Joshua Sabatini was born in Hartford, Connecticut. In October 2002, he moved to San Francisco, California. He earns rent money as a journalist. His publications include “Eternity,” a short story published in Artist Studios literary magazine; “Skeleton’s Progress,” a short story in a collection of modern fairy tales titled A Fitting End; “Boneyard,” short fiction published in the December 2019 issue of Delay; and “HTC,” a short story published in the September 2020 issue of Wild Roof Journal.
As they neared the guest house, the silence was lifted by music.
“Is that what I think it is?” Mercy asked.
Percy thought it was. When they stepped up onto the porch and walked around to the back of the house, he saw Tom singing to Mercy’s father and Julia and Florence. It was a pleasant scene. Percy was glad Tom and Florence had arrived. And while it was a poor showing so unlike the after-hour parties they were famous for, Percy thought they may never be like they were before. In fact, Percy wondered if they simply wouldn’t die out based upon the experience of the summer crowd seen that night. They were only for the neediest and the ready, those not looking for something else than what there was to look for.
Mercy sat next to Julia on the love seat, and Percy sat on the wooden rocking chair in between Mercy’ father, sunk into a cushioned wicker chair, and Florence, seated with impeccable posture on an iron wrought chair with a soft cushion and rubber interlaced backing. Tom continued the song he was in the middle of, despite their arrival, made easier by their respectful movements. Percy looked around, capturing the faces in time like a camera shutter, imprinted them on his mind as if upon film, beginning with Mercy’s father and ending with Julia.
He was happy to see Julia out in the night on the porch, the breeze from the harbor waters and over the marshy tall green slender grasses bathing her; he liked her working, yes, but he always worried how much she worked, and he knew if she didn’t experience these moments, a peace, she’d not be able to last for very long; he didn’t interfere or dictate what she should do with her time; he was as terrified about doing that as he was about herself working herself to an early death. He couldn’t meddle. He knew he shouldn’t meddle. He just knew in these moments, after she was working so very hard, she was receiving a medicinal treatment, restoring herself.
Mercy’s father’s face was funny; he was another work horse, only unlike Julia he was old and near death. That was no secret; he would have died years ago when he first came across him, but his bay instruction gave him a few more years and good years at that. It was rather extraordinary, how he improved and what he was up to; Percy wasn’t so sure it mattered one way or another in the grand scheme of things had he died years ago or if he was in his state now and what he was writing if it would make a lick of difference to anyone for anything, but he was there, with that silly face of his, enjoying the music like it was some sacrament, like the voice of God was in there somewhere, and his face was all animated like you’d find in a cartoon, cartoonish, and Percy had to laugh over it to himself so as to not disturb the music, it was like a caricature, like a comedic drunk, full of all the redeeming qualities of a hapless figure, tripping their way through life, persecuted like Christ at every turn for no good reason.
Julia looked pale in the night, but that was nothing unusual; she was ghostlike and when she went painting in the summer sun, she always covered her flesh in high SPF sunscreen and wore a wide brimmed hat; she had what was known as a magic circle around her. Only Percy was allowed in; he abused the privilege, felt like he did, but entering it and talking on and on to her about one thing or another while she was painting, he’d often seek forgiveness for disturbing her and she’d always say he wasn’t and that she didn’t mind and in fact liked it, but he never could know for sure if he was hampering her works, as he couldn’t know so many things for sure. He needed to talk to her, he needed her company, he supposed. Wasn’t that why he did it? Her company was a lot better than say being alone; he was always so alone; always had been so alone, so alone until he entered the presence of Julia and Mercy, nearly simultaneously one fine summer day when there was Julia painting the bay with him in it and there was Mercy walking along the beach on the other side of the sand dunes separating the bay from the Atlantic Ocean. A peculiar instance, a strange alignment, no doubt. There was a shift in his entire life, nothing was ever the same after, including his place of residency; he abandoned the rundown shack near the beach, rented for nothing but an exchange for caretaker responsibilities of the property, for the guest house. He wasn’t exactly thrilled to say farewell to his former existence. He didn’t know for certain if it was the best thing for him to do. He literally scratched his head over whether he wasn’t succumbing to some worldly temptation. After all, in the new role, he was dealing with the world more than he was before; he was interacting with people more than before; he was overseeing Julia and kind of managing her art career, sort of. The only sign he had that it was the best choice was the fact that he had a choice to make; he decided firmly that was it was a door opened to him and since it had, he was to go through it, otherwise it wouldn’t have opened. It was as if once it opened, he had already begun to change anyway; as if it was the universe’s spinning stars writing for him his new role; it was too late to do anything about it; his fate had become inextricably linked to the other fates and the play must go on.
