Swimming With Sharks
by Patrick Meade
I remember the powerful undertow grabbing me, pulling me down and out to sea.
I remember the dark, haunting eyes fixed upon my panicking body; their large tails flicking as they tightened the circle around me. I remember asking. Will I fight? Will I swim?
As they raced towards me, the enormous sharks opened their jaws. I closed my eyes and drifted away; into another time, another space. I was sitting at a kitchen table. At the opposite end a lady was smiling in a light brown rocking chair. Flecks of grey played in her chestnut-coloured hair. On her left were two candles flickering on the sill of a large bay window. Through the glass, muted lights snaked their way down to the edge of a harbor wharf. She snuggled into a comforter bustling with embroidered sunflowers, fireflies and fairies. Hanging plants, pictures of whales and a painting of a steel blue mountain sedated in a wisp of gray surrounded her. I was being cuddled in warmth and quiet. I had seen this lady before — in a dream. They called her the Mystery Lady. From the ceiling above the pale green cupboard dangled a small wooden sign: Welcome to Peggy’s Place. Oblivious to my presence, she picked up a brass-clipped, light green pen and held it just above the point where two thin yellow lines ringed the base. As she slowly raised her head, turquoise eyes sparkled in the glowing trance of the tall hourglass lantern resting in the centre of the small oval oaken table. She then slid her gaze off towards the window. The fragrance of the cinnamon scented candles crept through the air. She slowly rocked back and forth, back and forth, as if with the sleepy tides swaying under the bright July moon. Her face softened. Peggy’s warm smile snuck across the table and hugged me.
In silence I observed. Peggy, in a soft blue cotton dress, and with small wire glasses clinging to the edge of her nose, began speaking and writing. “In order to write we need kindness. And writing is where kindness lives.” It echoed inside my fears. She paused. “Our memories are laden with so many jewels yet too many times we hoist the ones laden with lead.” She continued. “There is so much beauty, so much bliss.” Peggy hesitated. “That’s if we want it to be. And in order to find it we need hope and imagination.” She whispered to her image rocking in the window, “what else do we have but that? Glittering treasures hide within every one of us; a meadow of children playing with clouds, hovering with bees, twirling to catch snowflakes on stretched out tongues, the wondrous blizzard exploding out of a teenage kiss.”
Peggy stopped writing. She let her pen drop onto the open journal. She took a few gentle breaths and closed her eyes. A delightful chuckle played in her throat. Maybe she was wandering through the reminiscence of a teenage kiss. Her eyes opened. She picked up her pen and the next sentence flowed. “A writer is one who falls for a detour. And sees it as a gift. Many times when a rug unravels beneath my feet I have to realize that at least there is still the floor below me.” Her words wove their way into the doubt and uncertainty about my own writing.
She got up; scuffing past me in her brown woolen slippers across a worn mahogany floor and poured a cup of tea from the pot on the stove. Unobserved, I sat there while she shuffled her way back. She sat for a moment then raised her head as her long hair slid away over her left shoulder. She murmured, “When I don’t write I am the silence in a vacant house.” The evening wind had caught her ear as it climbed up the harbor hill and brushed by the window as if it wanted to hear more. Peggy continued her gaze out into the sparsely lit cove. Her thoughts probably sailing away into the shimmer of light caressing the smooth body of the sleepy lullaby bay. Once again with pen in hand Peggy spoke. “It’s, it’s like being stranded in the emptiness of the dark, desolate pack ice in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic.” Was she reading my world? Her round inviting face then colored as if infused with pink roses. Her gentle voice sang with excitement. “But in the house of writing… silence dances.”
She gathered into her reflection in the window. “What better place to be, than in the warm rooms of one’s thoughts. One’s kindness. Through writing you can enter any moment. Paint any picture. From out of a pen, a lonely bird can fly and become lost in a forest of shadows. Out of a pen, out of that forest that bird can return to deliver light to the sombre cave of one’s heart. One just has to give permission to move back the stones to let the light trickle in.” Peggy took a sip of tea. “When one’s spirit is swept away in turbulent waters; how do we swim? She inhaled. But mostly it is what we think that is in those waters that makes us falter. We create darkness out of the unknown.” And then as if Peggy was speaking to my uncertainty, uttered “I have struggled in that turbulence and I have allowed those thoughts to become monsters, sharks, the sharks of fear and doubt. Our fears like the great white sharks out in the waters of the barrier reef are not the foe, it’s our perception of such. Through the power of writing, she said, we will be able to swim with those sharks and not against them.
Peggy stopped writing and closed her book. Her shoulders eased as she took a long quiet breath. She got up from her chair. She smiled while walking past me and placed her left hand on the table. My eyes walked with her as she faded away over my shoulder and opened the outside door. I turned back to another brush of wind strumming at the window. In front of me on the table lay her green pen. I opened my eyes and decided to swim.