The Sand Dollar

August 26th, 2021

The temperature dials are still set to twenty-two degrees. I wake, breathe, falter, hold in the chaos as though it were filling some invisible but palpable bladder, always on the verge of bursting. I water the flowers --the new and the old, the ones that knew your appreciation and the ones that, like strangers, do not. I force myself to talk to people. The fact comes out of me like water pouring from my mouth: hello, my name is Hannah, my Master just died. In one way or another, everyone knows who I am talking about. Everyone takes a little step back, and puts some platitude between us, though I don't know what else I'd expect. Nothing. Nothing changes.

Nothing changes, and yet everything has. The temperature dials in the car still sit at their appointed twenty-two degrees, but now and then, as if in mechanical refusal to accept reality, the car won't start. I wake, and breathe, and forge, and falter, but beneath the surface of action there is storm, not calm; more questions than absolution. You, Master, are life. How can a single thing dare to go on living?

Some months ago, a stretch of time measured hilariously past when time has, for anything that matters, stopped, we went to the beach. The same beach, one of many times at that same beach, and after seeming ages of that dance with death in the waves, we went for a walk on solid ground. The tide was out, yielding a glistening path on the shore in which tiny geometric rivulets of water coursed to or from the sea, reflecting all the while the peach and dust rose tones of the approaching dusk. Master bent over and picked up a sand dollar: perfect, pristine white, entirely intact, a holy relic for they who search the surf for natural treasures. He'd found so many, and my fellow slave too; but this one he gave to me, and told me to safeguard it. I'd broken the last such specimen in my fist while unthinkingly catching some tossed trinket with the other, some time past, a little shattered testament of my own motor confusions.

I brought it home safely and we talked of how to maybe make a necklace or some other decoration of it. I placed it on my boudoir bureau, on a little purple velvet cloth passed down from my dead grandfather, next to friendly rocks and knick-knacks, the egret statuette where sit my rings, small oil bottles, a cup holding various brushes. And there it sat, for months, until....

I brushed my hair one morning, and replacing the instrument in its woven cup, let go, not fast enough to catch it falling back out and onto the velvet cloth, its tip directly against the sand dollar. As though it had been shot, as though some sniper had expertly found its very center and triggered true, the holy relic broke into thousands of pieces, shards and dust, chunks and granules, irretrivably other than what it had been. I swore at myself and made a fair fuss. Master saw the misfortune and soothed me, let me not think too much of it, though each new time I saw its pieces or picked up my brush I felt a little loss.

I felt a little loss, and then, not much later, came the largest one, the largest loss possible, greater than myself, and all else, by such orders of magnitude I shudder at the mere contemplation: him. I see my life in the ruined sand dollar: irretrievably other than what it had been, recognizable perhaps in pieces but undeniably broken. At the worst of times, I imagine I see him in the ruin, too; but he is as far from shattered as he ever was. His deeds still sing their strength and glory, far past the bounds of my memory and beyond, into the world that somehow dares to keep on spinning --perhaps a mere homage, perhaps no more than medium to bear the testimony of difference: then, when he deigned to walk it, and now, when he does not.

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