Florence appeared serene and self-assured; she must not have any worries in the world, she must not have any uncertainties. Everything about her was triumphant. He could understand why Meredith, Mercy’s younger sister, was friends with her. While Meredith was mercurial and fluid, Florence was fixed and stable like the pillar of a temple; she was like the spirit flowing in and around the womb of the sacred structure and Florence was the structure. He hoped he hadn’t wronged them, by influencing Meredith to stay away from the island and act; he resisted offering any advice to anyone, but in this regard he for some reason inexplicably was quite forward. He figured it was on account of witnessing her acting in the Shakespeare play that one fine summer day, unexpectedly; they had only planned to go to the play in the woods as audience members, but they were short an actor and Meredith filled in and blew everyone away; there was a standing ovation for her. He was wowed by so much talent and how unassuming she was; instead of acting that summer she was a barista, nothing wrong with that, but she could have been acting all summer long; he didn’t know why she wasn’t and encouraged her every chance she got to focus exclusively on it and to stop remaining on the island where, sure, she showed him she could act, but where she’d not find her true way to maximize her potential when she was young and when the time was ripe. It would be harder when she was older, when there were conscious decisions about choices in a vein of how it could be the last choice ever made; but at Meredith’s age there was nothing to it. It felt like there was an eternity to do whatever and if acting didn’t work out or even if it did, she could evolve into something else with no problems. And a part of him felt like the island would ruin her. He never told anyone this secret. Not exactly anyway. Because it would be an indictment on the island, himself and Mercy and everyone else who was on the island; in one sense his attitude about it didn’t make sense; Meredith brought out in him this strange contradiction, but since it rose in him as very genuine, he had to go with it and hope for the best, so he did. But seeing Florence all by herself in her chair with perfect posture, he thought he’d like to see Meredith with her and them having a fine summer night together. But Meredith may arrive any day this summer and it would happen. She may. She was having tremendous success that it only reaffirmed his advice, unless the success was bad for her. But anybody could hyper-analyze everything until there was nothing conclusive about anything and one would be stuck not acting at all. At some point, the stake must be jammed into the Mother Earth, the stand be made. Tom’s song was something or other. Percy didn’t listen to it. Honestly, he didn’t think Tom was much of a musician. He didn’t have the heart to tell him so to his face. But he was entertaining the house guests and that was something. Mercy’s father seemed to enjoy it. But in in his state he’d enjoy anything, even cats wailing in the depths of darkness.
“Are you hungry Tom? How about you Florence? Dad? Julia? Percy? I made vegetarian lasagna earlier and there’s plenty of leftovers.”
“That sounds delicious. I am starved. I haven’t eaten all day, I don’t think,” Tom said.
“The artist’s diet. I had plenty of those days when I was your age,” the father said.
Percy wondered if that was true. But he didn’t care to interrogate him in front of Tom. He made a note of it to ask him about it later. It was OK if he wished to carve for himself that sort of reputation to outsiders, but he wouldn’t let him put up a guise on him. In fact, Percy had assumed it was his lack of struggle that put him in his difficult position of being mediocre to fair, and only after being reborn was he able to actually write better, the process getting to that point being nothing but suffering. Death was no joke. Nor the sickness to bring one to death’s door.
Percy opened up the box on the table, and began to smoke the pipe full of marijuana. Peter’s box. How Peter, Julia’s older brother who died in a car wreck seasons ago, loved to hold court out there smoking and passing it around. Percy never could replicate the behavior. He was much too shy and found most everyone disgusting. It took a certain kind. But if it wasn’t for Peter, he wouldn’t have made it back into the presence of Julia and Mercy the way he had and maybe not at all. He brought together all kinds by serving as the epicenter of the strange summer nights for the strangest and the not so strangest; they all came for the afterhours parties and that was all. He thought of Peter from the mirror as he inhaled on the marijuana, and he felt his presence and wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have seen him sitting in the seat Mercy left emptied to go and serve up potions of her fine lasagna. He thought Mercy could easily open up a café and serve her dishes and she’d make a great success for herself that way. But that wasn’t having a baby. Jesus. Mercy asked about having a baby. Good God.
“Here you go, Flo,” Percy said, handing the pipe to her.
