Jeff McNeil
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The Spiral, the Coconut, and the Cyclops

“One day we’ll sit here and four days will pass while we eat our lunch.”

“No it won’t.”

“Things are speeding up.”

“No they’re not.”

“It’s a fact. We’re all creeping toward the center of the Milky Way.”

“So?”

“So?! So here’s what so – we’re living inside an ever tightening spiral! But I guess that doesn’t bother you, Mr. Big-Shot-Retired-Man-With-Blazer-And-Hat.”

“Look, don’t you like it here? The sand, the solitude, the luscious tropical foliage?”

Danny looked over at the palms and orchids and tall grasses that ran up the side of the hill on the left-hand side of the cove.

“Yeah, it’s all right I guess,” He watched the waves, the clouds, the sand, and then noticed a man sitting at water’s edge.

“How long has that guy been sitting there?”

“Don’t know,” Harrison said.

“That guy in the striped shirt sitting by the boat.”

“I said I don’t know. He was there when we sat down.”

“I didn’t notice him.”

Harrison leaned his head back and closed his eyes and said, “I think your father would like it here.”

“Dad likes the cold.”

“He likes solitude.”

“No, he likes the cold. Solitude isn’t that hard to find. If it’s solitude he was after, why did we never go anywhere for vacation but Greenland and Alaska and Norway? There are plenty of places at the equator that are lonely. The cold has some sort of spiritual element for him I can’t quite figure out.”

“It does not. You make him sound crazy or something. It’s just less expensive to go somewhere secluded and cold than it is to go somewhere secluded and warm. Trust me I know. These tickets weren’t cheap. I could have gotten us to Winnipeg for half the price.”

“Did I tell you about the time Dad burned a snowman?” Harrison grunted, the warm sun relaxing him nearly to the point of sleep.

“We had ridden horses for two days, trying to make it to the western shore of Hudson Bay, and so we were all a little tired. It was in late July. You know it’s still really cold there even in late July? It is. There was still snow even, and though we were exhausted we managed to make a snowman, and then Dad found a bunch of brush and piled it around the snowman and then lit it, dancing around in a circle with that big black hat and a torch while the sun set and the snowman melted.”

“Was that the hat I gave him the Christmas after the cruise?”

“Yeah, but he took the band and the feather off.”

“Wonder why?” Harrison said sleepily, adjusting his hips slightly in his beach chair.

“Don’t remember,” Danny said, turning his attention again to the man in the striped shirt. “That guy looks like an American. Doesn’t he?”

Danny looked over at the sleeping Harrison, mouth open, hands sliding off the arm rest. Danny slipped on his red plastic flip-flops and walked over to the man in the striped shirt. Striped-shirt man sat in the sand, staring at the waves rolling toward the beach, hand resting on a coconut.

“Hello.”

No response. Danny walked behind striped-shirt man, making his way around to his right side, looking out at the water as he did.

“My name’s Danny.”

Striped-shirt man looked up at him without speaking.

“Are you American?”

Striped-shirt man looked back out toward the water and said, “Arkansas.”

“Mmmmm. What are you doing with that coconut?”

“Well right now I’m touching it.”

“Well, I mean do you eat them?”

“You can eat them, but I have no plans to eat this particular one anytime soon.” Striped-shirt man shaded his eyes with his right hand and scanned the horizon.

“Oh, I see. So you’re just resting your hand on it.”

“I like the texture.”

“It looks kind of stringy and rough.”

“Yeah.”

Just then a little canoe pulled around a bluff. A single man rowed furiously toward shore.

“Say,” Danny said, “look at that guy. What’s up with him?”

Striped-shirt man got up, grabbed the coconut, and walked toward the water line. Danny followed him, a step or two behind.

“I wonder how many people drown out there doing what that guy’s doing?”

Striped-shirt man didn’t answer. The two men stood quietly for several minutes, watching the lone rower struggle closer.

“Can I touch the coconut?” Danny asked.

“Go get your own,” Striped-shirt man snapped.

The little boat got closer and Danny could see the rower more clearly. “Hey, that guy’s smoking a cigar.”

“That’s right.”

“Huh.”

When the canoe was close enough, Striped-shirt man walked out and helped pull the canoe onto the sand.

“Poroni,” the rower said, “that little cove is everything you said it would be.”

“I’m glad, Mr. Beaumont.”

“I don’t know how you’ve managed to keep that place a secret. I wish you’d take a look at that cooler. Chock full of the best looking Grouper I’ve seen in all my days. I don’t think I could have kept the fish from biting if I’d wanted. Say,” Beaumont said, pointing his cigar at Danny. “Who's your friend?”

“I’m Danny.” Danny waved.

“Glad to meet you, Danny. Fisherman?”

“Tourist.”

“I see. Well, fix your gaze on this little guy, Danny, and you’ll have a story or two to tell back home.” Poroni was squatting near the canoe, pulling the hair-like fibers off the outside of the coconut and stacking them on the sand. After a small bunch had been harvested, Poroni took a fishing hook from a brown leather pouch in his pocket and wove the strands around the shiny metal.

“Notice the way Poroni weaves that stuff in and out, in and out, until the very shape of the hook is lost beneath what looks like the image of the Buddha. Incredible, I tell you. And the fish love it. Can’t get enough of it as a matter of fact. How do you do it, Poroni? I watch you as carefully as I can but I just don’t get it. There’s a step I’m missing, I guess.”

Poroni stood up and displayed the lure – a near perfect image of the Buddha with only the slightest hint of razor sharp metal protruding from the head.

“I perform my labor in strict adherence to the eight steps of the Middle Path.”

