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DREAMSCAPES FICTION

Jeffrey Beyl
The Ostrich In The Fog

The boy stood at the base of the tower and looked out into the fog. He knew the view out there must be great. He knew there was a bridge in the distance. He knew it was red. He knew there was an island out there somewhere though he couldn’t remember the name of it. He seemed to remember that it was once a prison but he wasn’t sure. He looked out into the fog. The fog was thick and wet and there was no way he was going to see the island or the bridge today. No way.
There were several coin operated telescopes along the perimeter of the walkway. He wished he had a quarter so he could look through one. He would ask his parents when they returned from looking at the wall paintings on the tower. But the fog hung heavy and even if he did have a quarter he wouldn’t be able to see anything. He looked upward to where the white of Coit Tower blended into the white veil of the fog. It was hard to tell where it disappeared into the mist. It just coalesced away.

This is what death must be like, the boy thought, and the thought made him uneasy. He squinted his eyes trying to see through the fog but that didn’t work either. He had come a long way to see this view and now, his big chance, it was shrouded in mist. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat and tried to see past the edge of the railing.

He could hear the deep, bass sound of the foghorn moaning through the thickness. But suddenly he heard a clicking sound off to his right. He cocked his head to the side and peered through the mist. He could also hear a soft shuffling and as he tried to focus his eyes in the imbalance of the whiteness an old woman emerged from the fog like out of a bad dream. She was bent and hunched over a knobby cane. She wore a long, brown coat which dragged on the ground and the boy could see that its hem was ragged and wet. As the old woman neared him the boy could see that she had a round face with a bit of a moustache. She reminded him of the cowardly lion.
"Excuse me," said the boy. "Do you have a quarter? I can pay it back in a minute when my Mom and Dad get back."
"A quarter? What do you want a quarter for?" The woman’s voice was scratchy and sharp.
"For the telescope."
"For the telescope? What’re ya lookin’ for boy? You’ll not see much in this fog."
"I know," said the boy. "I just thought I’d try."
"Try? What for?"
"I just wanted to see the view," said the boy. "I’ve never seen it before, except in pictures. But my brother said it was nice. He said I’d like it. He said that when Mom and Dad brought me I should come here and see it."
"So, you’re brother has seen the view, eh?"
"Mmm Hmm."
"And where is your brother now?"
The boy looked at the old woman. She leaned heavily with both hands on her cane. Her cane looked like a tree branch. "He died," said the boy, "in the war."
The old woman raised her right arm and swung it in a sweeping arc. Well," she said. "What do you think? Do you like what you see?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders. He could feel the collar of his coat cold and damp against his ears. "All I see is fog," he said.
"Fog, yes, and do you like the fog?"
"I don’t know," said the boy.
"I do," said the old woman. "I like the fog."
"Why?" asked the boy. "It just hangs there and hides everything."
"Yes. That’s exactly why."

The boy looked at the old woman. He tilted his head, questioning, to the side. The woman was leaning with both hands on her cane again. Her back was rounded. If she had a long, white beard, the boy thought, she would look like a wizard from a movie.
"How old are you boy?"
"Eleven"
"I’m eighty-seven," said the woman. "That’s a lot older’n you. I’ve seen The Golden Gate a lot, I have. Now, I don’t want to see it no more."
The boy looked out into the fog. He tried to pierce through it with his eyes but he couldn’t. Maybe Superman could. Maybe his brother could. But he couldn’t. He could only see fog. The fog draped murky and dense and he could see the tiny water droplets misting through the air.
"But, but there’s a lot to see," he urged.
"What?" asked the old woman.
"There’s, I don’t know, there’s a lot. The bridge and Al…Al…and ships. My brother said there was ships. He said it was nice. He said I had to see it."
The old woman let out a snort. The boy thought she sounded like a horse. She shook her head. "To your brother maybe it was nice. But to me," she tapped her chest with her paw, "to me it’s ugly, very ugly."
"But." The boy tilted his head again like a puppy does when hearing a strange sound.
"That’s why I like the fog," said the old woman. "Because it hides what I think is ugly."
The boy patted the telescope. "Just think, though," he said. "Just think what we could see if we had a quarter and the fog wasn’t there."
"You’d see the Golden Gate, nothin’ more."
"Yes!"
"Have you ever seen the fjords of Norway?"
"The what?"
"Or the Swiss Alps?"
"Well, no, but."
"Or the Mediterranean Sea? Or Niagara Falls?"
"No, but."
"Have you ever seen England’s countryside? How about Hawaii? Have you ever seen a lion, or a moose? Have you ever seen an ostrich?"
"No."
"Where’re ya from boy?
"Yakima," said the boy.
"Yakima," whispered the old woman. "I’d like to see Yakima."
"Yakima’s ugly," said the boy.
"To you. To me the Golden Gate is ugly."
"I’m confused," said the boy.
"Forget the Golden Gate, boy. Go see Norway or France. Go see New Zealand. Go see a koala."
They boy looked at the old woman. She was looking out into the fog. "Have you seen all those places?" he asked.
"No, I haven’t," said the woman. "But my husband has."
"Where’s your husband?" asked the boy.
"He died," she answered. "In the war."
She looked at the boy. "But I’ve seen The Golden Gate. I’ve seen The Golden Gate for eighty-seven years and it’s ugly. Its ugly, boy, and I don’t want to see it no more. That’s why I like the fog. Because it hides what I think is ugly."

The old woman raised her arms, her cane hanging loose in her left hand. She swung her body from side to side. "The fog is what I like, boy. To me, yes, to me it’s comforting. Goodbye boy."
She turned and moved off and the boy watched her fade into the mist. He could hear the sound of her cane clicking on the pavement and the shuffling sound of her feet. A second later all that was left was the fog. He turned toward where he knew the bay must be. The bridge must be out there and Al, Al, he’ll have to ask his Dad what that island was called. There must be ships, too, like his brother had said in his letter. The boy wanted to see the ships. The fog shrouded everything.
The boy looked at the telescope. "If I had a quarter and if this fog wasn’t here," he said aloud. "Just think what I could see. Just think!"

© Jeffrey Beyl 2003

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