Saturday, January 30, 2016

Let me help you with that

A short story

By Bob Boldt

“Let me help you with that,” he said as he fumbled for a match. The burning coal at the tip of her joint had disappeared. Lit again, she inhaled deeply. There was the customary silence while the smoke fed its precious cargo to waiting lungs. There was a brief choke followed by a cough followed by some of the unabsorbed smoke being expelled from her lungs. Ted stood up and held out his hand. “No,” she said. “I’ll just sit here. You know, I like to stay in my own head when I’m high.” She was seated on a large beach blanket, dressed only in a green, paisley spread.
    Ted was even less well attired, wearing only a pair of leather sandals. His gaze scanned the line of trees at the edge of the dunes. His eyes panned right to take in the whole expanse of the blue watery horizon that was the south shore of Lake Michigan. He sighed his disappointment. “Okay, have it your way.”
    Tamara was quirky when she got high. Often she was hyper-friendly, sociable, and loquacious. Other times, like this, she preferred to withdraw into her own head, leaving no clue of her former self. “Please,” she said, looking up at him, her eyes squinting against the bright, blue sky. “This is really good dope. I feel some deep places about to open up inside. You go on, commune with Gaia. Just bring back some interesting specimens.”
    Ted strode down into one of the deep sand bowls the wind had carved into the dunes. He moved past a half-dozen ancient cedar stumps upended eons ago. Their forms raked the sky with sharp, claw-like roots, some extending fifteen feet into the air. He had always felt a strong attraction to this surreal landscape of the Indiana Dunes since reading the science fiction short story “Dune Roller” in high school. That same year he had met the author at the 10th Annual World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago. She even signed his program.

    Two years before, when a dancer friend, Taylor Lee, suggested a field trip to a secluded part at the easternmost tip of the Indiana Dunes State Park, he and Tamara jumped at the chance. This locale was literally so far off the beaten path that no lost tourist, occasional hiker, or local ever violated their privacy in this boundless natural setting. It was an exhilarating feeling to spend seemingly endless summer days as naked and uncaring as Adam and Eve before the fall. Last year, when Taylor, Tamara, and he were filming a 16mm “art film” – “The Emisaries” [3:11] – for one of Tamara’s School of the Art Institute projects, they encountered a group of five boy scouts, complete with full merit-badge-adorned uniforms and even a pack flag on a staff. It was like Andy Warhol meets Norman Rockwell. Ted’s camera battery belt slung around his waist, the three filmmakers where naked as newborns. Eyes resolutely front and center, the Scouts passed without a word or backward glance as they wound their way along the edge of one of the sand bowls near the crest of one of the larger dunes.
    Ted smiled to himself as he passed the scene of the crime. He was always a little slow in feeling the effects of Cannabis and other psychoactive substances. It was not until he was nearly down to the shoreline that he started to feel his consciousnesses begin to slowly yield to the delicious undertow of the molecules coursing though his blood stream. The cresting waves, rising and falling, foaming against the wind blowing off the dunes, seemed to have a distinct set of separate voices, as if, after miles and miles of open water, they were finally, loudly extinguishing themselves in their last agony against the static force of gravel and sand. It sounded to Ted like the cry of legions of dying soldiers, or perhaps it was the water’s own memory of the many drowning souls its currents had extinguished over the centuries. As the sound of the waves started to become too intense, he decided to turn back to the surreal landscape and see what surprises might be awaiting here.
    It is common knowledge that marijuana greatly enhances the appreciation of the everyday. It also calls forth some experiences and events that in retrospect might actually be regarded as preternatural. About fifty yards up from the beach lay the remains of what once must have been a lifeguard station shack. All that was left now were some cinder blocks that were its rude foundation and some charred timbers. From the far side of the ruin came a droning, buzzing sound. It seemed inordinately loud for such a disembodied noise. Ted cautiously approached what he took to be the source. It was coming from beneath a large limestone block that must have been part of the hearth. Curiosity overcame caution as he slowly lifted the stone and rolled it away. In a hollow place beneath the rock was the largest bumble bee he had ever seen.

    Contrary to his expectations, the creature seemed not to notice the dramatic change in his habitat. The insect was building some sort of devilishly complex structure. The humming sound continued, although removing the rock seemed to greatly diminish its intensity. Perhaps the sound had been reinforced by the resonant properties of his hollow. Ted stared transfixed at the elaborate construction project taking place below. Who knows how long he stayed there hypnotized by the amazing activity? Finally the bee suddenly flew away, perhaps in search of more material for his project. Ted carefully returned the stone to its place and began walking, making a bee line for Tamara, eager to share his revelations and explore the cooler she had stocked with their food.
    His walking seemed slowed by the sand to an extent he had not noticed before. Walking in loose sand with sandals is always an exercise. This time it seemed as if each individual grain was pushing back, almost as if by standing still he might sink into quicksand. This hypothetical caused him little more than a passing notice as he started a climb up a sandy grade to an interesting stand of fiddle fern at the edge of some trees atop one of the high ridges.
    As he walked, it seemed as if he was beginning to experience many different cycles of time simultaneously. He thought of the Mayan Long Count Calendar and its great wheel that marked the millennia, the wheel that marked the centuries, and the mundane calendar that traced the course of years. Here in the Dunes he began to become conscious of all the natural forces operating and linking like the cogs of those great wheels. Each mutable dune was the plaything of the immutable sand grains – each grain a tiny cog descending into the infinite microcosm of a universe as infinitely large as it was infinitely small and complex. He looked up the slope he was laboring and saw himself and his life as if from a great height, as if observing a tiny insect absorbed in his small life that seemed so large to him. Scenes from Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1964 film, Woman in the Dunes flashed through his imagination.

    He regarded a large upturned root structure. Perhaps in death they would outlive all our most permanent artifacts. Yes, he could see the human race itself as ephemeral. In the midst of all these great waves of cosmic feelings crashing against him, one feeling became dominant. He was hungry.
    He looked across the remaining expanse of sand to the far side of this little world and saw the crumpled blanket Tamara had been lying on. The sun had begun to slip beneath the farthest western ridge. Making his way across the expanse in record time he closed the gap. As he got closer, the crumpled blanket moved. He muttered a gentle, cautious “Hellooo?” so as not to startle her. A sensual “Mmmmm...Hi!” greeted him back. He took the edge of her covering and slowly began to pull it back. Disheveled brown hair gave way to a twinkling pair of eyes followed by impish smiling lips. As the spread was drawn further back, Ted felt as if he was unveiling a magnificent work of sculpture to the world. The eastern clouds reflecting the weakened sun made the landscape and the lovely nude figure beneath him the color of light refracted through honey. Not taking his eyes off this resplendent vision, he lay down beside her. She laughed, and taking his joint in her hand said, “Let me help you with that.” Slowly, almost languorously they began to make love. He forgot he was hungry.

Copyright © 2016 by Bob Boldt


  1. Wonderful stuff! I want to congratulate you for writing such a well-crafted short story, a high craft.
    It was an enjoyable read.