a rag doll, a crib mattress half burned, old barn boards, and
myriad other items, all smeared over with roofing tar, all of it piled on top
of and attached to a dented and abandoned grocery shopping cart, and then
during the middle of the night in a pouring rainstorm had wheeled it to the center of town and pad- locked it to a No Parking sign in front of Town Hall. He had affixed to it a placard with crudely painted letters: SHOPPING, he had labelled it. He had encircled the construction with a half dozen orange cone traffic stanchions that he had scooped up from a road construction site

Nobody ever found out who had put the thing there, thank God, since it was
Daddy himself who innocently had given his son the length of chain and
the lock which he had used to attach it, and Daddy was known about town as a man outspoken in matters of civic propriety and town pride. It took the town four days to decide how to get rid of the desecration, before the police
finally dispatched one of their number with a hacksaw. A picture of the event
had appeared on the front page of the local Courier.

It was then they had understood that their son had a creative bent that would
not be denied. At school, later at college, he had developed more traditional
skills in the basic disciplines of drawing, painting, sculpturing. The classic mode. Now, interestingly, he was back to the beginning, recycling junk into sculptured pieces. It was a statement about our times and our culture, he said. The combinations of junk that he was putting together were lovingly assembled in the sandy backyard of the apartment he was living behind the old A & P store. But on days when he felt constricted, confined, in need of expansiveness, as he would say, he would head out to the tongue of sand beyond the breakwater, in the direction they were headed toward now, and
affix to what he called his "public" work flotsam that washed in abundantly
from the sea.

"Just for the fun of it," he said. Still, it was obvious from the way that he
spoke of the work and from the desire to lead his mother out there to see it
that he was proud of it.

It wasn't difficult to persuade her to follow him. She had always been his
strongest admirer and supporter, having always taken pains to praise
anything he had put together, no matter how absurd, or even offputting, when he was little. He stayed back with her now as they picked their way over the
jumbled rocks of the breakwater.

"Melanie and I are thinking about driving out to live in Colorado in September," he said. He extended a hand to assist her over a rough spot,
just as she recalled having extended a hand to him so often twenty years
before. Maybe all through his young life.

"Colorado?" she said, surprised. "Why Colorado?" "The people are more open, not so much intensity." "How do you know that?" she asked, not wanting to appear to be against the idea. "That's what they say. Melanie says so."

Melanie was his new girl friend. A nice girl, his mother was thinking. He had
brought her over to meet his folks as soon as they had arrived in town the
week before. They all had had drinks at Pucci's overlooking the water. It was
obvious that the young couple felt much tenderness toward one another, and
ex- changed their half-formed views and opinions with deference and seriousness. They had met here in town. She was trying to be a writer,
and while laboring to complete her first short story, she was working as a
waitress in one of the town's higher-priced restaurants. She had her own
little furnished room up over the restaurant, but his mother was not so
innocent as not to know that they oftentimes stayed over in one or the
other's place, depending on where they ended up their evenings. Of course she knew; well, in fact, it seemed he wanted her to know, had actually said
to her, "Melanie kicked me out of bed the other night." How strange to hear
him say that.

"Why did she kick you out?" she said, going along with him. He ducked his head down with a little smile. "She said I was hogging." "You always did!" she exploded with a laugh, remembering how he used to crawl in between Daddy and her on cold winter nights, and drive them both crazy, with his kicking around until they made him go back to his own bed. "Colorado's kind of far away, isn't it?" she put in. "From what?" he said. She smiled. From what, indeed? "Good point," she said. "From nothing." She looked over at him. "I forget you're not living with us anymore."

"On my own," he said. He laughed at the pomposity of it. They had about
another 100 yards to go before the end of the breakwater. A light breeze
had come up, very likely because they were nearing the ocean, cooling them. Underneath the breakwater, the tide with a rushing sound sucked out
seawater from the estuary, the receding waters bringing into view clumps of
waving green sea grasses. On the opposite side, sailboats slipped out of the
harbor, rounding the hook of the Cape, the tips of their masts remaining in view beyond the sandbar. In toward the shore- line where the Pilgrim memorial tower loomed over the tiny port, anchored small boats gleamed in the sunlight, and the first fishing boats coming home in the afternoon were
putting in at the long wharf jutting out into the bay.

