Welcome back to “Best of Anything That Strikes Someone’s Fancy” series. This is from 2012. It’s a pleasure to feature Newsletter Editor Ed Sulpice, and a slice of his novel in progress.
The Nurse and the Pastor
by Ed Sulpice
Alanah scared herself as she laughed in her mind. Laughter and suicide were not good mental companions. One was sure to overcome the other and she wanted no competition regarding her intended demise. It was the thought of starting her goodbye letter with the words, “to be or not to be” that had made her laugh. The answer, of course, was “not to be”.
“Nobody quotes Shakespeare when they’re writing a suicide note, do they?” she thought to herself. She would have to look that up on the computer when she got home. Not that anybody would care about her dying thoughts, she just wanted her last words on earth to validate her course of action and at the same time, to be, at least, minimally creative. Would any of this really matter? No! Joe would be the one who found the note, after he pushed her body aside searching for the remote control. Yes, the one detail which was set in stone. Wherever she decided to lie down for the last time, she would make sure the television remote would be under her body. He would hate that. Anyway, Joe would just throw the note away or use it to light one of his cigars. But then again, he’d probably keep it as evidence that he had not committed a murder. Alanah laughed again. Damn. She forced her mind to concentrate on the scene in front of her.
She had come to the shore hoping to receive some sort of guidance or encouragement. But the ocean was silent this morning. The grey of the clouds pushed itself down onto the surface of the water, blotting out not only the greens and the blues that Alanah loved, but also the horizon, which spoke hope to her. It was just grey. Everything was grey. The locals called it June Gloom. She just called it another day.
The breeze, thick with salt and moisture, seemed to be more suffocating than invigorating. The waves even seemed hesitant to come ashore, the tiny swells of salt water reluctantly wetting Alanah’s aching feet. A twelve-hour shift would do that to anybody’s feet. The fact that number five had died right at the end of her shift did not help. Another baby wave dripped onto the sand, not quite reaching Alanah’s feet. Looking to her right, she noticed a small, orange periwinkle sea shell rolling along the edge of the water.
Immediately identifying it as an Ovatella, a Mouse Ear, she wondered how this inhabitant of northern California had managed to travel so far south. “Probably the storm,” she said out loud.
She picked it up, appreciating the rounded lines and twirling peak of the shell. Alanah placed it gently into her collection bag. This time it wasn’t humor that made her chuckle, but the irony. Here she was collecting shells in an effort to entice people to live, while at the same time plotting her own demise. Just another day.
As was her custom, she reminded herself to be sure to pass up the next shell she had an impulse to collect. Alanah loved sea shells. It was how she came to be known as “Shelly”, a name she now hated. Her father had bestowed the name on her as a playful way of encouraging her fondness of the ocean. As always, along with the encouragement came the warning. The same warning he gave to all of his students.
She could still hear the passion in his voice as he taught his Oceanography students on these very sands. “When it comes to the ocean,” he would say, “there are basically two groups of people. Hunters and Explorers. Hunters come to the beach only to satisfy themselves. They surf. They sail. They sunbathe. They hunt for sea shells.” He would only mention seashells if Alanah was sitting in on one of his classes. And he would always smile at her as he spoke. “Now, these activities are not bad,” he would continue, “I do many of these things. But hunters don’t care about surfing or sailing or the ocean. They are hunting first for identity or pleasure or diversion. And it’s those intentions that separate hunters and explorers. You see, explorers are always thinking first about the ocean. An explorer’s main concern is with health of the ocean and the beach. People with this loving attitude, explore the ocean in an effort to strengthen it.”
The memories of her father teaching opened a wound inside Alanah’s heart from which an awareness escaped and made its way to her brain.
Here, at thirty-six-years old, standing on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, receiving reluctant greetings from wave and wind, Alanah “Shelly” Albright was forced to agree with the thought now dancing through her mind. She had been many times hunted, but never explored.
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