Short Story: Across a Table

‘But why are you screaming?!!

Stop screaming, we are right here!’

A look of bewilderment appeared in his eyes. He let it stay there so that this terrible exasperation might crouch behind its shoulders and remain hidden.

‘I’m not screaming,’ he replied in confusion, holding his palms upwards towards the sky. But his companions flinched and covered their ears.

‘I’m merely trying to make myself heard.’

He glanced around him, and gestured towards the waves stretching out far below.

‘After all, there is a vast distance between us; an ocean in fact.’

His companions stared, their brows descending with frustration. He tried again;

‘Can’t you see it? It is a terrible distance – much too vast to leap over – so of course I have to raise my voice.’

But they were hardly listening. While he had spoken their faces had contorted into horrible, sickened expressions. Their fingers were clawing desperately at their ears. Hostility, as they shot him looks of resentment; what in the world was he trying to do?  

Dismayed that they had not understood him, he tried again to explain:

But I am doing this for you!’ he pleaded. And he did his very best to smile.

Directly below him, the waves roared menacingly and smashed against the cliffs’ side. The water climbed up the rocks towards him, reaching out its icy fingers. He felt them claw at him as the spray drenched his face and ran down his cheeks like tears, the salt burning tracks into his skin. The water was thick. It fogged up his vision and burnt his eyes.

Through it he could see that the faces of his companions remained dry. Dry, but disfigured still; marred by the expressions of bewilderment and hostility that he knew he had created there.

Desperate now, more alarmed than he had been before, he sought one last time to explain himself:

‘I am trying this time, I am playing your game. Still I know, I am struggling to succeed, but I am making an effort at least.’ And here he wiped his face hastily with his sleeve, to rid it of that embarrassing salt water. A kind of apology, for he sensed that his efforts were a violation of some sacred convention – something perhaps, that he had not understood.

‘See, I am making an effort at least. Surely you cannot hold my failure against me, knowing how hard I have been trying. The water is salty, clouds are approaching, and I can barely see you across this absurd ravine!’

He searched their faces for a response, but still they covered their ears, and even their faces with their hands. Only their strange, twisted expressions stared back.

Soon even these became difficult to make out, and their faces started to blur at the edges. Apparently a fog or some other kind of capricious ocean mist was building up between them, creating a wall. He squinted, but could not see through the mist.

Waving a hand frantically he made one last effort to catch their eyes. Their shrinking faces were becoming indistinguishable from the surroundings, and he did not want to remember only their angered expressions. He waved, and then jumped suddenly, foolishly, up into the air, trying desperately to reach them. He was losing them forever across this mad ravine.

They did not see him. They merely continued exchanging confused glances amongst themselves, searching for an explanation in their own faces instead of examining the waves that were raging so wildly below them against the cliffs’ edge. His shoulders fell and he stopped waving, but he stared across the ravine, trying not to lose their figures in the mist.

All the way across the ravine – across that violent spray that had now soaked so thoroughly into his cheeks that even a year in the sun would not dry it out, that had worked its way so painfully into his eyes that he scratched at them but could not free them – in the midst of that terrible violence one of them raised a cup of coffee to his mouth and slowly took a sip.

It seemed so out of place in this wilderness.

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