I’m close to finishing my debut novel; a work I put on ice over five years ago. But now feels right. Or as my late grandfather would say, “nothing happens before the time.”
I’m going to self-publish it this year. However, I’m strongly considering a Kickstarter campaign to raise the cost of a good editor, cover designer, short print run and perhaps an audiobook. I also hope it will generate some momentum for Kindle sales.
If you read the below excerpt and would like to help bring this story to life, please let me know in the comments. Have you backed a book on Kickstarter? What rewards whetted your appetite?
The story: I’m going to hold back the book description for the Kickstarter campaign. What I’ll say for now is that it’s a story of a man caught between two existences. It’s about the subjectivity of ‘truth’ and the narratives we tell ourselves to deal with it.
This excerpt is a dream sequence. Thanks.
I find myself on the beach of a lake that is large and surrounded by tall palm trees. Its white powdered sand is soft under my feet. A searching breeze creates ripples in the water’s surface that are echoed above in orderly rows of cloud. Flares of brilliant sunlight, and life affirming blue, bleed through. As the cloud momentarily obscures the sun, the temperature swings between a pleasing heat and a cool yet satisfying chill. Their quick succession makes the contrast intense, leaving little time for my body to adjust.
I hold my arm out, watching for the first goose bumps. Just as they surface, I feel the covering of a soft warm towel. As it falls from above and anchors on my narrow shoulders, I am greeted by the sight of my mother. She smiles at me and is almost immediately distracted by laughter from within a group on the beach. She pats me on my head and walks toward the adults hovering around a barbecue of fish and goat. She grabs a beer, held aloft by a tall man I don’t recognise.
I am wearing navy blue Speedos, with two stripes; white and red. My father emerges from the water. He receives no towel but runs past me and snatches one from a chair. He looks happy, motioning me to sit beside him on the sand. I walk over, using the towel to cover my swimwear. My father smiles beneath squinting eyes.
“The water’s good right?”
“Yes Dad,” I reply sheepishly, remembering to maintain the father-son hierarchy he so passionately protects. We talk and laugh, but the line between love and kinship is never crossed.
“See, this holiday isn’t so bad, is it?” He always addresses me through commands, wise teaching or questions. He never converses through opinion; that is saved for his peers, unless I pose a direct question. Real, self-exposing, vulnerable opinion could breach the line he sets between us, and potentially make him seem more human than fathers need be. I love him and hate him in equal measures. He is the hero father every young orphan dreams of. Physically strong. Emotionally impenetrable. Never seen crying or heard admitting he “doesn’t know.” Dependable; showing his love in the antiquated parenting style he inherited from his Jamaican father.
He brushes sand from my hair. This type of tenderness is reserved only for family holidays and severe illness. His rare touch temporarily sweeps away all memory of his inadequacy. Our moment is interrupted by my mother’s garish laughter coming from behind. My father grimaces, resists the urge to look back and instead turns to the lake and stares intently; his deep frown lines mirroring the lake’s surface. I look over his shoulder and see my mother in full on, head back laughter with one hand resting on the shoulder of the tall man who handed her the beer.
I hear another laugh to my left, which draws me away from my mother’s indiscretions. It’s Ocean. She, like me, shares the misfortune of being born into a messed-up family. Her name is perfect. She’s strong, majestic and constantly evolving. She seems years older than me but is in fact months younger. Her parents are polar opposites.
Her father sees positivity in all situations. As well as his perpetual smile, I know him for his toned calves, which always come out on our group holidays. Enviable anatomy when viewed in isolation, but cartoonish beside the rest of his body, which is of a below average build and tone. He is an encyclopaedia of useless information. Every statement Ocean’s father utters is followed by a farfetched statistic or fact, and the rolling of his wife’s eyes.
She is a complete pessimist, and perhaps more accurately, a manic depressive. Her reason for living seems simply to oppose her husband’s positivity. To create a counter balance to his glass-half-full sensibility. All that said, Ocean is surprisingly centred. She takes logic and makes it a science. She is a complete realist, which combined with her wit and forthrightness, makes her seem rude, arrogant and at best tactless. I think she’s amazing!
She looks at me apologetically as she does when her parents are around. I reciprocate; my father is still scowling beside me rubbing sand from out of his crutch and my mother’s laughs can be heard over the water and music. Ocean winks at me and shifts her eyes toward the lake. I smile at my father, discard my towel and return to the cold water. We race, dive and hold each other under. As the froth dispels, we float on our backs and look to the sky.
“If I have children, I will never force them to go on family holidays. So cruel!” Ocean broke the brief silence as though I were in her head and heard all the thoughts that led up to her statement.
“The only reason I agreed to come was because I heard you’d be here,” I reply. Ocean for a moment says nothing.
“Have you lost your virginity then?” she asks with her eyes locked to the flight path of a gull.
“Umm, well…not sure.” Ocean abandons the gull and sets her gaze on me.
“What do you mean not sure? Either you have, or you haven’t.”
“Well I guess…well… technically, no then.” Ocean finds another gull. The silence kills me. I imagine she is laughing inside. I expect more interrogation, but she just lies there floating, saying nothing. I think she is waiting for me to ask. I don’t. I’m afraid of the answer.
“Why do you think people who clearly shouldn’t be together, get together? They say love is blind, but surely you can apply a little logic in all situations; including love or let’s face it lust, I mean no one really falls in love at first do they? They want sex.” She says, now sitting in the shallow water with her back to the beach. I persistently float for a few seconds, and then, unable to resist her gravity, join her on my knees.
