Drops in the Sea

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empty seashoreVincent contemplated the monotonous undulation of the sea. Slow, disciplined, never arrogant, even on stormy days when the angry force suddenly woke from its slumber.

He had seen his former partner again the night before and was now feeling depressed and melancholy. Their troubled relationship, the fights, and strife always around the corner, had made that relationship a perfect combination of listless sex and guerrilla warfare: two situations that, though with different features, retained the vicious traits of a savage universe, deprived of the sense of balance to which we sometimes desperately try to strive.

Now, he was looking at the sea and reflecting on his loneliness. What had jumped out at him was a dual behavior of being alone: on the one hand, he was alone with himself and suffered that state for lack of people to interact with, but on the other, Valerio was even more alone with Sofia, the woman with whom he had maintained a relationship for more than a year. With her, the separation became increasingly aggressive, and her loneliness became no longer a given, like a flower growing between the roadway and the sidewalk, but rather like an exquisite and unpleasant monument, motionless and statuesque, in the center of a wide square.

The sea provided him, at that moment, with the exact sense of his discomfort. He thought of the fishermen: he had always been fascinated by that challenging profession; he imagined them going out at night with the high waves, whether on small lampara boats or large fishing boats. He saw in his mind’s eye those figures wrapped in their coarse wool sweaters, standing on the boat to know frost in its bivalence: in the air that lashed them and in the icy splashes of the lightless water.

His loneliness had that aspect: sheltering meant freezing in a desert while getting close to the sea meant feeling continually slapped by waves of salty cold.

When Valerio saw Sofia again, everything seemed to him like the first time. She had idolized him without restraint, and he, like all those who like to boast in pride occasionally, had enjoyed that presence.

“Your eyes are wonderful,” she told him as they entered the restaurant.

“They are always the same,” replied Vincent without any expression.

“Never, I always told you!” retorted the woman immediately. “Is it my fault that I like you so much?”

He nodded simply because he had no answer to give her. How can one discuss the subjective meaning of love? What cumbersome test can be devised to assess whether and how someone loves us? Silence is the only solution. A silence that could be filled with chatter but remaining empty and uncultivated allows the most archaic seeds to sprout, thus revealing the genuineness of any feeling, be it love, anger, or ignoble interest.

Facing the winter sea, Vincent realized how lonely a miserable drop of water must feel in that very indistinct universe, and, thinking back to Sofia, he saw her as an islet surrounded by the waves: a place that can only prolong and make agony painful, because no sailor will ever spot a castaway lying on it.

“They smashed my car windshield,” the woman said, showing him a sad photo taken with her cell phone. “They stole everything inside.”

That person knew how to induce pity in onlookers, regardless of who they were, and this sharpened even more the sense of loneliness he could provoke.

“I’m sorry,” Vincent replied. “But are you insured against crystal damage?”

That question shifted the emphasis from the distressing to the practical, although the former always lurked like a jaguar ready to pounce on its prey.

At times during their relationship, he even had the impression that hers was a tactic to attract attention, just as very young children do. In the aftermath, however, he realized that that attitude was much less calculated and could be seen as the byproduct of the state of loneliness he felt with her. Like water in the sea, that company homogenized him and forced him to lose himself in indifference masquerading as love.

“I filed the complaint this morning,” the woman answered him. “But you know how these things go… Before you compensate me, who knows how much time will pass…”

“How could they blame you?” he asked her, trivializing his discomfort.

“How is life going for you?” exclaimed Sofia as if she considered the previous question unnecessary.

“Life has the gift of moving forward,” he replied. “Strange gift, I would say… Otherwise, very few people take me seriously, but I’ve gotten used to it by now, and I don’t get angry anymore.”

“Is that why you agreed to see me again? I always took you seriously!”

Again, reason made a mockery of the contenders. How might I dispute with her? What exactly does it mean to “be taken seriously”? How does one evaluate such an assertion? What feedback can be obtained? Valerio wondered, almost lightning-fast, as Sofia’s eyes shone, reflecting the contours of his face.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” she urged him, frowning. “Why did you want to see me again?”

He knew he did not argue against that question. He knew this all too well. He replied with an apparent disregard, “Maybe I still feel something…”

Sofia blushed. Not because of excitement but because of the sheer sense of victory. “So did I. But I’m sure you had already figured it out…”

Facing the sea, in front of those waves that seemed to sublimate into froth and then return to manifest as mere water, Vincent realized he was trapped. How do you express what language flattens into sterile sequences? What poetic arts is it necessary to invoke?

Motionless, observing that immense bluish expanse, he had the impression of hearing the sea’s voice saying, “I am what you see only because an infinity of drops gave themselves to me. I, therefore, do not exist. You are only staring at a tidy swarm.”

And what about that water? When the boats plied it, it seemed to open up to them, just like Sofia in her inexpressible love. But it was enough to look at to realize that that tear, that apparent deflowering, had quickly sewn itself back together so that she could give herself to other ships, just like a starving whore who no longer selects her clients.

“Can I ask you something, even though I already know the answer?” asked Sofia with moist eyes.

