Prologue

Waves lapping, distant island superimposed on pastel spread, surrounded by the whitest of sand–reminding me of . . . of scorn, I suppose.

Recovering my pencil from the sand, I scratched in my economy-sized notepad:

A day pressingly beautiful, enough to inspire loneliness: Promise’s contamination, one big swallowing motion, yet unrecognizable in the mirror of human faces; Desire with no conceivable correspondent–beyond-this-world, concentric-circled . . . desire . . .

My girlfriend, Karis, who has been out for an evening swim, disentangles herself from the liquid expanse and drifts toward me, sultry in shadow.

“The water is warmer than the air,” she observes, sitting beside me and wrapping herself in a towel. “What are you writing?” she asks disinterestedly, drawing close to me.

“It’s nothing,” I replied evasively. “The stars will be here soon.”

“I’m cold,” she says with a coaxing sadness.

“You’re shivering,” I said, drawing her into my arms so I could lend her my warmth.

“Can you build us a fire while we wait for the meteor shower?” she manages to ask through chattering teeth.

“You read my mind,” I agreed, and I began to gather material on the beach.

“When I brought back some kindling and driftwood, I noticed she was sitting cross-legged reading the notepad with a small flashlight.

From only a few steps away, I observed the process of inversion, where the Dream collapses under its own recognition.

She looks up at me, her large grey eyes mirrors of the pastel sky, and whispers softly: “I don’t understand how you can be so caring and yet so unhappy . . .”

I sat down beside her. “At our meetings, we refer to it as the November mentality.”

“I’m not sure what you mean.”

How could I explain it to her?

November in White Sands means that everything’s stripped bare, and things are exactly as they seem. The water’s dark and cold, inviting in its own convincing way, while trees vividly demonstrate the argument that death’s the threshold to life. The November I know: snow that rarely lasts a fortnight, dismal sun, manufactured grey cloud, summer pond surviving scourge of autumn and cryogenically preserved.

“The November mentality . . .” I began, “is to wake up realizing that it’s the very same sky effusing hues of hope and promise that’s capable of turning bland, ominous and indifferent for weeks on end . . .”

“That doesn’t mean anything to me,” Karis admitted. “I’m not on the same wavelength as you and your friends.”

“Another way to put it is that you awaken as though from a deep sleep with the ability to recognize the persevering neutrality of life and understand that you’ve reached a stage where there’s no turning back,” I explained.

I could have elaborated more, but I didn’t.

The November I know: childhood penetrated by divorce, social division, war and oppression, money-hungriness, unjust distribution of talents and opportunities, ambiguous moral code, growing lack of purpose.

”Shannon, I don’t want to think about such things, let alone dwell on them. It’s pointless. There’s nothing we can do to change the world.”

”I don’t have a choice. My consolation is that there is beauty in contradiction.”

”Build the fire,” Karis instructs me, looking at me sadly. “I think we need to talk . . .”

The pond of my memory enshrines the day November first captured my imagination: the penetrative moment, the smooth surface of ice shimmering steel on the outskirts of a local farmer’s field where the tips of brown corn stocks could be seen reaching skyward through the snow, pleadingly perhaps, in supplication to the hand of all creation. The day of discovery, I recall, even smelled of November, cold and dead.

I carefully navigated the bank of the pond with my friends, each of us wary of getting a soaker that would invite the wrath of our mothers, and peered into the opaque window of ice . . . only to discover . . . bone-chilling disappointment . . . apart from the wind’s icy squeeze prickling hairs on the back of our scarveless necks. Charsmith, our fearless leader, unhesitatingly smashed the ice with a branch he found, no doubt disgusted (children find nothing savory in tranquillity). And it was then, upon impact, that we saw the shadows bleed beneath the icy cover.

Our leader, reflexes of a jungle cat, dipped his hand into the frigid water before any of us could react. The suspense held me captivated. We were all captivated, intently holding our breath while the inverted, misty drama unfolded, where anxious fingers stretched like suction-cupped tentacles to extricate one of the bolting shadows from the shadow of cold mud in which it had disappeared.

In morbid fascination, we were witness to a hand’s upper thrust from obscurity to stark, impending reality, lethargically successful in the cold air, with the prize in its clutches: a numb, protesting frog.

He croaked for freedom. But we kept him and caught more.

When Karis told me by the fireside that night that our lives were going in different directions, I was reminded of the November I know : Dream by its very nature opposes contradiction . . .

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