“I don’t know. Perhaps the way people feel in the beginning isn’t the way they feel later on. I guess you can’t predict the future, right?” I reply, feeling for once that I may be the one to have offered some food thought.
“My parents hate each other,” Ocean says looking out at the trees in the distant horizon.
“Your dad seems happy,” I reply, trying to put a positive spin on her family situation and offering her the chance to step away from her uncomfortable truth. She continues anyway.
“My dad is only happy when my mother is. I guess her mood swings have conditioned him to be that way. But you know there’s only so much conditioning you can take. I mean, you can only stretch so far, right? Sooner or later you’re gonna snap. You can only change so much, or else you lose your own identity. You forget who the real you is, or maybe in my dad’s case, was.” I stare at her in awe. She’s so deep. I am once again the student. Natural order has been restored.
“I bet he can’t look himself in the mirror anymore. I want to tell him, he doesn’t have to be such a pussy. I feel like I need to shake him up; tell him to shout or slam a door or something! He doesn’t need to keep up the pretence for me anymore. Shit, I’m almost fifteen for fuck’s sake.” I nod, saying nothing, only thinking to myself that Ocean swears more since we last met. I try hard to focus on her feelings but am distracted by the sexiness of her adult language.
“I think these trips are just a way of making things seem okay. A temporary fix. Papering over the cracks. It’s so unbearable having to spend time with them.” She speaks while watching her hand morph under the water’s surface. She looks vulnerable and is visibly worried. I remain seated saying nothing. I think I’m in love with her.
“My parents will probably be divorced by this time next year.” I say hoping to extract more emotion; I find myself enjoying the intimacy of her pain.
“Yeah, right.” She swims off toward the lake’s centre. Ocean has the natural ability to turn anything into competition. She swims with vigour without looking back. She knows I am following her. We swim hard. The crystal water swirls and foams around us. I look up, mid stroke and catch our chilled spray diffracting spectrums of sunlight. We swim through the centre and continue. Ocean shows no sign of stopping. My aim to out-swim her has now changed to simply keeping up. I try to hide my extreme fatigue. My arm and leg muscles ache. The water is still crystal clear. I look down to check whether I could safely stop and stand. I can see that the depth has altered abruptly in the last few metres. I could quite easily drown now, were I to get cramp. I ignore the thought of death or worse still, Ocean having to pull me back to the shore. Pride is my fuel.
I swim with what feels like hot charcoals between my shoulder blades. The gap between me and Ocean is lengthening with each stroke. I can feel my rhythm escaping me. Water, which was before my friend, is now the enemy. It beats me like an eroding coastline. I curse my decision to follow Ocean. I see her ahead clambering on to the beach that was before a mere slither of white. I take consolation from the sound of her heavy breathing and coughing. This wasn’t easy for her either. I make it onto the beach and collapse beside her. We lay here, heaving in agony and laughing from the adrenalin born from our flirt with mortality.
“You’re quite fit aren’t you?” Ocean says after a few minutes. I say nothing still catching my breath and enjoying the water playing with my toes. It’s my friend again.
After some time, Ocean looks up at me with eyes that seem to have aged. She just looks at me for a moment; her huge eyes framed in long glistening lashes; still wet. She looks at me, and despite myself, I stare back. I know my look betrays me, but I don’t care.
The stillness of the moment carries an electricity that shocks me into lucidity. I know I’m dreaming! I feel an outer body experience. I see the two of us, wet, staring deep into each other. Saying nothing. I see the lake rising to our knees. I watch as neither of us notice. I realise that from my vantage point, my vision goes beyond 20:20. I see everything with no degradation of focus. I survey the sand and can examine the smallest detail of every grain.
The clarity makes me nauseous. I wonder whether my new sight is a sign that this place somehow exists beyond normal fantasy or is a higher understanding of a reality I once inhabited. I consider whether death is actually both reality and fantasy; or the point at which the extremities of these inner opposites converge.
“I’m sorry,” Ocean finally says.
“Don’t worry. You didn’t force me to follow you,” I say from above without thinking, as though speaking words from a memorised script. I see the dream me speak my words a fraction of a moment later, like an unfading echo.
“No. I’m sorry that it had to turn out like this,” she replies. I watch the two us speak, but my ears are now deaf. I want to know what she is saying. I see the dampness of her long eyelashes; give way to that of her silent tears. I see my own.
In an instant, I’m back within myself. I’m now in my parents’ tent at night, pretending to sleep and watching as my mother climbs out. My father sleeps silently. I watch her leave and zip the tent shut. I get out of my sleeping bag, slowly unzip the tent and watch as she and her long, deformed shadow creep silently across the sand, illuminated by a full moon that devours the sky. She stoops beside a red tent. I see Ocean’s father clamber out, almost tripping over his calves. She offers her hand and helps him up. They stop, look at each other and walk into the forest behind them; its thick canopy shielding them from the bright lunar searchlight.
I hear stirring behind me. My father tells me to sleep. He spins around in his now roomier sleeping bag and faces our olive-green tent wall. I think I hear him crying. But I can’t be sure.
Intrigued? Hit the link to read the first 5 chapters of my forthcoming novel. 1mW7NGZZ2ipPDFsy4tjozmO6JAvKdB10GnOz3ulRLSMQ/edit
Image: © Sean Rankine 2019.