SANTA BARBARA / Juichi Kanno

When Natalia was little, she lived in Santa Barbara. Every second at the sea, she felt good about herself. The infinite blue water assured her that she was fully embraced and respected. The sunset on the beach had always filled her with anticipation and joy. She could admit to herself that she was a sensitive and positive girl. Pain and anger echoed in every fiber of her body, but not once had they ever opened her lips for a scream to come out. Soundlessness was the sign that she absorbed and boiled them. So was bliss and joy. They flowed down into her heart as if water streamed down to a dry yellow dessert and gave birth to flourishing flora and fauna. This rapier sensitivity had made chasing the sunset more relishing to her and the ocean was her world. As always, she was at the Shoreline Park on that summer day because it was her most favorite place in Santa Barbara. When she saw the sunset at the sea, the colors of the sky were changing from peachy pink to flaming orange to bloody red, and the purple band was gradually descending from the sky. As the sky with gradation of purple, pink, yellow, orange, and red would soon be overtaken, the fainthearted stars would eventually start to shine. The gracious yet darkened blue cloth started to fall upon the sea. The unpredictable movements of the waves gradually faded away and became blurry. Bulging and breaking of waves were transformed to the wild playful sounds that comforted her eardrums. She always liked hovering in the water, watching the sunset. The water kept hauling and thrusting her. It embraced her warm body, slipped through her fingers, and slid on her legs before her foot touched the limp sandy ground. Waves continuously breaking and drawing. She could touch and feel them so that she could fill her heart with happiness and hope. For a long time, the fervent rapture of day and night at the sea had been what she had called life.

 

Ten years later, remembering these days when she was simply feeling happy at the sea, Natalia wondered what had ever changed in her and wished she could regain some part of it. Although she never left Santa Barbara till now, the sand on the beach, the water passing through her body, and the salty breeze of freedom felt different and distant. She was just vaguely gazing at the beach descending from the Shoreline Park. The relics of the summertime sun kept its fire far on the horizon. The bonfire on the beach was ardently dancing with darkness near the stairs leading down to the beach. Growling deep into the night, it seemed as if the flame glorified its triumph against the darkness. The logs on the sand stayed comfortably cool amid the thirsty air. The refreshing sea breeze caressed the back of her thin neck and played on the lock of dark hair before it walked away. Her white dress was feathery, revealing her natural beauty as the breeze came through. Incandescence of the restless bonfire was diabolical and mesmerizing.

“It’s over,” Natalia said.

“What’s over?” Jake, her boyfriend of four months, said. Like his gaunt frame with affectionate touch, the citrus scent of his perfume, and mysterious confidence radiating from him, his voice was too familiar to her. Jake and Natalia first met in the college classroom; soon after that, they started dating.

“This,” she said.

“Did I do something bad to you?” he asked.

“No. When we started dating, there was a part of me that believed…and hoped… that my heart could feel what it feels someday. I wanted to be happy with who I was and expect for a better future. But, I’ve still been too naïve. I can’t see any meaning in this,” Natalia took a deep breath, holding back her tears.

“What happened to you? You are always sweet yet you’re strong and stubborn. It seemed to give you freedom and opportunity for a better future. I fell for you because I was attracted to all of that,” Jake said. His annoying positivity antagonized her.

“I hope you’ll see my point. I won’t be deluded by righteous optimistic ideas to become soft. They’re the façade for an ostensible happy life full of unforgettable sins,” Natalia said.

“You can rely on me if you need any help.”

“Can I just say the cliché that, ‘I want you to be happier because I know I’ve been just making you unhappy’ because the cliché works in your world?”

Jake scoffed, shifted his gaze at the sea of blackness as he walked away. A droplet fell on the beach, and her toes burrowed into the sand. Surprisingly, Natalia felt the rapid that had been slowly wrenching in her ceased at once. Like always, there were memories of the ones she had loved, but they had faded away in the brief second as the ashes were blown away with the sea breeze and disappeared into the darkness. The night on the beach glistened with the fire that never ceased to stop burning high.