"Can you get a job in Colorado?" she asked. "Guess I'll have to," he said. Then added, "Oh, I'll find something, Ma. You don't have to worry." "I know you will," she said quickly.

They were at the end of the breakwater where a narrow path led off through
the high grass. He had brought along a bottle of water. It was a beer
bottle with a cork in it, so that the water was warm, even hot. How like him
not to bother with a thermos bottle, she thought. Before starting off down the
path they shared the water. When they had finished it, he fastened the cork
into the empty bottle and returned it to the paper bag he had carried filled
now with shells and junk he had salvaged along the way.

"Everybody drops stuff all over the place," he said. And indeed, even as he
spoke they passed a pile of Budweiser cans next to a burnt-out bonfire. In
amongst the dunes the path wound its way through bushes of ripening beach
plums and overhanging clumps of rose petals whose fragrance carried on
the ocean breeze. The sand was hot, reflecting the sun.

Suddenly the path opened onto a slightly sunken valley of barren white sand.
Grassy dunes rose up in the distance, the sea beyond them, and the dome
of deep blue sky overhead. In the middle of the hollow, standing starkly
like ragged but proud sentries were three sculpted figures, giant pylons in a
grouping, with the tatters of their garments, heraldry, weaponry.. armor
clinging loosely to them and flapping in the breeze.

"Halt!" they seemed to say. She felt this immediately. One was up against
something. And yet, despite their formidable appearance, she could also
believe, after stopping short, one might vouchsafe a respectful approach.
others coming upon the figures must have felt the same thing; although the
pieces had been unprotected and out in the sand for more than a week, they
had not been mutilated or defaced in any way. As at Stonehenge, she was
thinking, they seemed to inspire a kind of awe. In this age, that was a
curiosity in itself.

The whole assemblage had been put together ingeniously with found objects
washed up on the beach. Approaching, one made out individual parts: from
a two-by-four cross-bar, a toilet seat twirling in the wind, a gleaming white
escutcheon, its chrome hinge fixtures glinting in the sun; a salt-polished
limb of tree with scraggly branches, suggesting, outrageously, the hoary
head of a warrior; an oval mirror raised as a defensive shield; a hand dangling
slaughtered game, blood-red plastic streamers attached to the hook of a
rusting anchor; breastplates constructed of coiled rope and battereARand
flattened tin containers; bottle cap buttons and medals and bits of green
glass eyes reflecting the sun; a tin pot helmet or casque, scrunched down on a head; metal and shell fragments and frayed rope ends providing bulk
and texture to the bodies; a seaman's pike held upright as a jousting lance.
The figures seemed to possess a life of their own, as if not so much having
been created as, rather, having created them- selves, by moonlight, having
mysteriously arisen from the sands to just be there one morning when other wanderers had come out of the mist to discover them for the first time.

"Don't do anything more to them!" she called out to him as he circled the
work carefully, studying the figures from all sides, the hank of rope in hand
that he had found on the breakwater.

He ignored her, and a moment later, the rope was wedged into a belt area
where two pieces of wood were joined, adding just a bit of nonchalance,
perhaps whimsy, to a sash that decorated a breastplate.

Respectfully she approached the sentinel figures now, up close bemused
by the individual parts. She touched one of the pylons. it didn't budge to her

"Were these here?" "I put them in," he said. "How?" Another guy and me, we brought out a shovel. We dug the holes and put them in." "You should take pictures and give them to the local paper." "Then they'd know who did it."
"That's the point. That would be good." "Hey, the last time I did one in town you and Dad went ape." "But this isn't in the center of town." "Town roperty."
"I don't care. They should know." He was smiling. "Like it?" "I'm impressed." Though, she was thinking, that didn't begin to describe her feelings. Where did all this ability, this imagination, come from? She herself could never have even con- ceived of such a construction. It astonished, took her breath away.
"Maybe I'll be able to do some in Colorado. Everywhere I go, leave an
imprint." He was standing beside her now. He reached out and took her
hand. "Come on over to the ocean side. We can look back at it. It looks good from over there."

