BY BRIAN MICHAEL BARBEITO
When we came out the front doors, the sun bleached the world in all directions.
Coming from the north to the south was more than just an adjustment. So bright was the morning star that it felt like the world was on fire. I sometimes glanced at other people just to make sure all was right and well. Soon enough, the eyes adjusted the best they could.
To the right of that building was a vacant lot that led to the Atlantic Ocean. The palms, browned at the trunks and verdant at the uppermost parts, reached sometimes four or five stories. At that time, though there were high buildings, they were fewer than now. The world was not overwhelming or overwhelmed. It was rather quietly confident. Inside of that vacant lot there was a world unto itself. The teenagers used to have bon fires at the end of it. Light in the night, the large flames bragging themselves up and challenging the dark. Some bit of white from a rubber running shoe could be seen also, or else the glint from a bottle or necklace. These things themselves were like quiet angels, miniature in stature, that visited the world, – that bounced off the world for long and short seconds.
We turned left, the way of the heart, – and headed up the one lane highway. I was with Sean, and he was trouble, but sometimes you are matched with who you are matched with. I tried to tune out what he was saying, which was usually boastful talk about this or that, in order to concentrate on the scenery. We went along the road on the grasses. They have built sidewalks in the decades since, and turning lanes. But then there was something new about it all, and in the danger was a quiet electrical enthrallment. The cars came past and we kept walking. See, what you do when you go to a place is walk to explore. I had been there before, and had half grown up there, but Sean had not. Past the Catholic Church we went, and the small buildings. There was a whole intercoastal to the right, and to the left, the Atlantic. You could see it between the buildings like part of a story. It was a long story to be sure, and it seemed even more interesting to see it in parts.
Soon there was a small strip plaza. What I remember most was the black asphalt and the white demarcation lines. There was something beautiful and bountiful about both. Those and the curbs. Almost everything ringed with a soundless ring, against logic. Stucco walls, the mailboxes, the great long walkways that led from store to store. We went inside the grocery store and walked around for some reason. It was outside that we sat at a large fountain for a while and watched the road in the distance.
Getting up, we went along a side street that was adjacent to the Publix. This street had tall hedges. There was a small park and an actual fire station. Behind us were two girls, though I had not noticed them at first. Somehow they walked past us, and were looking back and laughing and smiling. I wasn’t sure what they wanted, and it was strange that someone was attending to us because I for one felt like a ghost, a visitor in an odd land. I was busy still absorbing the light, – the plays of sun on glass. There were tiny flecks and particles in the cement, – like the bits of fool’s gold that glisten in pyrite.
The girls turned into a place, a small motel. It was called The Mana Loa, though the actual name is Mauna Loa. Either the sign makers got it wrong or the motel owners wanted it that way. A quick glance over to that place, to the left, and I could see a set of stairs and a small office, – the requisite pool, concrete and without a liner, – and sturdy patio chairs. There were a few parking spaces in front, and again, there was that black asphalt and the lines. I heard some more talk but couldn’t make out what it was. We kept on walking and didn’t bother with them one way or the other.
Ahead were more of the same, – motel and motel and motel. But they were kept nicely. These places were handsome, curt, sure, sturdy. Many of them had neon signs. There was no garbage around. We were situated two streets over from the sea. The salt air travelled in the breeze, was then ubiquitous, as was the sun. For the most part, I felt I had arrived, as I always felt when I went to that area. What did it mean? It means that there was nothing to accomplish in order to be complete. A world of completeness had already been entered. How? Through some kind of good or mistaken karma and arrived kismet. Through happenstance or through luck.
Through a wholesome and sacrosanct Providence that was showing itself, that was manifesting.
Through the assistance of a hidden angel.
I was wearing green shorts and an orange shirt, which was strange. It doesn’t matter what a person, what a soul, wears, but I usually wore blue.
Where would we go? Probably up to the next intersection and then to the pier and its surrounding aesthetic and culture.
But first, something queer happened.
