Author: William Xu
Olivia heard the sounds. Low in volume, but rich and orchestrated—reverberating—swinging up and down—rhymed in euphonious patterns, then tattered in thousands of pieces—not loud, yet ceaseless. The rustling sounds of the sea kept her half-awake, imposing a spell on her, that kept her mind fatigued and eyes closed, but conscious of the sounds. With all its highs and its lows, crests and troughs, they stirred the strings of her heart, playfully and artistically. Sit up—come to the window—open it—and, listen! The sounds were magical and irresistible. She almost didn’t feel herself getting out of her bed, but did felt the chilling cold of the floor. She then pushed the windows open. A strong gust of wind, salty as it blew from the sea, made her sober.
Olivia stood still, with her eyes wide-open now. It was midnight. The silent world before her felt sincere and naked, like a new-born child. Darkness engulfed the world outside her window. But from the obscure light from a streetlamp she was able to see its outline: the yard, the stone-paved street, a postbox. She could tell by their merely shapes in the dark, as she lived in this town by the sea for almost her entire life.
She could not see but only hear the sea. Spatially, it was several miles away with no building blocking her view. But she could not discern the shapes or edges of the coast, the waves nor the skyline. The sea felt distant. Not just now, but always. Because it was constantly changing. With the variations of the seasons; the vicissitudes of the years; the come-and-go of her neighborhood; and the sophistication of her own mind. It was multifaced, alternating its outlook every minute. It captured her curiosity, yet never revealed its true color. The beguiling appearance hid them, she knew. What’s behind was crucial. Five years ago, she started searching for the secrets of the sea, but she has never succeeded, only the black veil, the appearance of the sea.
And, the sounds! Flowing—flushing—flying back. But this time they were of another kind as she discerned. They evoked a flashback in her mind, accompanied by such a strange sense of delirium, that she almost forgot her existence.
She couldn’t see the secret reasons behind Dorian’s invitation. She chewed over Dorian’s possible motivations to ask her out, but she couldn’t derive of any. She was one of the top students in her class with Dorian being the strongest competitors. She knew Dorian, Dorian knew her, that’s all. She didn’t believe Dorian was into her, so she decided not to show any affection for him in return.
She saw Dorian as soon as she got onto the seaside walk, the place to meet. In the golden midsummer sunlight, she saw him waiting, and he smiled when he noticed her coming. She saw his face. Almost immediately, her eyes couldn’t take off from him, like most teenage girls in her high school would when they meet Dorian. Certainly, he had a dreamy appearance: finely curved, rosy lips, his sea-colored, deep eyes, his crisp, black hair, dyed a bit gold by the sun. Now, this Adonis-like figure was casually dressed in a neat, white shirt and a pair of sky-blue, old-fashioned jeans, which would be so generic on every other boy but looked exceedingly becoming and glamourous on him. The summer heat left a bit redness on his cheeks, and she could see one or two drips of sweat flowing down his face, adding an extra sense of sexiness to him. He stood still, but his body seemed to move harmoniously with the winds, its beat synchronizing the sounds of waves as they were hitting the shore besides her. The lines of his pectorales, hardly concealed by his shirt, appeared and disappeared every moment, with the movement of his body, with the waves. He appeared to be the flawless figures only could be found in a painting…
She almost walked and hit him unconsciously, if Dorian hadn’t grasped her arm and pulled her back to reality.
“Sorry, I was dazed by the sun suddenly,” she apologized and blushed. She deliberately remained her state of embarrassment for a bit longer, so as to let Dorian observe her own appearance. She wore a no-sleeve apple-green dress with hemlines level to her knees. It was an outrageous outfit choice, compared to her entire closet of over-sizes. It was youthful, passionate, and assertive. She was waiting for his reply—a short comment, at least, if not compliment.
“God, are you having a heatstroke?” Dorian asked, with sincere concern.
“No…but thanks for asking.” Olivia replied. God, he was Dorian! What was she expecting? She concealed her disappointment, feigning a reassuring smile.
They walked side by side in silence. Dorian obviously wasn’t thinking about her, rather working his brains out for a line of opening to break this awkward silence. In fact, she was not thinking about Dorian either, but was looking at the midsummer sea-view now. The afternoon summer sun gave the blue table an extra yellow and orange glow, with sparkling phosphorescence here and there. The colors mingled and separated as the waves hit and broke away—the patterns changed every minute, as if following a secret pattern.
