Thursday, October 8

Amgansett and the passage of time

"'Conrad, Conrad . . .'

"The first light of dawn was creeping over the horizon when Conrad was roused from his slumber by Rollo's hollering. Conrad only ever slumbered, he never slept, not the sleep of a child, dead to the world, its oversized surroundings. One small part of his brain kept constant vigil, snatching at the slightest noise or shift in smell. It no longer bothered him. He accepted it for what it was: a part of him now, like the scar in his side and the remorseless throb of his damaged knee.

"The boards groaned under his feet as he shuffled from his shack onto the narrow deck that ringed it. The sharp salt air stabbed his lungs, raw from too many cigarettes the previous evening. As if in reprimand, an overflowing ashtray still sat on the arm of the slattted wooden chair out front. A book lay facedown on an upturned fish crate beside the molten remains of a candle and an all-but-empty bottle of cheap Imperial whiskey.

"He had read deep into the night, the bugs dancing dangerously close to the candle flame until it had finally sputtered and died. The waxing moon, so high and prominent at dusk, had long departed, having run her early course: and for a further hour he had sat in the deep darkness, breathing in time to the beat of the waves beyond the high beach-bank, sleep rising up around him like the unseen tide, his mind numbed by the liquor, his body by the blanket of night dew settling over him.

"Conrad stared at the chair, unable to recall the short stroll he must have surely made from the abandoned perch to his bed.

'Conrad, Conrad . . . '

There's more: turning tides, a right whale, a full breakfast, setting off to fish.

Did you notice anything? It's such a short excerpt, it may not strike you. Once I noticed, I kept looking, and pages and pages went by before I found what I was looking for.

There are no references to time other than natural time. No alarm clock, no watch. Also no morning TV or radio news, no phone, no Internet. Once I started to notice the lack of clock time and electronic references, I thought I'd entered an enchanted world.

I'd forgotten: the book is set on Long Island, where Conrad lives on his fishing boat, in the late 1940's. Realizing that set off one of those violent internal conceptual reconfigurations that occur when you realize your assumptions couldn't be more wrong.

It's good to have that happen every now and again.

Mills, Mark. Amagansett. 2005.

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