They turned away from the grouping, and headed toward the nearby dunes
that seen now from the bottom of the valley blocked the view of the ocean.
Trudging through the sand, they arrived at the head of the dunes, then
saw the sea, the beach, deserted except in the very far distance where three
tiny figures moved toward the distant lighthouse, the sky up vast all around
them. As they stood on the dune she looked back toward the sculptures, seeing the figures standing tall against the sand and the sky, and seeming to keep an eye on the two wanderers as they started their descent on the far side toward the ocean.

They stood at the water's edge, the waves at mid-tide rolling in from the
Atlantic now, one after the other, like stampeding horses with flowing white
manes. Further out stragglers of the fishing fleet chugged along through the
waves, their triangular masts bowing back and forth in the troughs, circled
overhead by halos of gulls.

"I'll find a flat piece of board, and I'll draw your picture," he said, looking at her. "My picture? Why?" He shrugged. "I don't know. Why not? It's fun. Something to do. It'll be a souvenir of our afternoon here together." "All right," she said, suddenly delighted. She clasped her hands together in front of her, like a child. "If I can find a piece of charcoal, I'll draw it with that," he said.
"There's lots of burnt-out chars around." "Okay. "

He moved off along the shoreline while she remained standing, turning her
gaze from him at last back to the dunes behind them. The sculpted figures
were blocked out of view, but graven in her mind. How awesome, she was
thinking. Not just the work itself, though, of course, that, but the fact that it was, in a certain sense, a creation of her own flesh and blood, an extension of herself, yet, at the same time, completely alien from her, separate. Mystifying. She gave her head a sharp shake. Life.

Her son was some distance away now, she could still make him out, he was
clutching some new found object, possibly the board on which he would
draw her portrait for a souvenir. Something for her to remember him by when
he would be off in Colorado. Suddenly he put the object down, shortly
shedding his shirt and tattered jean shorts. For a moment he stood there in the sun, nude, then raced toward the water, hit the edge of the surf, leaped over an incoming wave, then plunged headlong into the curl of the following
wave, disappearing for only a second underneath the green foaming water,
before resurfacing a moment later, his dark head and face bobbing up into
sunlight. She saw a hand go up and wave. She waved back. What a nice young man, she was thinking.

He didn't stay in the water long. Soon he was back out, pulling on his shorts, facing her in the distance. He was just far enough away, she was thinking, so that his being nude didn't really matter at all. Possibly she caught a glimpse of a black patch of hair, it didn't matter, just a flash of it, though she was quick to drop her eyes.

She sat at the water's edge, gazing out over the ocean now as along the
shoreline in the distance he trudged back toward her, a wooden plaque in
hand on which he would sketch her portrait.

As he came up to her, hopping about, dripping water, smiling, suddenly she
turned her face away. Surprised, having expected her perhaps to have some
kind of greeting for him, he circled around to the side toward which she was
turned. Quickly she averted her face again, back in the opposite direction,
not quickly enough, however, but for him to notice that something was wrong.

"Hey," he said. He dropped down to one knee beside her. She shook her head. She was holding a small pebble in her hand. She flung it, viciously, at the water. "What's the matter?" he asked. "Come on, now." "Nothing, " she said. "Nothing." "Yes,it's something," he said. "Did I do something?" She shook her head no. Adamant. Only with effort after a moment was she able
to bring her head around to face him. "What, ma?" he asked. Forcing herself, she managed to squeak out, "I'm -- happy, is all." Around the smile that quivered across her face as she met his concerned look, gazing at him anew now, as, indeed, she had gazed in awe upon his sculptured figures for the first time only a short while before, salt water streaks stung her cheeks, glistening in the sun.