She smiled the way she would without disguise and Percy appreciated it, the way of the guest house parties preserved its force. The guest house was unforgiving of dissemblance, and should any arrive the fires soon seared it right off, and before long everybody was naked. The marijuana was an island harvest and each year it was becoming improved in potency along with effect. Percy was pleased with how he took to it. He hoped it was that way for everybody, but in many ways, it was how they were on the insides determining the experience. It would be nice for everybody to have a swell time, but sometimes they’d have to go through the pangs of hell before getting there, no small reward anyway. Good for them. And better while there was still the chance to do something about it. He had to wonder what everybody was doing wasting all their time, so limited as it were, and failing to put it to the proper use of preparing for the fires of the gross annihilation. Better there be underneath something worth preserving, the gold no fire could destroy, but won’t be there without any effort put into it, don’t you know? Percy could see the flames of the night licking their exteriors, and he smiled with delight over their strange nature. He was fond of their touch and feel, gentle caressing behind which was deadly force; he could only present a self-sacrificial attitude to them, after all, there was nothing he could do about it in the moment then what he was in the moment and any resistance would only increase the punishment should it come down upon him. But he wasn’t destroyed by the flames of the night; he had become familiar with them and their nature; he wasn’t as unsure about them as he was at the start, and grew to understand their nature, at least it seemed that way and he was yet to come across any surprises; they seemed to operate according to the vital laws of the ordered universe. These laws were reassuring since they leant the wildness of existence a logical sequence upon which he could rest his fate and not worry about what would befall him in the long run. Somewhere in the topsy-turvy nature of a seemingly fickle world, there was the constancy of these laws, the same laws behind the presence of these flames, and these were portrayed elegantly in ancient works like the Book of Job.
Flo began to giggle in the night. Percy knew she was being tickled by the flames. He looked at her knowingly and her eyes glistened in the night with the light form within her more than the muted porch lights, which reflected a rosy hue on her suntanned bared arms and legs. Tom had gone inside; his hunger had gotten the best of him: once the aroma of the lasagna wafted through the door he was drawn to its magnetism. Mercy’s father was puffing on the pipe like an old timer, his mind caught up in philosophizing. Percy wondered how his mind functioned compared to say a decade two or three ago or even compared to when he was a child. He always wondered how much the change was for other people since he always felt no matter what was going on around him, he was pretty much stuck with the same mind and the same thoughts as he had since a small child. Everything remained simple and largely unknown with a firm belief in matters like the strong substance underlying all shapes and things. There wasn’t very much more to it, other than the navigation from point to point and the various productions accomplished through labors. But everything remained the same. His mind, his thoughts, his spirit and his soul. He thought there was only one important matter to cling on to and that was the truth of things, and whenever he thought himself slipping alarm bells would sound so loud that he’d save himself from any abrupt pitfall yawning to drag him down with the rest of the lost souls of the Last Judgement horrors. Unless, of course, his abandoning his oceanside shack for his porch chair was a pitfall. He’d consult his inner priest and he never exactly got a conclusive answer, but it felt more right than wrong at the time. There was no way to judge through comparisons, but how many times did anybody he came across or pass by consult their inner priest for God sakes? It was a lonely person’s game. It was striking at the main ore of truth, the fires, the flames of the night, tickling dear Flo, full of humors over the madness of it all.
“Hey, Flo, how’s the sailing this summer?” Percy asked to see how she was.
“You should come out with me and see. I’m sailing by myself in the catfish. I love the winds and being out in the sea all by myself. I’m supposed to be training for the Olympic tryouts, but I’m just loving every moment I’m out there; it’s effortless. I don’t know how I’ll fair against others for the team. Will you come out tomorrow?”
“How’s the winds going to be tomorrow?”
Flo laughed into the night, her eyes full of tears like pools hanging on to the edges of her lids.
“Oh, Percy just say yes and come,” she said.
“Yes,” Percy said.
“Hurray, hurray,” Florence said, celebrating the arrangement.
Percy hadn’t been sailing in a very long time; he thought who better than with Florence, and he knew she was fast and he enjoyed the fastness across the waters, how it made him feel like a winged creature, like a spirit in flight.
“You are an excellent sailor,” Mercy’s father decided to add. “I’ve observed you race a few times out there. I don’t know how you manage to move the vessel the way you do. It’s brilliance, sheer magic.”
