Jacob groaned as a beam of sunlight heated the skin on his bare back to uncomfortable levels, cooked awake despite the best efforts of his fifteen dollar blinds. As work entered his mind, Jacob’s heart raced. He bolted up and slapped at his phone. Intense fear of being late for work forced his mind into survival mode and drowsiness dissipated like a shallow puddle on a summer sidewalk.
He cringed as he looked at his phone for fear of the time and potential lateness. The time actually read nine-thirty, and luckily, today’s date in the calendar read Sunday. Jacob collapsed back in bed, exhausted by panic, feeling shaky as adrenaline’s intensity fell away.
Sleep lay out of reach now. Panic provided a dose of wakefulness akin to a strong cup of coffee. Jacob rolled out of bed and stumbled to the shower. The tar of his anti-dandruff shampoo stunk something vicious as he ran the yellow goop through his white-pocked bush of dark, bristly hair. A week earlier his boss, a man named Tim, described Jacob’s dandruff as unprofessional.
Feeling fresh and clean, Jacob opened the pantry in his kitchen, searching for something to eat. The drawers contained single-serve microwave rice, two boxes of plain cheerios, a bag of teriyaki jerky and a half-empty costco carton of chocolate chip granola bars. Jacob selected the jerky.
Slumped on the couch, Jacob stared numbly at his wall as he methodically chewed gelatinous slivers of teriyaki beef. Sunday meant no work, but exactly zero ways of spending his time off came to mind. Jacob wished he knew the point of it all. He worked to pay his rent and feed his stomach but for what?
As Jacob sat on his couch, chewing jerky and staring numbly around his small bachelor apartment, the contents of tomorrow’s work day crept into the forefront of his mind. Would Tim yell at him again? What about those reports? Tim required them on his desk first thing Tuesday morning. Would Monday be enough time to finish everything? George, the office loudmouth, seemed to have it out for Jacob lately; would the trend continue? What should he have for lunch? What should he wear?
Jacob’s hand went into the bag of jerky and came out empty. His throat felt dry like a crusty desert so he rose, turned on the sink, stuck his head under the tap, and began lapping from the stream like a dog. No, he would not think about work today. Today belonged to him and his passions, mysteries though they remained.
After donning a snap-back to protect him from the sun, Jacob travelled out into the warm summer day.
People went to the park on Sunday. They walked their dogs, and if the pooch got lucky, might even throw a few games of fetch. Rare brave souls on blankets picnicked on pretzel nibs and cheddar sauce; maybe drinking a beer in a cozy if they really embraced the recreational spirit.
Jacob felt unsure how to enjoy the park so he just stood at the center, his sneakers leaving imprints in the grass. Some folks professed an enjoyment for people watching but Jacob always worried those he watched might think him awkward and take the attention of his gaze for something more sinister. The last thing Jacob wanted was to be fingered as the neighbourhood pedophile or peeping tom.
The sun overhead rose to it’s fully-cocked, blistering glory and beat down on Jacob’s neck. He stood prone for an hour or so, but despite the parks reputation as a place of peace, Jacob felt overwhelmed by the kinetic possibilities of the work week. Escaping work proved impossible.
Jacob sighed and walked back to the street, passing the folks on towels again. A ground bound couple passed a marijuana cigarette back and forth, which was okay for other folks, but not for a working stiff like himself.
The blanket’s tropical tree print reminded Jacob of another place renowned for it’s pleasure and distraction-inducing properties. The beach.
After going home to fill a basket with lotion, sandals, a towel and sunglasses, Jacob drove himself to the beach. He carried his basket out onto the sand and towards the tide, walking sheepishly through happy families, wild teenagers and frolicking dogs.
The sun’s heat proved even worse than the park and the glassy surface of the waves only magnified the glare. Jacob slid the arms of his large-framed shades over his ears, and found a quiet spot a few miles down the beach, away from the boisterous gathering of generic Americans.
He meticulously laid out his blanket and crouched, slapping away some sand. Finally, he sprawled out on his back, arms and legs akimbo like a particularly lethargic starfish. Several hours went by and Jacob sought escape from his thoughts of work, failing miserably. Would there be a two-hour meeting on Monday? He’d never make up that lost time. Completing Tim’s report in a timely manner might prove difficult.
A strange sound interrupted his buzzing thoughts; a combination slap and splash. Straining with the effort, Jacob sat up and gazed out at the tide. He witnessed something simultaneously bizarre and intriguing only ten feet away.
A woman bent ninety-degrees at the waist held her head in the water, allowing waves to wash over her long, unkempt hair. Feeling alarmed, Jacob stood and walked cautiously towards the tide.
“Hello,” he said. “Are you alright?”
No response, so Jacob went closer, heart beating. He couldn’t help but admire the fertile roundness of her hips as he circled around to check on her head. She wavered at the waist like a willow with her entire skull submerged in the waves. Jacob tentatively reached out and set his hand on her shoulder.
As soon as he made contact, she stood straight and whipped her head back, sending a spray of water arcing behind her. Grains of ancient orange sand coated her face in a makeshift mask, even lining the surface of her eyelids.
“Oh my god,” Jacob said. “Do you need help?”
The woman slowly opened her eyes, as if emerging from a dream. Then she opened her mouth to speak and instead of words, a pile of wet, dark sand poured from her mouth like paste wrung from the end of a tube. Wet clumps fell from her mouth and plopped onto the beach between them.
