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Short Fiction: "The Pier"
Originally, when I wrote this piece, it was for a very specific contest. My writing teacher at the time decided it would be fun for all of us to attempt a submission of our own. However, it was a high profile contest so none of us even got an honorable mention. In an effort to spare our fragile writer egos, my teacher decided to take the stories and use them for an in-class contest, judged by an impartial alumnus.
If I’m not mistaken, the winners were announced on one of the last days of class and each time he announced one; third through first place, my heart beat faster. When I didn’t win third or second place, I was certain that I had failed to get noticed at all, but by some stroke of luck, the judge had picked my submission as the winner. The prize was a book the teacher had purchased the week before, but it was the feeling of success that made it worth it. It’s a shame that I can’t use it as a publishing credit when I am submitting to agents, but it will always be something I remember fondly as a high note in my early writing career.
The story in question is actually pretty dark. The stipulations of the writing contest, other than word length, was that it had to begin with the sentence “I’m not sure I knew I was setting out on an important journey.” And end with the sentence; “And it was then that I understood I had finally come home.” Pretty generic and/or cliché when you think about it, so I tried to be very liberal with my interpretation. It’s semi-autobiographical for where I was in my life at the time, though several things have been understandably altered. I am happy to say, however, that upon re-reading it now, I’m in a much better spot in my life. I hope you enjoy it!
This was the book I won for taking first place in the class contest.
I’m not sure I knew I was setting out on an important journey, but then again, few of us can see such things coming. I had set out for a walk, just to clear my head, just to get some air, but I found myself drawn to the beaches. It was summer time; the air was warm, leaving each breeze a pleasant brush against my skin.
The day was late and I had assured my family that I would be home before dinner. My mom was making BLT’s because my second oldest brother was home visiting. He had brought his fiancé and their new dog, a King Charles Cocker Spaniel. The dog, named ‘Lizzy’ was a handful and frequently followed me around the house hoping I would drop some arbitrary scrap of food or scratch her behind her ears.
The noise had become too much, especially from my nephew, the son of my oldest brother, who screamed every time the dog tried to jump on him. My oldest brother lived at home with us, and I looked forward to the time when I could finish college and be away from them all. Resolving for a compromise, I took this walk.
The smell of dead fish reached my nostrils as I approached the beach. Every year, at the beginning of summer, thousands of dead fish called ‘Alewives’ would wash up on the shore. Some areas were carpeted with the tiny silvery corpses, while others simply reeked of death.
I slipped off my shoes and started walking parallel to the water, its rhythmic sloshing providing a nice background noise, something to drown out the thoughts that still gored into my brain.
Farther down the beach, a young couple walked hand in hand. I could vaguely make out their conversation, something about “John’s house last night”. It didn’t sound very interesting. Young people rarely have anything worth while to talk about. Conversations end up being nothing more than awkward strings of embarrassing memories and mundane daily happenings.
I thought of my own girlfriend then. I couldn’t even call her that. We were both introverts, the kind of kids who, in school, would sit at the back of the classroom to avoid notice. I don’t know how I had managed it, but I had told her one day that I cared for her. I never got the response from her that I wanted or expected.
I skirted around a patch of dead fish and continued my journey. The pier was in sight now, a long metal bar on the horizon, punctuated with the tiny red lighthouse at the end. I had seen it so many times in my life, yet I’d never bothered to walk its length.
It was nice that my brother was visiting. My parents always loved it when he visited. He was the golden child of our family. Son number one was the rebel, making my mom and dad ashamed, and son number two was the one to be proud of. He had been on the high school basketball team, gotten engaged, finished college and gotten a career. He could do anything. I’m son number three.
The sun was setting fast, the bright orange ball nothing but a slit behind the clouds. The weatherman said it might rain tonight. I knew because my dad always changed the television to the weather channel when he thought we weren’t looking.
The pier was closer now. I could make out the metal ridges along the concrete walkway. I wondered, then, if the lighthouse actually worked or if this was another one of those historical sights my town was so famous for, yet I had never bothered to see.
My nephew’s shrill cry still echoed in my head. He looked up to me, though I didn’t know why. Maybe because I had all the toys and video games left over from when I was a kid. I’m the fun uncle despite how poorly I treat him. I just feel uncomfortable when he wants to sit next to me in the car, or when he insists that I’m cool. No one looks up to me; no one can look up to me.
The smell of rotting sea life wasn’t as strong as I moved onto the pier. The solid ground was a welcome change from the sand, but it was cold against my bare feet. I set out down the walkway, suddenly reminded of a Green Day song about walking a lonely road down a boulevard.
My homework was unfinished back home. The semester was drawing to a close and I had more papers due than I cared to think about. Most days I didn’t have time to think about it. Most days I didn’t have time to eat. Eating was a waste of time anyway.
The wind was stronger out on the pier. I could see the large waves rolling by below me, rushing to the shore where they could battle the sand. I remembered hearing stories about ‘pier jumpers’; headstrong teenagers who would jump off the end of the pier for fun. Several of them were killed by the riptide each year.
I knew I should start heading back. After I finished my dinner and homework, I would go to bed early because I had work in the morning. I worked for the public. I never could have imagined how rude and disgusting people are. I’m lucky to get a ‘thank you’ or a ‘please’ on any given day. The more common response being ‘fix this’ or ‘why doesn’t that work?’ They’re all jerks.
That’s where I met my girlfriend, or I suppose I should say, my friend who is a girl. No one knows about us. Neither of us have the guts to say it out loud, it’s an endless exchange of words sent over the internet, nothing more. I try to justify it, I try so hard, but I’m never patient. I hate waiting, yet it’s all I ever do.
I reached the end of the pier, the lighthouse at my back, its hollow insides giving no indication that it would burst to life when the sun finally disappeared over the horizon. The water stretched for miles. It wasn’t an ocean, but I imagined they looked much like this.
I should go home. I thought to myself. However, as I gazed at the waves before me, I could do nothing but think of my job, school, my nephew, my almost girlfriend, and my brothers and parents.
A lot of writers do it, I had always known that, but I was convinced I could rise above what they could not. I’ve always said; I’m stronger than I give myself credit for. But those words didn’t come from me. They came from the smiling faces on TV or the motivational speeches in books.
I knelt down at the edge of the pier, wondering if the riptide was an every day sort of thing, or if certain special conditions needed to be met.
I should go home. I thought again, but I didn’t move. The wind was coming off the lake, yet I felt a push urging me forward. I didn’t see the water before me; I saw only the visions of my life, played out in the ripples of the wind. Each thing more pressing on my mind than the last. I understood then why the other writers had done it. I understood what point they reached and how they had reached it. And it was then, as I plunged headlong into my worries and concerns that I understood I had finally come home.
If you're interested in reading more of my fiction, you can find my first novel here.