International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Light Fiction
The Effect of Blue Light on the Human Endocrine System
and alone, I luxuriated in the sun. Unaccustomed to the heat, I
"... hear the gunshots last night?" brought me back to
"Firing? Just before dawn?" was accompanied by the hiss
of a drinks can being cracked open.
A shortish man
in his mid-twenties was lying close by. The lower half of his body was
so heavily muscled it seemed to belong to someone else. He didn't look
like an early morning beer drinker. He offered me a Red Stripe.
When I said no he did what people usually do and explained away the
drink in his hand. "I'm celebrating."
"I came here at the last minute to take the place of someone who
couldn't make it. There's a group of us, arranged by a girl I knew in
high school in Maine. She's a masseuse. You'll meet her when she gets
"Went to a place in town for jerk chicken. Never again."
"Too many aggressive hustlers and prostitutes and dope dealers.
It felt dangerous then. Now it sounds dangerous ... with the gunfire."
He stuck out his hand. "I'm Bo."
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Dawn."
"'Pleased to meet you'? You sound British. Where are you from?"
"Bath. Know it?
He didn't. He was a ski bum, lived in a log cabin high in the Colorado
Rockies and skied all winter. Skied high.
So here he was, a snowbird, come south for a couple of weeks to get
his head together, to 'kick back'.
"How about you?" he asked.
He's been so typically open, typically American I'd better reciprocate.
"I'm celebrating too."
He raised both eyebrows.
Time will lessen the trauma of a divorce I didn't want. "Being
newly single," I said. Life will be simpler now, I hoped.
"After how long?"
"Decades - or maybe it just seems that long. Since we were undergraduates."
I only agreed to the divorce because he had begged me.
"Oh man." He laughed. "And I'm celebrating being newly
Instead of feeling good about my sacrifice, I felt worthless.
"I'd always had a thing for Cheryl but she always said we were
just friends," Bo continued. "She didn't want anything to
spoil that relationship. Said we should hang loose. Can you believe
"I believe it."
"There was still nothing cooking between us until we had gotten
back last night. Here by the pool. Where you're lying. I couldn't believe
what was happening when..."
Music blared out. Roberta Flack. Bo glanced across at the previously
deserted pool bar. "Here's Cheryl."
As she came across she was firing up a long, hand-rolled cigarette which
soon enveloped us in its distinctive incense.
She looked tired, slightly unhealthy. After the introductions she banged
on about her holistic therapies. She was excited by some science, new
to her, that rationalized some of her stuff. The therapeutic value of
sunlight, the influence of the blue part of its spectrum on the pituitary
gland, stimulation of serotonin and other endorphins. I studied her
do-it-yourself tattoos. She inhaled deeply. "Feeling good."
She asked why I'd come all the way to Jamaica. I said for the sun. She
gave Bo a grin and added to her thesis: blue light increased your libido.
Cheryl instructed Bo to turn over onto his stomach. He took a quick
glug of beer and obeyed. She straddled his thighs and began rubbing
aroma therapy stuff into his tanned back. It was too much for me.
I ran and dived into the pool, swam five token laps, then floated to
allow the harsh sun to irradiate my face and penetrate my eyelids. I
was buoyed in a blood-red world. As safe as in an amnion, nurtured,
Sensing a change but insulated from knowing what it was, I opened my
eyes. And there, on the edge of the pool: an apparition. My attention
was grabbed by its human face, unframed, because the hair was slicked
back. I'd never seen anything like it. Perfection. Unlined, uniformly
pale, a Grecian mask expressing something between tragedy and comedy.
Unequivocally symmetrical. The real world dropped away and I began to
Trying to suppress my choking and coughing, I floundered to the pool
steps and got out. I had to confirm that the apotheosis was true, not
a figment of my jet-lagged dreamworld. Taking my time toweling down,
I was able to make a full appreciation. Now under a palm, he was on
a sunlounger and pristine white towel so his body outline was barely
differentiated. His small white speedos made him appear naked. I couldn't
stop looking. Not just at his perfectly contoured body, but at that
unique face, its sleekness and immaculate repose made it seem part of
an unpainted classical statue that would remain unaltered by time or
the weather, flawless through the millennia.
The freeze-frame was quickened by a slight movement of his head. An
annoying insect? Or had he sensed my gaze? I lay back down on my sunlounger
and put on my shades and pretended to offer myself to sleep and the
rays. In fact I was just trying to calm myself. My stomach was awash
with adrenalin, giving a false sense of hunger. I was in awe.