One of them must have called us. She had doubled back out from behind the hedge, from the Mana Loa. She was standing there, now solitary. The girl was short, her skin olive. She wore jean shorts and a t-shirt. She was motioning with her finger for us to come back. Walking back, she did not stop the motion. Finally, when we got to her, the hands and arms were put down.
She asked us our names and we told her. Her friend came out. She seemed to want to know us. I asked her if we they wanted to come out later, in the night. She told us yes, and to come back then. It was time, through some inner or outer meter, – to go.
Over our heads burned what was by then fast becoming the noonday sun. I did not know that we had met what would become an archetype and a sort of angel. Up at the intersection we explored the outside of the shops. There was a dive shop with the signature flag. To the right was a mechanical bridge that opened up to let boats in and out of the intercoastal waterway. Inside of those waters were large turtles and someone once told me that even Manta Rays swam there. The intercoastal was, like all parts of that area, – another world, and in that world were smaller, more intricate worlds. Worlds and worlds and worlds. But we headed left again, – towards the pier. It was there that a group of Pentecostals in smart pressed shirtsleeves and slacks talked to me. They said that wherever two or more were gathered in His name that He was present. They weren’t bad, not at all, – but I was more interested in watching the old fishermen come and go off the pier. Their shapes made silhouettes darkly against the impossibly dark blue sky. Birds hovered, perhaps looking for scraps of bait or fish. Some of the men carried buckets that had water and blood in them. Metal, water, and blood. Men, water, metal and blood. Fish-gut-buckets.
And the men wore stained soulful old cotton shirts too hot for the day but just right. They had wrinkles in their skin, and surely knew things. They might even have known about the angels of place, of objects, or the angels that come out when things intersect.
We stayed around there for a while and then headed back, the Atlantic on our right, and waited for the night.
On a balcony I sat by metal railings. Time changes everything. Those railings I have reason to know are now replaced. They are made from strong plastics or fibreglass. It is a timeless place and it is not. Complication ensues. There is a dreadful feeling to be in a place whose time is lost, whose allure is past. All that is there at a time like that are ghosts, and ghosts are different than angels. But then, the spirit had not lessoned. It was alive and in everything, just as it had been before. The rain would sometimes land on those metal railings from the sky. The lesson I learned from those rains, just before hurricane season, was that since they were so beautiful, they could carry you while you were in your future. A certain way anyhow. It would be wrong to say they could absolutely carry you always… But more of that later. For then, – they were a friend and a grace. They would come sometimes in a sun shower, and the drops of them seemed larger than in the Northern climes. I thought then about that, but just under the surface. I looked out at the building across the way. Sometimes in the early hours of the morning a soul would be coming from somewhere and the world was so quiet that the footfalls could be gleamed. There was a soft but definite echo to the steps as they made their way along an outside corridor to some door or another. What was it like over there? It seemed that in these places the inside of buildings and the outside were not definite. The world was not yet completely boxed in and there was a bit of flow, some naturalness to the lines of the architecture and to the movements of the people. Sure, they were ordinary people and not heroes of any sort, – but that is what made them iconic in my own mind. That and the fact that I was watching a grand and sacrosanct play.
I thought back to a time where a satori, and maybe it was a bit more than just satori, took place. I was along that stretch of road in the back of a van. We weren’t wearing seatbelts, – just cruising along, coming back from a restaurant somewhere far and far away. I was wearing what were on paper uncomfortable polyester pants and some button up shirt. But, I was happy enough. My parents were not there, but my sister was. We were with family friends. It was an eighties style van with rectangular windows in the back. It was beige, and had a ladder on back. As we went along something began to happen. I had my hands behind my head, and was lying on my back. I put one foot cross legged up so that the outside of the bottom leg was on the other leg.
Then I just watched out the window. Everyone was quiet or else talking to one another. I am not sure which. But for the time being, nobody was speaking to me. I started to notice something. There was a sensation occurring and it was in my chest. I was getting warmer, but it was not the same warmth as when someone has a temperature or is ill or excited. My chest area, I guess the heart, was filling up with something, but it was not physical.
My mind watched this occur but at a far distance. How did I get into this state? That is what I thought. And what is it? It was occurring and I was watching it at the same time. An observer.