It was true. Percy had witnessed it as well, when they set out the buoy markers and she sails in the races, and manages to navigate and maneuver in ways that appear to make everyone else look sluggish and awkward; and it looks like she’s toying with them, clowning them, and even giving them a break as if she could easily surpass them but wanted it to appear closer than it actually was. She was a marvel on the seas and he had no doubt she’d make the Olympics if she wanted to and would bring home the cup, the gold. She was like a goddess among mere mortals, able to control the conditions and the winds however she elected to assist her and others or defeat others, in general to have a fun time with it for herself, participants and the observers of the whole affair like Mercy’s dad and Percy, who could only fill with wonder and awe and feel inspired by her, able to correlate how she was to what they were attempting and use it to their advantage, realizing there was this potential in the human spirit, opening the doors to their imaginations and inviting them to go there, showing them where it was and how spectacular it was, and not to get dragged down into the darkness of regular goings on.
“If you’re going sailing with Flo tomorrow, then I want to paint you and her on the boat,” Julia said.
“Yes! You must Julia. How exciting. I’ve always wanted to be painted by you. How exciting, Percy. I feel so much better,” Florence said. “Just tell me how and what to do, Julia. I’m in your hands.”
“Let’s not sleep or we can take naps but let’s go out at dawn. I like how it is at dawn, the colors and the lighting across the water. I’ll set up at the point of Lighthouse Beach and you can come back and forth and I’ll figure out the way.”
“If you want, I could bring you out on the little motorboat and anchor it in the middle,” Mercy’s father said.
“But won’t you be too tired?”
“Nonsense. I’m as awake as a teenager. Besides, once we anchor, I could snooze a little,” he said.
“Then it’s settled. Mercy’s dad will take Julia out on the motorboat and Percy will join me for a sunrise sail and everything will be so grand.”
“I haven’t painted Percy since the first time I saw him floating in the bay,” Julia remarked.
Percy recalled the painting and the first time he saw it up in the turret and he thought of all the time that had gone past and everything that had transpired in between and he thought life was impossibly so strange and dream-like with these magical high points as mileposts along the way, creating a highway of a spiritual journey somehow making sense in the utter chaos-likeness of it all. He only felt real in the canvas anyway, the certainty of himself, and certainty of something. Something from out of the nothing. He thought the painting would surely find its way into the Old Sculpin Gallery, but he may wish to never see it sold, but he had to let it go like he had to let them all go, otherwise it would adversely affect Julia and that he couldn’t stand for; he practiced the discipline in his mind, letting himself free of the attachment and with his freeing he felt incredibly light and agreed with Florence how grand everything will be.
“We’ll head out first and wait for them to sail on out of the harbor. I’ll look at them the whole way and see what will work best for the big empty white space,” Julia said.
He wondered if Florence knew what she was getting herself into, what it meant to end up in a Julia canvas. He forgot if anybody ever told her, if that was why she said she always wanted to be. Even if he explained it to her, it still wouldn’t matter. There was no way to put it into words. There was but a general thing to say, that nothing would ever be the same again. Nothing ever is anyway.
Mercy returned and placed portions of her heated-up lasagna on the wooden table before them. Tom had followed her wake, jabbing his fork into the distorted rectangular of a slice of the lasagna on white china plates stored in the guest house for moments such as these, whatever shape they took. He had already the signs and effects of a man who had put on a few chunks of the masticated lasagna in his guts, the energy alive and in his molecules, making him fit for better conquests ahead. He was glad to see Tom receiving the care of the house, and the needed nutrients for a struggling artist whose future was unseeable by any practiced fortune teller. Mercy’s father picked up his plate, after setting the smoking pipe down on the table before Percy. The fork was placed next to his portion, which was a modest size due to the need for him to watch his weight in his older years since it was challenging to lose pounds the older anybody got. Percy got the biggest piece of them all; he led an active life and whatever he ate he burned more of than he put in and Mercy always worried about him and his slender build and feared he was starving himself daily and if he continued, he’d suffer irreversible side effects when he was older when she’d need him more than ever. Percy didn’t like to eat because it took him out of his meditative mood, he had made that perfectly clear to Mercy and anybody else who asked. He was not one to keep secrets about himself, although he was not one to babble openly about anything. He liked to think within, about eternity, and anything he stated he thought right away had a fleeting and therefore insincere aspect to it. Best to let silence speak of it alone, or the canvas, or a song, a good song, or the meditation of the bay, or the moment itself, or the work in progress under Mercy’s father’s hand, growing every day quite beyond himself since it was no longer him in charge, but what came through him, opened up through his own learning upon the bay floating day after day when there was nothing else to do, and the days felt long and the days felt eternal, and the elements felt forever lasting, permanent even, and time moved quite slow. He was more than happy to drift along with Percy and learn the magic of the bay without any intention, but one fine day he realized the fruits of his labor, if it can be called labor, sure why not, when the writing he had done all his life finally could be called writing. He was overjoyed to discover how wrong he had been his entire life because it meant he could finally do something that mattered and that was all he really felt like he wanted and should do and he could die in peace should he arrive at it and he did and he was even given a few more years before he got out of his own way to let it happen and it was his sweet reward, otherwise as was evident before when he was near death his death would have continued through the anguish, agony and suffering, well-deserved, O the horror. Or in the sail. Yes, Percy saw it all communicated in Flo’s sailing art.