How to approach him? I couldn't do chat-up lines - after so many years
of marriage I was out of practice. I feared looking and sounding like
a self-conscious teenager. I knew men liked a sense of humour, but I
didn't do jokes. I was bad at remembering them and worried they were
stale by the time they got to me.
How was I going to meet and melt this heavenly creature? He was lying
there still, perfectly still. Would any of my own short story plots
answer the question? Or was the answer to be found in the shelves and
shelves of novels I'd read? There were too many to think about. I had
to simplify or classify. Someone had once said there are only two stories.
Someone goes on a journey; a stranger comes to town. But both applied
to me and the scatter of other holidaymakers round the pool.
Okay. How about the guy who said there are only seven plots: searching
for the Holy Grail; going on a journey - again - and returning; tragedy
- male meets female I wonder what his name is? - falls in love
and dies for her - banal and overdone, Romeo and Juliet and a poor ending
for me - and it's the plot of King Kong - bad protagonist to be identified
with; comedy and
A shadow fell over my face and there he was. Hovering. Looking down
at me from the blue infinity of the sky, a true angel.
"I've brought him over to join the party." Bo said. "He
Why couldn't I have done that?
"I'm Nick," he said, with a tinge of cockney.
Our eyes met and stayed in a relaxed stare. Time stopped. I tried to
be polite and look away but failed. I didn't have the energy. I had
an overpowering desire to understand what it was about his eyes that
fascinated. It was as if we were twin stars exerting a gravitational
force on one another impossible to escape.
One element of his perfection was the distance between his eyes, exaggerated
by the narrowness of his nose. A distance needed because the eyes were
unusually large, captivating. Another element revealed itself. The whites
of his eyes were more than white, having no trace of capillaries. Then
I fully understood. His pupils had shrunk to pinpricks in the harsh
tropical light, and the intense blue of his fully expanded irises had
leached out. His eyes were so blue it seemed the very sky was visible
through two tunnels in his head.
Still his face was mask-like, unwavering. I could feel my own face become
exhausted. I had lost all control of my expression, lost all muscular
tension. I now realized that his nose was so shaped that it hid the
blood vessels of his nostrils, hiding that normal source of colour in
Then there was a slight movement. The lips had parted slightly as though
he was about to speak, but no words came. The tip of his tongue protruded
to lick his lips but then jumped back into its refuge on meeting the
zinc ointment that masked any colour.
To save Nick any embarrassment, I dropped my gaze from his face but
only got as far as his long neck. Again flawless with no hint of a crease.
I sensed danger and stopped my eyes from continuing my inspection down
towards the valley between his pecs and then down to his abs and
We were joined by several of Cheryl's friends. They cracked open more
beers and fired up six-skin spliffs. Nick was abstinent but enjoying
the fun. I felt cut off from everyone except Nick as we had our Englishness
in common. The group became boring. The slightest thing became hilarious.
Bo looked twitchy and drifted off somewhere. I sought refuge in the
When I came out after fifty laps, everything was different. The same
jumble of sunloungers, empty cans, ashtrays and personal stereos but
it was quiet. The tape in the pool bar had run its course. Everyone
was sleeping. Except for Nick.
He was sitting up, rubbing sunblock onto his skin, seemingly unaware
of what it was doing to me. He welcomed me back: "So, it's just
us." This simple sentence instantly expanded into great significance.
I was now propelled into a new and unfamiliar world. And all because
of one word: 'us'. I smiled in acknowledgement and at the irony that
he was totally unaware of what had happened. He had missed the fact
that the future had suddenly split. At the fork, I had chosen to live
in the new universe of him and I bound together. The other universe
where there was no 'us' was redundant. Before, we had both spent our
lives unaware of one another's existence. Now we were a unit, an item.
I forced the conversation along. "What factor sunblock do you use?"
"The highest. I worry about the effect of ultraviolet light."
Say something interesting, for God's sake. "Did you hear the gunshots
"The waiter said they were celebrating what would have been Bob
That's a relief. I had been worrying that the taxi wars in Kingston
had spread up to Negril Beach. I didn't want to be an accidental part
of a body count. "How long are you here for?"
"Two weeks. And you?" I sensed a possible sadness in him -
he still hadn't smiled.
