Some Unknown Orchestra
Photograph by Rory Mulvey, Story by Ben Lambert
There’s some dry tobacco in the glove compartment and I’m sat in the car, with an empty stomach, trying not to think about smoking. I shuffle my feet and wet sand falls from my shoes. It’ll be in the car for months now. Will probably end up in the sheets at home too. The way sand does, a postcard from the beach sending reminders of where you’ve been. I stifle a yawn, can’t be tired yet, the boy’s still so awake. I want to go home. I turn on the car to listen to the radio, stumbling through the stations till something lands in the ear that fits.
‘Five more minutes.’
The passenger door is open and his seat remains unoccupied because Flynn has been looking for a place to bury a fir cone for the last ten minutes. Outside amongst the windswept grasses of the beach he’s still clutching his fir cone in one hand and a fistful of sand in the other. Searching for the best burial ground. He said he wants to grow a tree for the birds and the dogs.
‘For the dogs? Why for dogs?’
‘For sniffing and weeing.’
I’d laughed. He’d nodded.
‘Why aren’t trees on the beach?’
Like so many questions he asks, and I don’t know the answer to, I’d approximated something that sounded reasonable, about the soil not being right and the waves washing the trees away. Of course it wasn’t a complicated question. But was that answer even vaguely right? It’ll do. No point looking it up, he was hardly listening to the answer, his heart set on planting a tree, so I’d just encouraged him. I’m always on much firmer ground in being enthusiastic about his adventures than answering his questions.
How much of what I’ll say to him will be a semi-educated guess at half remembered facts? Filling in blanks by assuming and imagining. Happy enough to do that with my own life but feel like I need to offer him something more. Something more definite.
Opposite me, about 400 yards away, a car is parked at an almost identical angle to mine. The air is light and cold and almost wet. Evening has not quite come but the sky and land are drawing close together as the light fades, pulling them into a likeness. A few remaining walkers amble along the shoreline and on the radio a smooth toned presenter is talking about the Tchaikovsky piece he’s just played. Through the car window there’s a gentle but constant on-shore wind and the temperature has dropped, perhaps it will rain, or perhaps the wind will clear the sky. I lick my chapped lips and can taste the salt from the sea. I call to Flynn.
‘Two more minutes.’
I don’t reach for the tobacco, I don’t roll a cigarette, and I don’t smoke it. Instead leaning back in the seat I switch the car headlights on mirroring the car on the opposite side of the bay. It’s so balanced it’s like a mirage, the world itself becoming a mirror with our two cars facing towards each other and the sea. Glancing to my right at the horizon there’s no separation, sea and sky are one, no mirror there, instead an indistinguishable continuum. I think of the planet itself floating in space, without any real sense of up or down, or north or south, or beginning or end.
Christ I want a cigarette. I find the packet and fumble around for filters and a lighter.
The sun, now absent from the sky, holds the last of it’s light to this side of the earth. A Phillip Glass violin concerto plays on the radio and Flynn wanders towards the car and into the beam of the headlights.
The sight of him catches my breath.
Suddenly Flynn seems to emanate light. Somewhere within him, sitting housed in it’s flesh and bone home, comfortably wrapped in a jump suit, sacred and hatted, a light shines so bright it makes the sea grasses glow. And even though I know it’s the headlights it’s as though the light is a downward halo shining from him.
It’s so complete, so overwhelmingly right and true and disarming that I’m carried away further on the tide of emotion that’s risen, lost in it, aided by the heart opening sound from the car radio played by some unknown orchestra, recorded once upon a time and landing here now as if for this moment entirely. He’s so determined to help, to plant his tree and create life, but yet so easy with it, following his own curiosity and imagination with joyful intent.
My heart feels untethered. Detached from everything and yet simultaneously rooted within it in a way that seems impossible to fathom.
The beach becomes a mirror again and I imagine myself sitting in the opposite car, watching Flynn from behind. Watching the only thing that isn’t mirrored leave me. I’m sat in the car and all I see is a small dark silhouette capped with red. He’s walking away from me with that confident wobble across the long beach grass and now he pauses in the headlights of the other me. This little man. I wonder if he’ll look back before he goes. He pauses and I hold my breath. Will his gaze reach me?
Then I’m back in my body in my own parked car. With tears rolling down my cheeks I open the door and step out into the air. I roll and light the cigarette, ignoring myself and inhaling deeply. I smoke for a minute, coming back to earth, then call to Flynn.
‘Time to go!’
‘Time to go!’ Flynn repeats, already climbing in through the back door and into his seat.
Such a pure heart, no conflict built between what’s outside and what’s inside, none of the friction that comes with lies and secrets and all the peculiar entanglements of life and living. I love him. I envy him. He doesn’t yet not want to have a cigarette.
Ben Lambert is Creative Director of A Thousand Word Photos. He has been acting professionally for over fifteen years working in theatre west end, off-west end and nationally, films long and short, Television and Radio. Originally trained at Central School of Speech and Drama he is also a long standing member of the Factory Theatre Company. He is interested in telling stories and being told them. Having devised the Listeners Project he also writes, directs and produces short films. You can find him here @benjaminlambert_