Lazy Luddite Log

28.1.11

Three Shoreside Tales - Story II

One challenge with writing in a realistic setting is that I cannot help but draw on personal experience and what I produce looks so much more like life... my life even... than if I was writing science fiction or fantasy. And then I worry - what if the characters I describe seem too much like friends of mine? What if someone reading it thinks "hey is that me?" Well all I can say is that the characters depicted here are original even if they draw on aspects of many I have known over time and across different groups. They were seen from a distance in the first story and now here they are seen more closely...

Tilda considered the arguments her friends were feeding her. They had gotten her to admit that she had no moral qualms about skinny dipping and she was wondering if citing a vague personal preference was a satisfactory recourse for her now.

“So what if I just have a vague personal preference to keep clothes on in a public setting?”

Tilda was a bit self-conscious to even be having this discussion in the Cranberry Cove Bakery Café. She only hoped the ambient volume in the café was sufficient to keep their conversation private. The chances of this were small given the strident intonations of Mellow Cello.

Melanie had a nickname – Mellow Cello – because she was the cellist of their group Stringy Things and because she cultivated a relaxed and nonchalant attitude to almost everything.

“But this beach is practically private at night – nobody comes along and even if they do they cannot see you in the dark. Besides – did I mention fun?”

Tilda had to admit that she had been having fun during their holiday at Cranberry Cove Foreshore Reserve, living in a tent and pretty much forgetting the life pressures of an Information Technology student in her Honours year. Tilda also had to admit that she secretly wished to emulate the mindset of the vivacious ginger-curled geologist. Nonetheless Tilda decided to debate the matter some more.

“I suppose it's just force of habit, but I think I'd feel way too self-conscious and most likely just abandon you a few minutes in.”

It was now that Nesrin waded back into the discussion. In other ways Tilda wished to be more like her fellow violinist. Nesrin had overcome adversity that Tilda could barely imagine, coming as she did from a family of refugees from Afghanistan. Now she tutored in International Relations. Besides, she had such a graceful and calm disposition. If Nesrin was fine with something then you wanted to be fine with it too.

“I understand the power of what you call habit and what I will call culture and tradition. But in some contexts we can overcome those. In some cases we exercise our fundamental human freedoms only by overcoming the conformity within us.”

Tilda could feel her resistance melting under the combined warmth of the fun-mongering Mellow Cello and the philosophising Nesrin. Still the fact that they were combining to change her mind frustrated her. She was the youngest and newest member of the gang and sometimes they acted like they knew it. Finally she decided to turn to the viola player of Stringy Things, Jake, who had so far been silently sipping his caramel milkshake.

“Do you want to harangue me too Jake?”

“Nope. I think we should all do what we want to do. If you three wanted to have a gender segregated swim for instance then I can go star gazing. Or we can all wear as much as we want. Or whatever…”

Tilda considered the star gazing suggestion but decided that if she was fine skinny dipping at all then she would be okay if Jake was present. For a start she had never noticed any indication of attraction between them, and for her he simply lacked whatever elusive quality made someone attractive. She knew Mellow Cello considered him ‘dishy’ – she and Jake were exes who got along but “drove one another crazy” if they spent too much time alone together. Nesrin had also admitted to finding him cute but she had a strict policy of never dating ‘colleagues’ and membership of a string quartet made them all that.

Tilda pondered the group and its interactions. Both Mel and Nes liking Jake… Jake seeming too absorbed these days in work in welfare advocacy to notice or care (they also suspected he was getting into an office romance)… Then there was Tilda herself, both wishing she was like a blend of Mel and Nes and

And what?

There it was – the thing in her mind she had been quashing for months now. Jake lacked “that elusive quality” but both Mellow Cello and Nesrin had it in the perceptions of Tilda. And this was truly what was making her argue – she desired to be closer to them and was thus also scared of perceiving them as objects of lust rather than as friends. This was something they could never discuss in a café. This was something she might never discuss at all. Just then her musing was interrupted.

A customer from another table was walking past and had suddenly stopped to say something to her. A older woman with some shells held in her hand was looking right at her and uttered these words:

“Life is short and blue, honey, like your hair, so make the most of it, whatever you decide to do.”

The eccentric then walked out of the café, and Stringy Things all exchanged glances, wondering what had just happened, and why.

* * * * *

Once they were in the waters of Cranberry Cove, gently illuminated by the moonlight, Tilda found she had concerns other that that of secret attractions. It was cold. Somehow she had let the others tell her it would be balmy even if that was patently nonsense – even in the day the water had been tepid despite the Summer sunshine. Her extremities were getting colder by the minute.

Another concern she had forgotten was that of marine wildlife. In the daytime it somehow never concerned her but at night the lack of visibility suddenly made her feel so much more vulnerable to… things… creepy swimming toothy things.

With all this nagging at her, Tilda stayed within a meter of each friend (within and also at a distance of a meter for the sake of respecting personal space). The momentary frisson she had experienced on seeing and being seen sans bathers had quickly evaporated. The sense left behind was surprisingly ordinary. They were human and had always been this way – clever animals that belonged to the world and to one another and who could optionally abandon the inventions with which they surrounded themselves.

Tilda experimented once with a splashing rise from the surface of the water, imitating Mel and Nes. Jake simply waded, staring out to sea and humming a tune. The simplicity of it all made Tilda feel giddy for a moment. Or was that the cold?

A time-span free of time-keeping passed and then Tilda declared that she needed a warm shower and sleep. “But you are having fun!” opined Mellow Cello. “Yes I am but it’s fucking cold!” snapped Tilda. “Okay, if you go then we all go” concluded Nesrin. Jake then chipped in with his only comment of the swim – “shall we run back in and give the kid hiding by our clobber the scare of his life?”

Tilda had gone from timidly refusing to swim naked to scaring a total stranger while in that same tender condition. She wondered at how quickly she had changed her standards. Did it worry her or was this just how one was supposed to live life? Tilda decided that human interactions necessitated rapid decision-making and she may as well get the practice in the company of her friends. It was silly to feel scared of those who cared for her as long as she never forgot to think and to assert her own opinion. Taking that warm shower felt like one of the best things she had ever done.

The third and final story of this set will be blogged here soon and will draw on an incidental character from this story. Of all three it will depart the most from my own personal experience and observations...

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