"Like it?" He lifted a leg to rub on more sunblock. His thigh
and calf muscles flaunted their definition.
Like what? This dream? This paradise? I forgot to reply.
"What do you do?" he continued.
Again, I couldn't look away from him. A trickle of sweat was running
towards his swimming costume and I needed to know whether it would reach
its destination or evaporate first.
"Me?" For God's sake, who else. "A writer and ..."
"Really?" When he did smile it was controlled. His lips remained
together. "What do you write?"
"Fiction. Short stories mostly."
Be modesty personified. "Some."
"Make much money?"
"Some. But after ten years I'm still waiting to be discovered and
become an overnight success."
This brought another closed smile. "What do you do?"
"Same ... I also do some bar work."
"What do you write?" Of all the places in the world, he comes
here. And now we share a vocation.
"Just poetry. Maybe I'm really a barman who does some writing."
Funny. Funny ha ha and funny strange. Strange that I too have my other
job: psychotherapy. And also a coincidence: that I worked in a bar while
I was doing my training.
Ive never sent my stuff out."
"Isn't the point of writing to communicate with people?"
"I communicate with myself. Anyway, it's old-fashioned stuff. Rhymes,
rhythms and things. Structure."
"I admire that. To make tennis a satisfying game you have to have
a net and lines. To test the players' skills."
"It brings together unexpected words, phrases, ideas."
He knows what he's talking about. "It's a weapon in the war against
cliché- to use a cliché ... I'd love to read some of your
stuff. I promise not to make any unsolicited comments on it. Maybe I
could show it to some of my friends in the business? Have you brought
any poems?" Reading your poetry is the most important thing in
"May have done. I'll show you mine if you show me yours. Have you
brought any stories?"
He was not in the restaurant that evening. I waited and waited. When
I got back to my room, I found an envelope had been slipped under my
door. After skimming through the poem, I determined I would never tell
what was in it. The words were his. His alone. To repeat them verbatim
would be stealing. And if I tried to put the poem into my own words
would be like translating 'I love pork' to 'I fuck pigs.' How can I
be so crude in Paradise? Maybe it's the thought of what Bo and Cheryl
did here last night. Nick had said words were to communicate with himself
and I respected that. All I can say is that it was a sonnet and brilliant.
On a close reading, it was better than Shakespeare. Not just because
it had tremendous clarity, accessibility and contemporaneity, but because
it had a deeper understanding of what it is like to be human. It showed
our increased self-awareness since the Enlightenment. It contained useful
bits of Freud and Jung. It mentioned our relation to the cosmos since
the theory of the Big Bang. But all that was merely background.
In the foreground was immense love, passion, sex, lust. How could I
have missed that depth of understanding in him when we had spent much
of the sweltering day together? Was I so incapable of seeing myself
through his eyes? He wasn't some pathetic juvenile blinded by love.
He was an artist. Delete that. He was an Artist. Artist . He saw me
through his heightened sense of awareness. All this in fourteen lines.
Lines that must have been written in the last few hours as it was on
the hotel stationery. I wondered how many drafts it had taken. I lifted
the paper sideways to the light. I saw no indentations caused by the
page above being written on. So it had issued from him fully formed.
What inspiration. No subject had ever had that effect on my writing.
What I would give for that to happen.
I read and reread the poem until I knew it by heart. Then I tried to
sleep so I could experience the whole day again in dreams with their
new uncensored possibilities. But I was restless, too aware physically,
mentally, emotionally, sexually. There was no chance of sleep until
that immense potential energy had been released ...I woke early feeling
guilty. I hadn't returned the favour by giving Nick one of my stories.
I was a parasite, consuming his work and not sharing my own being. Not
sharing. The pig's main complaint during the divorce: I didn't talk
enough. I had tried to tell him that if I did talk about important things
then I lost them. I talked them out of existence. They had to stay inside
me in order for them to become part of my writing. Just as abstinence
from sex allows a potent build-up of life-giving energy that demands
I glanced through the batch of stories I'd brought to edit and none
was good enough. I had to find something to give him. Share something
of my life. And then I was inspired, as he must have been, by what was
happening between us. I would do the same. Write about our time together,
and how important, life changing, he had made it. And how it had all
started. That face. The first time / ever I saw your face
I wrote rapidly for several hours, that classic number resonating behind
my thoughts. The result was as poor as any first draft can be. But I
was impatient for him to read it. Sounds from the kitchen substituted
for Roberta Flack and told me it was almost late enough to go to his
room. So I decided to be totally honest and allow him to see this first
draft, something I had never done before, aware of Hemingway's dictum:
'The first draft of anything is shit'. My story was me. The truth, unexpurgated.
