The Length of Shadows

The sun is an angry little fist of gold. Mariella blames the rooster, the one tied up outside of Momma’s Café. Every morning, it crows, plucks at the dirt road, scratching at the dust, hopping on one leg while the other tethers from a frayed twine rope to the tilting telephone pole. Mariella sits on a wooden bench, spies the rooster out of the corner of her left eye, and notes the hard empty platter of gold rising from the sea.

A schoolgirl sits down next to her. “The sun is angry,” Mariella says to her.

The girl sits straight, books in her lap, a long black braid down her back. She looks toward the sunrise and says, “I think it lonely.”

“No, it is angry. The rooster crows too loud. The streets smell like diesel and fish. And look at those mangy dogs,” Mariella says, pointing to three mutts on their hind legs, nosing into the battered aluminum trashcans outside of Zimbo’s Bar.

The girl shakes her head. “It lonely. Nobody can get near it — muy hot. We dance around it. Señora Pierro said we go around the sun. The sun don’t go around us. That’s science.” She bobs her head and smiles, bounds for the truck that pulls up with a dozen children, straight black hair, wearing hand-me-down uniforms, seated on benches in the bed. The little girl climbs in and shouts to Mariella, “It’s a beautiful day.”

Mariella scowls and shields her eyes with her right hand. A thin haze rises with the sun. She imagines molecules evaporating into the sky, called up, sacrificed to build clouds and weather patterns that will blanket the coastline up north. But here—here, the haze only makes the angry sun blanch, burn harder.

When she was 54, she noticed the spots on her hands, like large freckles. Her husband began to find moles on his arms and chest. Neither of them belonged on this island, fair-haired and pale, under the unforgiving sun. They stayed and he died, and the widow Mariella cannot find peace in her cottage house surrounded by the sun-soaked Bougainville, hibiscus, and jasmine. Twelve years later, she plants herself on a bench without a floppy hat or sunglasses. Bare-armed and sandal-footed, she walks for miles, following the mean arc of the sun, telling time in the length of shadows.

Today, she walks east to west, down the sandy road dotted with coconut husks until that angry fist is in front of her. She has walked ten miles already; she is tired but makes no plans to turn around and get back home. Mariella intends to sit on a boulder like an iguana. This side of the island is rocky and wild. Strands of seaweed turn brown, caught in the crevices of driftwood and stones. A single-engine plane passes overhead, the only sign of the modern world, its right wing winks and dips, sputters northeast.

It is late now, past time for supper, but Mariella waits. As the sun drops below the horizon, it opens itself, unclenches, stretches softly into the clouds. It is a gold ring glinting in the palm of a hand.

Mariella does not see the life preserver, a white halo on this darkening reef, wash up beside her. She sees only the last fragments of gold scatter above the sea, aching for high tide.

*With thanks to Bob for the photo and the nudge.

12 Comments The Length of Shadows

  1. Silverleaf January 7, 2015 at 11:28 pm

    Meg, how I miss your stories! This was breathtaking and carried with it such a range of tangled emotions. Mariella is fascinating! I also love your descriptions of the sun, especially as it sets. Reading your expertly crafted words leaves me with a pleasant soaring-spirit feeling xo

    Reply
    1. Meg January 8, 2015 at 6:12 pm

      Awww. Thanks, Silver. This was torture to write, so I’m especially appreciative of your kind words. I had no idea where it was going and wondered if it was going to make any sense. LOL.

      Reply
      1. Silverleaf January 8, 2015 at 9:26 pm

        I know the feeling, but you definitely couldn’t tell!

        Reply
  2. Stephen Thom January 8, 2015 at 12:05 am

    You seem on top of your game Meg 🙂 from the first subtly effective original image in the opening sentence this is gorgeously written throughout, tight lovely sentences sprinkled with beautiful florid yet restrained (the best combo, to me!) images and wording (mean arc of the sun/last fragments of gold scatter/right wing winks and dips). I am also keen on the rhythmic actions throughout (eg. Plucks, scratching, hopping early on&scattered throughout) that propel and inject even more life around the lovely descriptions. It will be an excellent year of writing for you 🙂

    Reply
    1. Meg January 8, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Thank you, thank you, thank you, Stephen. I’m finding myself terrified of writing once I’ve spent a week or two away from it. Like I can’t imagine that I’ve got anything to say. I was going to give up on this after the first draft but I’m glad I stuck with it. Editing is everything. 😉 Thanks for reading, as always! So glad you liked it.

      Reply
      1. Stephen Thom January 11, 2015 at 5:15 am

        * finding myself terrified of writing once I’ve spent a week or two away from it. – god me too!

        Reply
  3. Beth January 8, 2015 at 11:46 am

    I was going to say “spectacular first sentence”. Then it was “spectacular first paragraph”. But of course, the whole thing is wonderful. Very powerful and at the same time peaceful. I really like how you usually seem to throw in something enigmatic and symbolic toward the end.

    Reply
    1. Meg January 8, 2015 at 6:19 pm

      Great to hear from you, Beth. Yeah, the ending is definitely enigmatic! But I hope it works. 🙂 Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. Means a lot.

      Reply
  4. theinnerzone January 8, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    I really liked the descriptions of the sun being an angry, little fist and how it scatters in the end, matching the unfolding of the story. Glad I stopped by to read this little gem.

    Reply
    1. Meg January 9, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      I’m so glad you stopped by too! Thanks for the kind words.

      Reply
  5. inNateJames January 8, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    You write settings so well, Meg. I’m only on my first reading of this, but I can tell you I liked the conflicts between young and old and between the humans and nature. The hand/sun theme was clear. And the white halo of the life preserver shone bright in my mind’s eye.

    Reply
    1. Meg January 9, 2015 at 5:21 pm

      Thanks, Nate. Lots o’ yin and yang.

      Reply

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