Then it increased. The feeling of warmth, but other worldly warmth, and the distance my mind was from the occurrence, both increased exponentially. Something of me was expanding from the chest outward, and then the mind was expanding also. I had the feeling losing boundaries. No longer was I a person inside of a body, but I was now a consciousness that was vibrating and expanding. I was somehow me, and also not me. I was outside in the moving scene, going along, and I was inside also. I was both the outside world and me, at the same time. There was an overall feeling of bliss and knowing, though it was a secret knowledge, – a direct knowledge, a sort of, or a, gnosis.
I knew though I had no canon, no reference points, no guide, that everything was always not only okay, but God, only God was not a person but all things put together and moving. There was stillness and movement. I could see the things outside of the window,- some lights, some buildings lit up, maybe even some stars,- through my eyes, the physical eyes. There was no voice, no vision, and no angel with a message.
It was better than that.
All things were the angel.
We went down soon enough, in the pre-dusk hours, to the front parking lot. When the sun was not so high in the sky the area, paradoxically, could be seen, could be discerned somewhat better. Of course it was the same place, but the edges of things were softer, and again, against logic, rounded edges. Sean took a car and starting driving it around the lot while a light rain came to announce itself on the curbs and grasses. He was having fun, round and round like a carnival ride, – but he didn’t understand such as many people don’t understand. He didn’t know about the spaces between things, where the magic rests and births events and objects. He only saw the world as a place. Person and place, – person acting in place. Soon he was going too fast and didn’t straighten out on the straight patch in front of the lobby steps. The car crashed into a pillar.
Now all serious of course, the merry-go-round ride over, – he looked out at me. I just shrugged my shoulders. I thought it was a dumb thing he had done through and through. I was not the smartest person in the world- but I thought he was dumb also. And dangerous. What if somebody had been around? He was not wearing his seatbelt and hit his head on something or other. There was a small gash and some blood. He got out and had that shock that car accident people sometimes undergo.
A man came out of the superintendent’s apartment. Oddly enough, he was really fine with it all. He parked the car in a spot for Sean and talked to us briefly. In about five or ten minutes, the new super brought out a can of paint, a towel, brush, rag, and began to fix the cement pillar. He swept up some glass and bits of, well, car, and then painted over the block the front of the vehicle had hit. He painted over the red stains mixed with blue, – and made it white again. It was a glossy white also and the sun had come back out again. Sean had disappeared into the doorways and I spoke with the new super.
‘I knew the old super,’ I mentioned.
‘I have been here a few months.’
‘He died you know.’
‘They mentioned that and said it had something to do with drugs’
This was a nice guy, this new super. His name was Patrick, and he was about thirty years old. He must have not only been a Christian or a Catholic Christian (he had a strong Irish accent), but one of those people who are young and still devoted to their faith. I noticed that in his window there was a cross, and I felt, either psychically, intuitively, or through some small life experience, that it was not just an ornament or nice thought. I felt that the cross was there for a reason: devotion. Maybe it had to do with it being a small place.
I hadn’t liked what he had said about ‘drugs,’ but I couldn’t do anything about it. He was just being conversational and I had brought up the topic. Besides, from what I heard, it could have been true, – was probably true.
‘Thanks for painting the thing so fast…’
‘It’s easy. Hope you guys don’t get in a lot of trouble. Nice meeting you.’
And that was it. I made my way out to the street and he went back down the side of the building onto some other task or thoughts and probably both.
I took a walk. This time I went to the right. I was around some newspaper boxes and the vacant lot.
Drugs, I thought. Nobody in a way would know he had been there. Tom was like a ghost. Tom was not like a ghost; I continued on, Tom was a ghost. No kids. His father and brother died soon after, or soon before, I cannot remember which. But who would remember him? He had just gotten married a couple years before. I was sure his wife, who I had met, would remember him. I was in front of the place where we began our way on a happier day, just a couple years before, – with my father and Tom.