Just as his poem had been totally revealing of his inner passion.
I put the manuscript in a hotel envelope and wrote NICK - ? ROOM 22.
As it was for him and him alone, part of our secret life together, I
carefully sealed the envelope and my fate.
I crossed by the pool and knocked on his door. After a while he opened
it. Nick was stunningly disheveled, still half asleep, seemingly vulnerable,
in need of protection. I handed him the story, and apologized for waking
him but said I was overwhelmed by his poem. I told him how much it meant
to me. How inspired he must have been to write it so quickly.
"I didn't. It's just an old poem I copied from my journal."
I smiled stupidly.
I must have walked back to my room. An abrupt change in me had taken
place. No longer the unconscious progress into the future that steadily
revealed itself. I was now stationary. In a temporal cul-de-sac. I wanted
to go back in time to some junction where many futures could happen,
branch into multiple universes of my own choice. Go anywhere except
the way I was traveling. A word - inevitability - rattled round my brain.
I had lost all freedom of choice. I was in a universe where everything
Had he actually said I didn't write the poem for you? I replayed the
scene bit by bit. Time's arrow reversed. No. Definitely not. He had
said 'It's an old poem'. I became ashamed of all my negative, self-denigrating,
destructive thoughts since fleeing from him. What would he have thought
of them? Stupid. Emotions of a shy schoolgirl.Late morning and it was
the same group round the pool. Nick was the last to arrive, refreshed
and even more enchanting. He sometimes caught me looking at him but
didn't smile or anything. But that was part of his character and gave
a sense of unrequited feeling in our dance of love to which no one else
could hear the music. Who cares about clichés? Nick was deep
in conversation with Cheryl when he saw me looking at him again. I heard
him say, "Hang on." Then he quickly got up and walked towards
the pool jerking his head for me to follow. We silently swam a couple
of lengths breaststroke together. He was deep in thought. I was just
enjoying the moment in total awareness, beginning to understand the
word satori. Unexpectedly he began to climb the steps out of the pool
and quietly said: "I didn't write it for you ... that poem."
"I know, but why -?"
"Just take a look at yourself." He smiled for the first time.
It exposed a lot of gum. And his teeth were horsy.
Then he was gone.
Take a look? I stared at the bottom of the pool. The ripples from our
swimming were refracting the light into a dancing pattern that contracted
and expanded, forming a stretch of chicken wire made of light. I'm penned
in. Trapped in rejection. Helpless.
When I finally got out of the pool I looked at him again. He had changed:
yesterday's initial blast of sensory information that had created an
unforgettable image, was now degrading - attacked by some virus. The
face that had been flawlessly white, a canvas primed to display the
sky-blue eyes, now had some colour: the tip of his nose had become red.
Later I noticed his hair was no longer slicked back with water. It was
straggly as though he had chopped at it himself without the aid of a
mirror. Its texture was unwashed, oily.
His portrait was ever changing. It was as if he had gone through another
sitting with the artist who had scraped away the still soft and malleable
oil paint of his face and thickly layered on another mood and insight
into his true nature. More impasto. As though the painter was working
to a theory that each removal of paint would leave an impression behind.
The face, the palimpsest, had lost symmetry. But in doing so had become
more attractive, human. And it had aged, engendering even more wisdom,
He sneezed. As he searched for tissues in his bag, I saw the envelope
I had given him. It was unopened.
He was staying for another twelve days. Time enough for him to get round
to reading it. Our relationship, although a little up-and-down, was
already well advanced considering the short time we had known one another.
Maybe he hadn't written it for me. But he had chosen that specific poem
to give to me. Happy again, I relaxed in the bone-warming sun.
"... come into town?" brought me back to full consciousness.
"Cheryl has just blown me ... out." It was Bo. He broke the
seal of a bottle of Bacardi. "I need to score. Wanna come?"
"Thanks, but no thanks."
"Aren't you bored? Just hanging round the pool with nothing happening?"
"I'm happy here enjoying the sunshine."
SKINNER Jan 2009
Stories in Dreamscapes
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