 

It was almost nine p.m. when she arrived home. The house was the place where she anticipated the downhill of her life when she was eighteen. Her room was filled with books her grandmother, Maria, gave to Natalia as Natalia had treated books as a panacea to her problems. Over the course of years, Maria had lived with Natalia so that she could take care of her with love, sincere affection, and deep consideration. She influenced a child who had once been mischievous and loved being in nature to later become a woman of academic prestige; as a result, she entered a university in Santa Barbara. On the couch Natalia had cried, laughed, smiled, infuriated, and despaired, Maria was sitting, looking at her standing on the corridor.

“Devil’s home,” Natalia said.

“Welcome home,” Maria replied, wearing the university’s hoodie and her glasses in the middle of her nose.

“Date night?” Maria asked

“Why do you ask? You assumed that it went well because you believe that happiness is around the corner for me? Guess what, I don’t believe in that kind of things.”

“Just making a conversation,” Maria reply with an innocent look.

“I ended it. I don’t rely on the relative concept of love, happiness, and optimism. Being emotional and having expectation can jeopardize me. I chose not to presume this nonsense will protect me and be left defenseless. Everything is a zero-sum game with a clear line between the survived and the fallen,” Natalia said.

She always denigrated the bourgeois lukewarm sentiment that made people sluggish and filled one’s mind with absolute nonsense of positivity and emotionality. She acerbically disparaged the notion that life would be meaningless if you kept distance from emotions and that focusing on the brighter futures to do fun and new things will bring you happiness.

“That’s one way to figure out your life, I guess,” Maria said.

“By the way, he was also annoyingly sunny, positive one like you. You know I feel nauseated by people being positive and emotional. Life is no Christmas. I persevere,” Natalia said.

“The way we live in is not certainly the best way. I know. I know you hate it. But aren’t you tired? Aren’t you hoping for the happy days?” Maria said. Her demure smile was apologetic yet hopeful. Beyond her honest anticipation, Natalia was afflicted about this imbroglio. The present lasted too long and optimistic for the future to come.

 

The Ferris Wheel rotated so slowly on the pier that even the time seemed to pass slower than it was supposed to. The extravagant lights of the theme park brightened the café on the edge of the pier. The long shades of people were scattered, and birds were looking down on the pier for their dinner. The beach was dark gray, and the sea was dark blue. The beach continued way farther than the lights on the pier could reach. Afar, the width of the beach became narrower and narrower till it disappeared. Natalia blankly gazed at the view from the balcony in the Georgian Hotel. Facing the sea, it gave the entire coastal view. Natalia had whiskey neat, and Jake had Cuba Libre. She noticed that he was looking at her.

“I realized that it’s been almost three months now,” Jake said.

“Amazing,” Natalia smiled.

“Yes. I’m very happy about this because everything is amazing now. I can feel sweetness, happiness, and joy from you. Since the moment you walked into my life, I’ve got happiness and love. I’m madly in love with you,” Jake said. He had excitement in his eyes. He had been whimsical, jocular, vacillating, and unimaginative. He had always been well-dressed in blazers, simple white shirts, and luxury leather shoes. On the contrary to his tall and thin exterior, he was always shyly smiling. Despite of the same age, his voice was mature and magically convincing. It effortlessly sank in her system.

“It’s so unexpected and absolutely wonderful that, in this whole wide world, you found me. I really want to be part of your life,” she confided, demurely smiling.