“Sure…”

The woman did not let him finish, “But did you ever love me?”

Vincent lowered his head slightly, watching the bubbles climb up the cold slope of the glass.

“You want to know the truth?” he answered her.

“Otherwise, I wouldn’t have asked you!”

“All right,” he murmured, touching his forehead. Then, looking up again at those glazed eyes that still embarrassed him, he added, “I don’t know what it means to love. I don’t. I realize that may sound like an evasive answer, and maybe it is, but I don’t know. I can’t help it…”

Sofia nodded as if she had imagined that answer, but she was sure she had heard a dry denial in his words, and that apparent wandering between the folds of truth unnerved her.

“It’s like you said no.”

And again, tirelessly, behind the woman’s back appeared the specter of indecision, of that internal struggle without respite because it was based on a very long, everlasting silence.

In a real battle, the bullets, missiles, tanks, and soldiers sooner or later reach an end, and so does the whole fight. But that frightening distance that materialized in the absurd act of hugging, kissing, and sex was worse than a trench because it remained immortal, never alive to die.

Sofia was waiting for an answer. His heart longed for a denial, but perhaps his pride would have enjoyed hearing a confirmation, a rational reason that made sense for the end of that relationship.

“I’ll tell you again: I don’t know what true love is. I don’t know,” Vincent replied, mechanically repeating what he had already said.

“You don’t know,” Sofia echoed, “It’s clear.

On that bench on the Ostia waterfront, he realized that perhaps love is the resolve to embrace one of two solitudes, not like the fisherman who gets lashed by the wind and splashed by the water, but like the seagull rummaging through the garbage or the big bass ready to die with worthy fury out of its lovable sunless chill.

“How can you be sure of love?” he asked her.

“Now?” exclaimed the woman. “Right now, I’m not sure of anything!”

“When we were together, for example, what allowed you to be certain that what you felt was love?”

Sofia began to laugh, “You sound like a teenager! What kind of questions are you asking? Some things you understand! If you don’t understand, you don’t feel anything.”

Vincent muttered something and then shook his head, “I doubt it.”

Perhaps once in his life, he had loved her, but it was all so nebulous that it dulled his already quite deceived senses. They were out of town, and during one of their fights, Sofia had thrown a suitcase to the ground, smashing its plastic corner. The man, hampered not so much by the damage but more by such a harassing reaction, had, with considerable villainy, thrown the shot of vodka she was drinking in her face. The woman had run to the bathroom screaming in pain, and he, fearing that he had burned her eyes out, went after her and took her in his arms, repeating, “Do you see what’s happening? See, but why do we have to come to this point? Why?”

Eventually, they calmed down and went to dinner as if nothing had happened. At that moment, it had seemed to her that she had loved her. Still, now, facing the ever-darkening sea, she realized that even then, it had probably only been pity, compassion, like that of the fisherman who throws back into the sea the too-small fish that would only end up in the jaws of a cat.

The night before, together with her, he had voluntarily avoided mentioning that episode because he already knew that Sofia’s reaction would be more disgust than pleasure. He had once confessed to her that he felt very fulfilled when he could help her, and she, curving her eyelashes like a Greek masker, had replied, “What, so you are with me just because you feel sorry for me?”

Explanations had been to no avail. Perhaps that very bizarre form of “sorrow” was the face of love Valerio was capable of feeling, but from how she reacted, the woman realized she was mistaken. Yeah, but the individuals who commit and evaluate the error are usually different. If they do not come to blows during confrontations, it is only because both have previously agreed to a convention.

“But what the hell kind of convention can be found on the meaning of love?” thought Vincent. “Which one?”

The sea, never tired of making its currents dance, answered him: the drops of water and even the molecules that make them up love being together because only in this way can they become “sea.” Otherwise, they would remain in puddles, ponds, and marshes and never have a chance to be part of the immense work of tacit union on Earth.

So Sofia had felt happy to be together with Valerio because she understood that her being alone was still worse than being together? Or perhaps, as had happened to him instead, boredom had pushed her into that adventure, an experience where loneliness was never questioned?

“The way he looked at me last night,” she thought, “it seemed like he wanted to be with me again that he missed me. But miss what exactly?”

A lack is a big problem: it is an absence and, therefore, a place where the unknown can too quickly become possible. But if you add that the alleged missing object is one’s unattainable lover, the trouble is combined in a big way.

Valerio was sure that his way of perceiving Sofia’s “absence” was undoubtedly different from the way the woman perhaps experienced it, but that very diversity made the absence similar to the glass of a parlor in prison: it gave security, allowed glances, symbolic contacts, words, but nothing more because condemned and visitor always rest their feet on different territories.

brown wooden boat moving towards the mountainHe was reminded of the fisherman standing upright on the quarterdeck of the boat, “It doesn’t move in the water,” he thought. “The sea is too cold, salty, inhospitable for him. He watches it-certainly. He scrutinizes it to see where to cast his nets, but the boat’s treacherous wood is a screen for him. That’s his parlor.”