At that time, it had been morning and the sun rose up like it did all the time to try and make the world flaxen and washed out. The world had a lot of powerful colors and fight of its own so this was sometimes a bit of a struggle. The hues of red and blue, of green and orange and others- at bus stops, on metal railings, all round- sometimes won. And sometimes the sun won. That morning the sun won, like a blinding angel. There were no clouds and definitely no rain but Tom and my father wanted to go to the shooting range.
It was a work day for Tom, but could he escape for a couple hours? We were standing there and waiting for his response. He looked at the clear ocean down the way, – the picaresque perfect situated trees and grasses just before them. We stood around white stucco walls brimming with spirit and soundless sound of the hymn of the sub-tropics. That’s when Tom said the best thing.
‘It looks like rain.’
And we all laughed and got in the car and drove away. That day was a regular enough day, – Tom was always around. He was tough looking, and kind. He had the deep layered and textured native tan from working years every day in the sun, – cutting the lawns, tending to outside landscapes. He always took time for us. Sometimes we would go fishing or swimming, and always there was something going on. I didn’t know it then, but there were in a way no other people or groups, – I suppose we were the main group of that area.
In the vacant lot that was next door we would see many manner of birds. They would alight on the branches of the smaller and feral trees that grew down from the palms. Those trees calmly let flying creatures of the earth rest. Many conversations took place there,- us speaking, the birds conversing with one another, the waves lapping and calling like sirens for someone to come and see the sea. It was a mixture of manufactured infrastructure and the natural world. As mentioned, the buildings were still small, – there were pathways and the sand and palm and other lived well still beside the white and sometimes colored stucco structures.
One had not overtaken the other.
At the night, we were true to our word. We went back and found the girl. She came out and brought her friend. No place is without trouble, but there was nothing much to be alarmed about or cautious of ‘round there. We all roamed the streets and made our way over the pier and its shore. Gone home were the old men with the cotton shirts and fishing lures. Closed were the eateries and small shops just to the back of us. I don’t think the other girl, named Ruth, liked Sean very much. We were in this situation a few times, – and people seemed to tolerate him rather than exude any genuine warmth that comes with actual acceptance.
The ocean at night was stronger, louder, because a higher tide was making its way in. The company was good, for the girl was mysterious without knowing it- with a type of Amerindian eyes, high zygomatics, and a far off stare. She explained about her life, – did not like things too much, but liked her own way. In actuality, she was bit quiet, – so when she spoke it meant something. It must have taken her some guts to call us back that day by the hedges and walkway like she had.
The wind was coming in, but it was warm. There was an electrical current in the air, energy. It had to do with the catamarans that sat and slept through the night,- left out behind interesting one-story restaurants with soft yellow night lights that shone on the sands. It was also in the way the water splashed against the pillars of the pier or the sand itself. In the inland, if you glanced, there were shapes of buildings,- and small and large pot lights shone up here and there on walls, on the trunks and some leaves of palm trees. A car or a world or something to do was not bad, -but you didn’t need it. All you needed to do was to be there.
We must have walked miles and miles.
Once there conversation subsided and I looked out the water. After ten or twenty feet and the intuition and outline of some white-tops coming up like sea-summits and then going down to make room for new ones,- there was a only the vast dark. I continued to look at it and not away from it, – and it said that it was no particular person or thing, but part of a source of all things. Everything came out of it and went back into it. It had many secrets but they only came out in time, by its own rhythm. The vastness was itself timeless and infinite, and that is why it could not be hurried on the one hand or stopped on the other. Okay, I thought, – that is something, isn’t it? We are like bits of sand and part of some holy void both.
I looked ahead, between the world and the sea. The right hand held the hand of the girl and the left hand looked empty but was holding the hand of the sea. We would walk and rest around there the entire hours of the night. In the morning, on the catamarans,-the sun would come up from the horizon line. It was a time for the void to recede. The morning star, a round flame, rightfully proud and competent, came up wards over the water. There was moment in time when it was up, full, an angel, so powerful and bright as to harm your small self and you could not look upon it any longer.
Brian Michael Barbeito is a resident of Ontario, Canada. He is a writer and landscape photographer. Recent work appears at The Suisin Valley Review. His blog, a nature walking photo-essay archive, can be found at:
*Featured photo also courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*