The scientist stood at the edge of black rock.
The black rock of a lava flow that had flowed from Hualalai volcano on the island of Hawai‘i, two centuries ago, and crashed into the sea, here, where he stood, facing west where the sun would soon fall, like the hot lava once did, into salt water.
Instead, he was looking down. Down into the pools and crevices where the seaweeds peeped around the edges of the ocean’s disguise – a dangerous game, for under certain conditions of weather and tide, the ocean would hike up her skirts while the sun burned his fiercest, and the too-adventurous weeds would pay for their daring with their lives.
In another place, at another time, the scientist felt that he belonged with these daredevils. He knew their names, if not by sight then by touch, for by bending over and placing them in his hand he could use firmness and texture to tell apart what shape and color did not. He knew their seasons, which kinds would appear when, and why; and where they went when it was not their time.
Here, he was haole, a stranger. He did not bother to bend down, for he understood that his touch would tell him nothing more than his eyes did. Besides, it hurt. In some of the shapes and colors, he saw family resemblances, but that helped him little, as what was here was estranged from what he knew, by space and by time. It would take time, and effort, for the scientist to join the ‘ohana of these Hawaiian tidepools.
But there was no time. In that earlier life, he had taken the time, convinced that the world would see, would see that it was good, would reward the good with daily bread. The wages of this conviction had been pain, and the living did not come. Had it only been about himself … but it wasn’t, and he had finally laid the conviction aside so that the rent could be paid. It was getting paid now.
Occasionally he paid that earlier life a visit. Like today. It was uncomfortable, so he didn’t do it often. He still wanted to put his hands in the pools as he walked among them, to talk story with what grew in them. He even had ideas about how some of those stories could be put to good use, all that was was needed was a few supplies. And time. But there was no time. Instead, there was the job description, the corporate priorities …
The sound was loud, sudden, enveloping, disorienting. It came from the rocks all around his feet. It lasted two seconds, three, five; then it broke off, only to be repeated a few seconds later. Nothing could be seen. There was just the sound, disembodied, menacing.
The scientist started; then wondered; then got it. The black lava rock was porous. Shot through with cracks and fissures. Easily broken. He was standing on a ledge. The ocean, all six time zones of it, had cut a channel underneath it. When a wave filled the channel, it compressed the air inside and forced it through the ledge’s cracks and fissures. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, for who knew how many days, how many years, each stroke further eroding the channel, further weakening the ledge, which, when it got too weak, would fall into the crashing surf. At any moment …
Danger! Run! He heard his mother yelling at him, from six time zones away in the opposite direction. Get off that ledge before it falls in! He had always obeyed …
But not this time. Another thought intruded, held him where he stood.
Earlier that day, Don Isbell had passed away. Isbell, an elderly gentleman, thin, frail, slightly stooped, had played horn in the local concert band and community orchestra, in which the scientist played trumpet, trombone, and curmudgeon. He had been (the scientist had been told) a well-respected, and much loved, music teacher in the local schools. But, while his body still came to weekly rehearsals, his mind, sadly, had taken early entry into humankind’s universal recycling program, and this is how the scientist knew him. He could still play a chart if it started at the beginning and went to the end, but the constant stops and starts of rehearsals left him constantly, and sometimes loudly, confused.
A year ago, Don Isbell had tripped and fallen over a curbstone in the staging area for the town’s annual Fourth of July parade. The paramedics took him to the hospital for stitches. The band asked him, thereafter, to stop trying to march in parades. To keep him safe.
A few months ago, Don Isbell had begun arriving at rehearsals as a passenger, not a driver. Perhaps he had gotten as confused trying to navigate the roads to rehearsals as he did trying to navigate the music at rehearsals. So he was told to stop driving. To keep him safe.
And in the safety of his own home, Don Isbell had fallen, no one knew how, or when. Never again to get up. Never again to demand, while everyone else was playing, whether he was supposed to be at letter “B” or letter “E” in the Wizard of Oz medley.
The rocks hissed again.
“Fuck it”, the scientist muttered. “Here I am. You want me, you got me.”
The ledge didn’t want him. Not today.
After a few minutes, he turned away from the shoreline and started towards the beach park’s parking lot, leaving the hissing ledge behind. It was almost dinner time, and his lady was waiting for him.
A tide pool was in his path. He stopped. Bent down. Stuck his hands in the water. The tidepool gobies and hermit crabs scurried for cover. He put seaweeds in his hands, sought differences among them in their firmness and texture that would tell him what color and shape would not. He did not yet know what the differences meant. But he would find out. He would learn their stories.
And the stories that he thought he could put to use? He would find a way.