So when Sofia had asked him if he didn’t like to build something together with her, the first image that had come to his mind had been the grotesque pantomime of marriages between lifers and free citizens. He had told her, “I don’t even know what I want to build.”

“But alone is not the same as doing it with two of us!” she retorted immediately, as if in hysterical excitement again.

“I already told you I don’t know!” cut Vincent short. “I’m going through a strange time, and I can never resolve myself. It will pass.

Sofia nodded again, but this time, she had the air of someone who expected no reaction other than that. He would have liked a firm and possibly concurring response to his ideas, but Vincent could do no better. To have said yes to her would have meant entangling herself in a net where she would have found death, just like a fish pulled into a boat wriggling for a few minutes, suffocating in suffocating loneliness. But, on the other hand, he also did not have the determination to say no to her because he had feelings for her after all, even if the features of that feeling were concealed behind a grim mask lacking its salient features.

He lit a cigarette and started walking along the waterfront. He had been sitting for too long, and his shoulders ached from the uncomfortable position. In winter, it was fascinating to move next to the beach. In summer, it was boring and pointless, but when the wind started to pull, and the roar of the waves broke the monotony of the chatter, walking was pleasant.

He bought a beer at one of the few open bars and began drinking it like a homeless vagrant. That mild, caress-like alcohol content immediately made him feel better. He remembered all the times Sofia had urged him not to drink outside meals and how she used to repeat to him, “You are too extravagant. You need to take better care of yourself!”

He made a hand gesture to banish those thoughts, “Dissolved? Perhaps so, but how sweet it is to indulge in vices when the alternative is a rigor that seeks only stepchildren!”

Although he did not love the sea, Vincent realized it respected him. In that relentless repetition of the lapping, only a necessary breath was hidden, nothing more. No pretense, no will. Fish were born with gills, and humans had the ability to pull them out of their cradle. Nothing else.

He saw an open dock leading into the shoreline. It had been a long time since he had done any real foolishness, the kind that kids consider normal, and at that moment, he felt an unstoppable desire to do it. He took off his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants, and headed toward the sea with cigarette and beer still in hand.

The air was cold, and already two meters from the water, he felt chills go up his legs. He downed another swig, tossed the butt, lit another cigarette, and continued toward the shoreline.

The water was freezing cold, but he continued until his calves were wet, and he lay still, millions of drops bumping against his warm flesh. He downed the remaining portion of beer and closed his eyes.

He relives in his memory some moments spent with Sofia: when they first met, their first sexual relationship, the rifts and the peace, the nights spent sleeping side by side and those in solitude, the moments of sorrow and those of hatred. As a person about to die, he relived all those moments of life compressed like sardines inside tins.

Then he opened his eyes again. The cigarette was almost consumed, and so was the beer. He turned toward the beach and moved slowly in the direction of the shoreline. His ankles were numb: “Now I’m even in danger of catching an accident!” he thought as he reached an old overturned boat.

He had nothing to dry himself, so he preferred to walk and let the sand absorb the water still clinging to his legs. He noticed a white apron-clad apprentice near the bar where he had bought beer. She nodded and pulled him closer, “Can you bring me another clear one? As you see, I still can’t go on the sidewalk.”

The boy squared him as one looked at a madman: “Sure,” he said grudgingly, taking Valerio’s money.

He returned after a few minutes with the uncorked bottle and the rest.

“Keep it. You did me a big favor!” she told him, smiling.

The apprentice thanked him and went back inside the small room. Vincent continued on his way. He downed a couple of long swigs and savored that aroma that had constantly intoxicated him far more than a fine vintage wine.

When he arrived near the square where he had left his car, he finally decided to clean himself off the sand and put his socks and shoes back on. He climbed up a half-ruined ladder used only by summer bathers and lit another cigarette, watching the last sun disappear over the horizon.

“You are really complicated!” said Sofia to him before saying goodbye. “Why don’t you let yourself go? Take everything a little more lightly. You only live once!”

“That’s what I try to do,” Vincent replied.

“It doesn’t sound like it to me. However, if you say so…”

Here, then, is the crux of the matter: the mistake that had caused their relationship to sour was not related to the singularity of the characters but rather to the inability to represent, in each other’s eyes, the mask each wished to see.

“Maybe you are right,” murmured Vincent. “If what you say really happened, we would have been silent tonight, looking into each other’s eyes.”

“Like two statues?” asked Sofia, laughing.

“No. Like one big statue depicting two dancers: she is bent low, like a bow, supported by her partner’s strong arms. They are dancing. Motionless.”

“A very evocative image, but I don’t understand what you’re getting at…”

“Do you seriously think that either character can discover a small lump on the other’s face without shattering the entire work and thus himself?” asked Vincent wistfully.

The wind floated between them as if it wanted to mimic the invisible dance of the two marble dancers. They stood for a few seconds in silence, within that chaotic limbo of stolen words, stripping themselves of all unnecessary tinsel, like weary trees on the making of autumn.

“I don’t think so,” Sofia finally answered, brushing his arm. “I don’t think so.”


Photo by Kees Streefkerk and Luca Bravo


Filed for legal protection with Patamu: certificate.


 

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