Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: Fractal shade is created by sunlight filtering through a leafy canopy. Use Fractal Shade as the motif for your creative writing piece.
By Connie Phlipot
Amoeba-shaped patterns slipped and fluttered across the sand, imperfect reflections of the trees above the cliffs. I skipped from one blotchy shadow to another, not looking back at the people whose company I had left. It had been a good reunion, trading the usual news of jobs, families, trips. I laughed at the reported antics of a new puppy, oohed at photos of a recently born niece, sighed at a parent’s death. The conversation a patchwork of life moments we renewed every few years. Did the fractals of memory get darker or larger over time? A few holes had appeared in the fabric of our togetherness as friends left our crowd or life altogether. A few answered the e-mails more and more frequently with excuses until they passed completely from the present into our memories.
Perhaps someday I would do that as well. Ignore the google invitations to meet at a restaurant whose acclaimed chef had long ago retired or a favourite park now overgrown with weeds. But I was still clinging to these repeated patterns, even though the people mattered to me only as reminders of an early time, a previous life.
Faint words behind me tickled my ear like the cypress trees ruffling in the wind. I turned. Halfway between where I stood and where I left my friends, a track of footprints was approaching me. The intensity of the sun blotted out the face and body. All I could see were the tracks. Then a cloud passed across the sun and the outline of a lanky man or a young girl became clear. The sun reappeared, replacing the body with a shadow that stretched to the incoming tide. It bobbed as if the one who cast it had one short leg or a wonky knee. I knew that shadow, that uneven walk and I turned around. My own shadow crossed his and then joined it as the space between us narrowed.
“I thought you were going back to the city with Lena and Karl,” I asked the shadow. My silhouetted head moving forward, his cocking to the side at the sound of my voice. Like an Indonesian puppet theatre. The sun’s radiance, or something else, troubled my eyes and kept me from looking in his face. I saw the shadow of his hand reach toward my shadow. I stepped back and the hand fell back to his side.
“Let’s go over there by the cliff,” he said pointing to a sandstone alcove at the edge of the beach. My shadow head nodded and my small footprints joined his long strides. I knew this cove, as well, it was a favoured shelter against wind, or sun, or other people. A place where kids played with imaginary friends, teenagers drank, young couples cuddled.
The sand was thick and shifty here away from the tide, so I took off my shoes. He did the same. Released from our footwear, our footprints were animal-like—scarcely different from those of the dogs that ran unleashed in the morning, or the foxes from the woods, exploring the taste of saline water.
“You didn’t tell me why you followed me.” I smoothed the sand and tossed aside a piece of driftwood. He stood it on end, like a miniature lectern and rested his hand on it.
“I don’t know why.”
“How are you going to get back home, then?”
“I don’t know.”
I stretched my legs and leaned back on my elbows. It was harder to sit cross-legged on the sand then it used to be. I wasn’t going to ask more questions. He would explained himself when or if he wanted. In the meantime, I watched a flock of seagulls gathering on a rocky outcropping.
“It seemed to be ripping apart. Into scraps of trivia and anecdotes and shared photos on a smart phone.” He stretched out his long legs next to mine. The driftwood lectern toppled over.
I looked away from the bird congregation. “It has been that way for years. You just noticed it?”
“Of course, it had. But I kept thinking it was just me. Bored, too self-absorbed to care about anyone else’s life. But today, everyone but Anita kept looking at their text messages or staring into their coffee cups. Refilling their water glasses and getting up to go to the bathroom.”
“And isn’t that normal? For people whose lives have gone into different directions?”
“Maybe, so why do we keep meeting? Either it’s over. That friendship, I mean, and we should just quit the pretext. We could certainly use the time more productively. Or?”
“We try to stitch it back together again. If we were all so important to each other once, maybe we still are.”
The clouds thickened and covered the sun merging our shadows and that of the cypress trees into a solid mass of shade.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.
I really enjoyed reading your story, Connie. I guess we all face similar experiences–finding ourselves at various reunions and discovering once again that we’ve all moved on. Those bright shared memories of what once brought old friends together grow ever more distant.
PS: I first came across Fractal Shade while browsing biomimicry projects. Here’s the source:
I really liked that story, Connie. You evoked the setting so well. The ending feels really abrupt to me – maybe there is more to come? I’ve love to read on.
I love the imagery at the centre of this piece. Really good stuff.
Ah yes, the dilemma that is maintaining old relationships. You captured it beautifully here. Favorite line: “It seemed to be ripping apart. Into scraps of trivia and anecdotes and shared photos on a smart phone.”