A fork in the road

Ernest felt the heat of the sun. His eyes were closed, yet his vision was filled with hues of red, the warmth of sun penetrating his wrinkled lids and lashes.

The wind blew at the sweat on his brow and whispered the smell that he knew was summer. It was as noon as a day could be; the apex of the sun’s journey,  void of all shadows and giving no hint of time. It was the moment that the day’s heat, and the sweat, and the endless blue horizon seemed eternal.

Ernest opened his eyes. The glare of the sidewalk bothered him for a moment as did the smell of fresh asphalt. He felt his skin itch on the back of his neck where it had been burned red. His arms were sore from carrying the worn tackle box and fishing pole. More than anything else his head was persistent to remind him of a constant pressure. A pain that only faded after drinking summer beers chilled in a box next to freshly caught fish.

He wondered if he could have stayed longer on the water; waited until the sun faded below the edge of the world. Then maybe this pressure he felt would diminish. Have the weight of the ocean drained out from his head through the canals of his ears. The thought made him smile. Cigarettes now seemed appealing, though Ernest declined to take the crumpled carton out of his pocket; the smoke would make the walk home hotter.

He had used the same path home long enough to claim it as his own. From the water’s edge, a clear path led through the sand dunes, their backs covered in long reeds and grasses. Over the countless days, Ernest would pass by the same spot where some shorebird had once made a nest. The eggs were pale and speckled with spots. The hatchling skin wrinkled like his hands. Now passing by it was empty.  The path leads out onto the coastline road. Cars could not park anywhere along it and travel only one way. Ernest liked to walk along the road in the direction of the coming traffic in natural defiance, the cars lazily veering over the center line to avoid the leaning pole and tackle box.

Now he stood at the end of that road. Here it split in two, both directions leading towards places Ernest was both familiar with and held little interest in. So he would usually cross in the middle and continue down the alley on the other side. But the intersection had been repaved to his surprise in the amount of time that he was out at sea. In front of him, a sign of glaring orange warned him, “Do Not Enter”.

Ernest looked at the sign feeling the pressure rise in his head. It reminded him of the feeling of a broken fishing line or dark clouds. Situations that challenged the freedom that beckoned him back to the open water of the sea. Here was another; it left him to decide which path to take at this fork in the road made real only by a sign for obedience.

So Ernest fashioned his own sign, smiling gleefully as he closed his tackle box once more and heading home the usual way. A sign made permanent as the sun cooled in the fading light of the west. A worn and used fork embedded deep into the soft asphalt, pointing towards a path that led down past the sand dunes and into the dark green water below.

 


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