“Go on, eat it. What, you don’t like it?” Mercy asked Percy, teasing him in hopes of pressuring him to eat.
He looked sheepishly up at Mercy, looking down upon him with those dark eyes of saintly direction, and he had to follow the directive because he knew it was a holy one. He picked up the plate and sliced a corner off with the fork and shoved it into his mouth, which awoke in ecstasy over all the flavors and the promise of nutrients his body ached for. He chewed slowly and swallowed, and he instinctively took another bite and another. He was thoughtlessly answering the call of hunger like some primal beast, and he knew it meant he was human, he was animal. Flo was eating hers too with the proper etiquette, conditioned by her family and nannies to eat slowly, carefully, modestly no matter how hungry and all with perfect posture and movements of the hands and arms and the movements of the mouth. If Percy wasn’t acting the beast, he might have noticed Flo and remarked upon these aspects of hers, which were well-keeping with all the other notations he had made about her, and one day he just might add it to the notes if ever she was eating and he was not. Julia took one bite and put her dish back onto the table. She was too thoughtful to eat anymore. She had already begun to think about dawn, and the urgency of the moment called to her from beyond the present, from out of the future, called to her as if it needed her, and she was unable to exist in the present. Nobody passed judgement upon her one bite of the lasagna portion; she was their genius and geniuses keep peculiar ways that no one dared to try to alter because it was beyond them and they feared the consequences.
“Percy must have really loved your lasagna,” Mercy’s father announced, seeing he had cleared the plate in lighting speed.
He was ravenous hungry.
“Good work, Percy. I’m glad you liked it,” she said, softening the remark by her father.
It was no way to encourage him to eat more. She was careful not to wound his nature but to treat it in a way to steer him toward what was best for himself, despite himself, which was constantly doing stuff to impair himself for reasons possibly even he couldn’t understand, but he had the model that a great deal followed to one degree or another, it’s just that to a high degree it meant something beyond which she was ready to accept and thought it was her duty to counteract because otherwise his wellbeing would be cast into jeopardy. She had consulted with her father about some of this concern, but he literally had a challenging time considering anything outside of his own work, which was a reflection of himself, and now he was a mere instrument, and he had to continually be sure he was attuned to it, and so when anybody tried to address him with matters at a particular time he couldn’t even listen and pay heed if he wished to but he never wished to because there was only one thing that mattered in his life any longer and he could say that to himself with confidence because he also could say he only had a few years left, if that, and he had dedicated himself to this in the final stretch. Anyhow, didn’t Percy have the bay and the bay was God. And if the poor young man starved himself to death, think of the state of grace he’d have in the end as he drifted and dreamed himself upon the bay into the realm of the sweet eternity, which serves as the basis for all reality and everybody’s hearts and souls, dreams and thoughts. He had many years on Percy and he was fighting to stay alive because he had squandered all his years failing to have learned what Percy had learned all on his own and that was the difference. Where does one go from where he was? There was nothing in the world for him. But he ate. How was that any sign he was starving himself?
Mercy’s father clearly had missed all that went into his daughter’s efforts to have Percy cave into his hunger and fill him up with the pack of nutrients so that he could shine once more like the glorious sun he had shone for them all in the lost days of their lives.
From the Editor:
We hope that readers receive In Parentheses as a medium through which the evolution of human thought can be appreciated, nurtured and precipitated. It will present a dynamo of artistic expression, journalism, informal analysis of our daily world, entertainment of ideas considered lofty and criticism of today’s popular culture. The featured content does not follow any specific ideology except for that of intellectual expansion of the masses.
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