“The Middle Path. You don’t say. Well, I’ll be. You ever heard of such a thing Danny?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“I’ve been fishing here for three days and boy oh boy have I reeled in some whoppers. All thanks to Poroni here – and the Buddha of course. Say, how long you been doing this type of thing Poroni?”

“I am a monk in training, Mr. Beaumont, and because of that I am forbidden to consider time.”

“Wow! Actually forbidden. You don’t say.”

“Oh, I do say. Time is eternal, Mr. Beaumont, that’s what I’m learning up at the Temple. Along with the fact that everything is intertwined with everything else and that you have to consider yourself a part of everything else, including time, so that everything is you and you are everything and we’re all eternal.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean, Poroni. So what I hear you saying is ‘what’s the hurry’, right?”

“Something like that, Mr. Beaumont.”

“Well, keep it up, Poroni. I’m sure you’ll make monk yet.”

“You know,” Danny piped up, “we’re all getting sucked into a black hole at the center of the galaxy. You guys ever talk about that up at the Temple, Poroni?

“I’ll have to check the syllabus,” Poroni said, throwing the coconut into the canoe and dragging it further onto the beach.

“If you do I’d like to sit in on a session or two. And since we’re talking about time I’d like to add that there’s not much left. I can’t get my grandfather to understand that. I told him about the spiral, but he just fell asleep.”

“What spiral?” Beaumont asked.

“The one that’s tightening ever so slowly, drawing us into its center, at which lies one of the universe’s greatest mysteries.”

“Poroni! You get what this guy’s saying? I can’t make head or tail of it.”

“No, sir, Mr. Beaumont. He wanted to touch my coconut earlier.”

“It’s all true, I tell you! The coconut has nothing to do with it.”

“Say, you’re not down here trying to exploit the locals are you?”

Mr. Beaumont pointed his cigar at Danny. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Throwing around a lot of doomsday mumbo-jumbo?”

“Mumbo-jumbo!?”

“Putting together a little flock of believers to take back to wherever it is you people go? Oregon probably. And you get these people to work your land and pay dues and memorize sacred texts and you hide them from the world so they don’t know any better and then one day everybody ends up with a name containing a lot of Ks and Xs and wearing white robes and lo and behold you got yourself a tax-free commune full of people committing free love and gardening around a big compost heap.”

Danny grabbed his head from exasperation and stomped around in the shallow water.

“It’s just sitting there waiting for us, like a giant mouth! A hungry giant mouth!”

“Are you sure about all this sucking-up business?” Beaumont stood in ankle deep water, pants rolled up, hands on hips and the cigar sticking out of his mouth.

“Where’d you hear this?”

“I read the papers.”

“Well so do I.”

“Well,” Poroni said. “You know if your spiral theory is true there’s not much we can do about it.”

Poroni turned the canoe over and crawled into its shade.

Beaumont pointed to Poroni with his cigar.

“Poroni’s right, you know. That’s the kind of stuff the monks teach you up at the Temple. Taking things in stride. They don’t worry about the spiral up there. Oh sure, they might contemplate it, but they never worry about it. The spiral is us, right Poroni?”

“Yessir, Mr. Beaumont.”

“Why don’t you tell Danny here about that project you got going up there? That thing you guys are building, that thing with the one big eye in the center. I forget the name. What’s it called again Poroni?”

“You mean the Cyclops, Mr. Beaumont.”

“Of course. Cyclops.”

Mr. Beaumont turned toward Danny while pointing his cigar at Poroni. “They’re building a giant Cyclops up at the Temple. I don’t know what for. I’ll have to check it out though. Sounds pretty interesting. Those guys at the Temple are amazing.”

“You know,” Danny continued, “pretty soon none of us will know our ages. You know why? Because everything’s speeding up! The sun will rise and set at an alarming rate. Did you hear me? Alarming! Winter will last three days. All the seasons will only last three days. At the beginning of spring you’ll be able to say, ‘On the tenth day there will be winter again’. And you’ll be right! And daylight savings time? You can forget about it. No more of that stuff. It’s over!”

Beaumont began laughing. He looked over at Poroni and they began laughing together. After a few moments Beaumont composed himself.

“They should call you Spiral Man, you know it? They should give you your own show and call it The Spiral Man Show.”

Poroni placed his hands behind his head, reclined in the shade of the boat and laughed as he said, “Yeah, that’s right, Mr. Beaumont. The Spiral Man Show.”

“Maybe a comic book, too. The dot over the ‘i’ could be a spiral, and the final ‘n’ could look like it’s getting sucked into the little trademark sign.”

“Okay. I get it. Never mind.” Danny walked off and rejoined his grandfather, kicking off his sandals as he plopped himself into the chair.

Harrison woke up, stretched his arms and yawned.

“So,” Harrison said, rubbing his belly. “How long did I sleep?”

“I don’t know. I think your head’s sunburned.”

“Hey, who’s that guy with the cigar?”

“Just some guy.”

“He wasn’t there before.”

“I know.”

Harrison stood and surveyed the beach, looking out over the water with his hands on his copious hips. “Looks like the tide’s going out. Water’s getting low.”

“Yeah.”

Danny watched as Mr. Beaumont and Poroni laughed and slapped each other on the back, having a good time.

“A lot like my life right now.”

Harrison turned to Danny and said, “Well I didn’t say it was empty.” He turned back to the water, laughing at his joke.

“If the water were like your life we could see all the crap that’s been collecting on the bottom all these years.” He laughed again, placing his hand on his belly as it jiggled.

“Probably smell it, too.” He laughed even harder.

Danny turned and saw Beaumont walking up toward the road.

Beaumont cupped his hand against his mouth and shouted at Danny. “Hey, Spiral Man! See you in the funny papers!”

“Yes,” Danny said a little too quietly for Mr. Beaumont to hear.

“I get it.”

 

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