Lost for words, Jacob stared at the creature in front of him, astonished by her actions. A small part of his mind noted her pale auburn hair, emerald green eyes, and pale cream sundress, but the larger part of him reeled at her shocking behaviour. All sense of society seemed lost upon this creature like a gleeful cat tearing the head off of a rodent.
The woman opened her mouth, and again no words emerged, only a bubbling, throaty sound akin to dry gurgling in her throat. The dark of her pupils threatened to drown her irises in a total eclipse. The smile on her face unnerved him most; polished teeth shining in the sun as her expression boardered on nirvana.
She turned from Jacob and began wading out into the water. The hem of her dress flowed around her on the water’s surface as she went deeper and deeper into the ocean. In a minute, she’d walked fifty metres out, the water around her middle, and in five minutes, the water came up to her chin.
“Where are you going? Are you crazy?” Jacob called.
The woman’s head disappeared under the water. Jacob waited for her to emerge. Standing on the edge of the beach, water lapping over his sandalled feet, Jacob waited for twenty more minutes but she never returned.
Jacob looked down, unsure how to feel about the woman’s apparent suicide when her facial expression filled his mind. The look of pure joy like spiritual release meets sexual satisfaction.
Her feet left two divets in the sand at the tide line. Slipping off his sandals, Jacob slid his feet into the footprints she left behind. The wet crud bubbled and squelched beneath his weight, spreading to enclose his toes. Occupying her markers, Jacob bent at the waist, almost exactly ninety-degrees, and dunked his head under the water.
The world changed. No seagulls squawking and wailing for food, no children crying, no vocal appreciation of ice cream and cold soda. Just a droning wall; ambient waves swallowing everything besides the ocean. Cold water stung his cheeks and salt tore at his eyes, but Jacob held his eyelids open to witness the swirling prism of liquid, beams of alpine white meeting navy blue.
When he ran out of breath, Jacob pulled his head free from the void. The sunlight cooked his salt-battered eyes, and the sound of the world overwhelmed him with it’s stark, uncompromising insistence on cacophony.
After catching his breath, Jacob submerged his head once more, fervently and deeper, closer to the sand below. His mouth hung open as time stilled beneath the waves, and he dug his lower jaw into the sand, ushering grains of marine earth into his gullet. Before long, the sand packed his mouth cavity to bursting and Jacob savoured the taste of shells, seaweed and salinity. Jacob continued this pattern, forcing his eyes to remain open under the waves as light faded beneath the surface, and the water’s prism split a darker shade.
After innumerable enactments of the ritual, Jacob emerged from the water and noticed the sky adopting a violet hue stretching across the horizon.
Jacob made his way back across the sand towards his car. The sun’s departure meant the afternoon crowd already scattered and fled. The bars of sand reminded Jacob of a graveyard, every lump a grave, as shadows darkened the final resting place for infinitely fractured skeletons.
After sliding into the front seat of his car, Jacob slumped forward and wrapped his teeth around the top of the poly-plastic wheel. Work tomorrow. His teeth tightened and tore the wheel’s material. He sat there nearly half the night, jaw clamped on the wheel, before putting his keys in the ignition and driving home.
A knock sounded at Jacob’s door within five minutes of settling at his desk.
“Come in,” he said.
Tim strolled in wearing his gun-metal grey power suit, slurping from a cup of coffee.
“You were late this morning. Everything alright?” Tim said.
“Yeah,” Jacob said.
“Why were you late?”
“I slept in,” Jacob said.
Tim chuckled like Jacob made a great joke.
“If I let myself sleep in, I’d never come to the office at all,” Tim said. “Make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“Yeah,” Jacob said. He stared at his computer screen, ignoring Tim altogether.
“Meeting in fifteen,” Tim said before ducking out.
Jacob’s computer screen displayed a glorious picture of the sun. The pixels and LCD technology failed to capture the experience of sunlight but the reproduction proved better than zilch.
Twenty minutes later, someone knocked impatiently at Jacob’s door drawing his attention.
Jenny stuck her head in.
“You’re late for the meeting,” she said. “Tim’s not happy.”
Jacob stood like a shoot of grass rising from cracks in cement. He wound his way out of his office and went haphazardly into the board room.
An empty seat at the edge of the enormous conference table called Jacob so he sat.
“Glad you could join us Jacob,” Tim said. “If you’re not careful, I might start thinking you’ve got an attitude problem.”
“Okay,” Jacob said.
The two men jousted with eye contact for almost thirty seconds before Tim broke away uncomfortably.
“Anyway, projections show…” Tim said.
The boss’ voice faded to an indistinct buzz as Jacob stared out the window. Fluorescent rays lit the tops of cancerous high-rises and skyscrapers, transcending the concrete jungle in an awesome display of blue sky and golden light.
“Jacob?” Tim said. The boss’ voice gained steam. “Look at me. What are you…”
Jacob stood instinctively and wobbled towards the floor-to-ceiling windows of the boardroom, facing the light. He pushed his entire body up against the glass and opened his mouth. A guttural gurgle bubbled from his lips as his tongue extended from his mouth and swept across the smooth glass.
Tim shouted in the background but Jacob registered the haranguing on the same decibel of importance as a beeping toaster. Jacob longed to taste the sun, so he might consume that all-nurturing energy, absorbing the nutrients into his blood, his skin and his hair. Unfettered beams burst through his pores banishing any darkness within.
“Should I call the window cleaners and cancel?” Jenny asked.
This story was inspired by Aphex Twin’s classic song Windowlicker.