“Numerous times, it surprised me that there was a person who I want to stick together with. I love you, too,” she said, being well cognizant that she only rephrased what he had told her before. The half empty glasses, hands on the cold stone table, mischievous grins in the dim nook, and candles with little wax were illuminating reminders of her undeniable contempt against herself. She admittedly expected happiness in her life because the time when she simply felt happy at the sea had long lingered in her memory. Be that as it may, she believed that she had to protect herself and survive a relentlessly merciless life. She didn’t have the audacity to let herself open and let her heart feel what it feels. Amidst the dimness on the balcony, the table with glasses, Jake on the sofa, and the candlelight trembled by the breeze were drawn toward bleakness aloft while she was sinking and sinking. “Into what?” she thought, “More self-loathe? Or, am I gonna be filled with sadness and dryness? Well, so be it. It’s better than being stupidly positive and emotional.” Strangeness was the veracious word to describe her fearlessness and arrogance. She could no longer be oblivious about her inclination for pessimism. Natalia looked at the pier. There was the sign saying, ‘Welcome to Santa Monica Pier’. She woke up from dream on the couch only to find Maria was gone. It was three o’clock. Despite interminable self-loathing and unwholesome dryness, she missed the effervescent time in the ocean to relish the sunset.

 

At three in the morning, it was bizarrely foggy. After she left home, Natalia wandered away to the beach. The streets alongside the shoreline were encroached by the insurmountable wall of fog. This thick fog had persistently lingered upon every corner and street. No starlight reached from the sky. No wind conquered the misty air. Traipsing toward the beach, she passed through the worlds of colors reflecting on the fog; the incandescent lights from the white chapel in the hotel; the orange streetlights hanged beneath blackness; and rosy pink neon sign of “Café Cabrillo.” She proceeded further and arrived at the pavilion in front of the beach because, beyond the path under the arch midst the pavilion, her destination lied. The path upon which unfathomable darkness was pendulously looming wasn’t foggy. Without any light, there existed neither a line between the physical world and the spiritual world nor a line between pessimism and optimism. Time and space didn’t matter now. Out of blue, someone whispered to her ears,

“Behind you.”

Turning around, Natalia was flabbergasted. Her mother, Francisca was standing, giving her an affectionate gaze. The infinite cycle of fury, grudge, fear, guilt, love, bliss, and passion continuously kindled one another and inflamed. The soul she once had was the one with an acute sensitivity. It carried everything. She was bewildered that it almost bleached the bulwark of pessimism. The exhausting anguish and the degenerating loneliness could’ve easily been overcome.

“What are you doing here?” Natalia asked.

“For a walk to clear my mind tarnished with immense regret. I believe I did a terrible thing, even though my intention was to protect my child. Over a thousand times, I’ve regretted that I didn’t see my own child growing up,” Francisca said.

“It was when I simply embraced what I felt and when I prayed for humble happiness. My mother was gone, and the house got empty. With loneliness and anger, my soul was plummeting deeper than the sepultures. I stopped dealing with emotions and hopes. Everything became predictable and unattractive. I grasped how to sink deep into the worst places. When the fathomless sea of despair and sadness resided in my world, I got numb to it,” Natalia plainly said.

“In the fog that’d been hovering behind, there was no home for me to return. I hope you understand that it was painful for me. I needed to leave you and re-establish my life on my own. I was selfish and foolish that I made the decision. But, there’s always something good in the future, right?” Francisca said.

“I denied the past and saddened the future. I just wanted to survive even in the worst situation. The truth is nothing is uncertain; at the same time, nothing is certain.”

“What do you mean?” Francisca asked.

“I guess I’ve never changed from who I was, the one who simply felt happiness at the sea. I just concealed it so that I could take care of myself. I miss those blissful days at the sea under the sun, but not you anymore,” Natalia said.

Natalia gave her mother a smile and never looked back. This time, she was not on the run from the past. Horrifying stillness was left under the arch, but, beyond the path ahead, she saw freedom. Reminiscent of the brittle bliss in the past awaited on the beach. She looked at grandeur of the wild sea. The beach had already disentangled from the swirling fog, and the bleak abyss was behind. By the sea, now, she could feel what she had longed for.

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