There was also much about Dorian that remained a secret to her—they had been close friends for years because they had both been acting the part of “good students”. But nothing besides that. Why did he cross the line? She got more perplexed as she thought harder, especially when it struck that Dorian had a girlfriend—or, at least rumors had said so. Some girl called Lauren. She flunked in every subject that she was on the edge of dropping out. She did excel at other minor things, like cooking, art-designs, dancing…and minor indeed, thought Olivia. One so handsome and knowledgeable, the other common-looking and shallow—how did Dorian bear her presence? Absurd, absurd!
Turning her eyes towards Dorian, she noticed something more that made the whole thing downright enigmatic—the very discovery that seemed to make his beautiful appearance lackluster. Olivia precipitously recognized the world-class brand of his outfit. Tailor-made, by an Italian noble brand. Dorian had tucked the shift in to reveal the brand on the belt. No wonder it looked so good—for a substantial price, of course! As a matter of fact, Dorian’s family funded the school library. Given his parents’ financial capability, he could easily attend any private school in the country. His family’s financial status certainly surpassed that of Lauren’s; and, Olivia thought with melancholy, far surpassed that of her middle-class family which earned an income just enough to pay off their monthly bills. A surging sense of discontent occupied her mind, producing a burning red on her face. When Dorian discovered this sudden change on her countenance, he was quite overwhelmed.
“I’d better take you to the hospital, Olivia. You face is literally burning.” Dorian commented, as Olivia quickly hid this unintended physical reflection of her inner mind. Aware of her partner’s utmost ineptitude in conversing, she sighed. She decided to do a proper opening herself and shift the topic.
“Dorian, I have a gift for you,” she said, holding out a brooch, which was in the color of Dorian’s blue eyes.
“How delicate! It must be quite expensive. Thank you, milady.” Dorian responded affectedly.
It costed Olivia less than a dollar, and the word “expensive” lingered on her mind. She still remembered when Dorian said to her face once: “What mattered if you got the best grades? Look at your family. Could you pay the student loans for university?” She hated how Dorian viewed anything simplistically and capitalistically. She spent an hour making the brooch by hand, but she didn’t expect Dorian to thank her efforts anyway.
“That’s nothing.” she addressed a feigned smile.
“I also have a present for you, Olivia,” Dorian said abruptly, and somehow unnaturally, with an old-fashioned craft bag in his hand. Had he been carrying that all along? Olivia was surprised that she hadn’t noticed it. But maybe what surprised her more was the fact that Dorian brought a gift.
She opened the bag.
The sound ceased from her tape player, awaking her from reminiscing what had just happened this afternoon. She was still wearing that ambitious dress.
She turned to the tape player to put the tape away. Dorian had given her this rare tape recording of the original soundtrack from the Legend of 1900, the movie of her life. It was indeed difficult to find such a tape recording in the 21th century, although it had been quite common in her parents’ age. The tape player was bought by Olivia’s mother, before she had Olivia. And it was passed on by Olivia’s mom who passed away five years ago.
But the fact that it was Dorian’s gift now irritated Olivia. Why Dorian? Her instinctual skepticism told her that Dorian could’ve never send her this, just like he could’ve never known what she liked, loved Lauren, or sincerely wanted to ask her out. So fully aware of the power of his asset and family, he thought it natural that girls liked him, such as Lauren, who he had teased all the time for pleasure. Now he’s arrogant enough to think that he attracted Olivia. In this sense, Olivia knew why he planned a date with her, and why he left this afternoon angrily, because she was too apathetic. But she still couldn’t grasp that secret motive—why would he think that she, if any moment in her lifetime, might be into him?
And there were more secrets that she wanted to discover. The secrets of life. Olivia often wondered, why life has been so cruel to her. Her father was far away from home for work all the time. Her mother had resided in an even more faraway place for five years now. Nor did she understand the secrets behind her coming-of-age, about why her body has changed so much these years. Her family offered her no help or guidance on this part, so gradually, she began to worship this newly-gained power of youth, savviness and sexuality. She started to interpret the world in terms of physical attraction, which stemmed from some call of the wild or inherent disposition. She found it dangerously exhilarating to view everything in the world in such a perspective, people around her and herself included. Thus, she accepted Dorian’s invitation.
Suddenly, a teardrop came down her eyes. The world around her slept quietly, and she could hear it fall down her face and hit the floor.
Why towards Lauren? She couldn’t understand the secret motive behind her own action. Unthinking, she had once written a note which had sexual implications involving Dorian—and she wrote it in Lauren’s handwriting. Only Lauren would write such a thing, she had thought. So, she naturally lay it open on Lauren’s desk one afternoon, and soon the rumors had it. Dorian didn’t mind them, of course—he was rather glad. It had occurred to her that Lauren didn’t protest as well. Soon this entire affair fell out of her memory, but came back to haunt her like a dream.
But Olivia had all the secrets now. She had them in her hand. She had them when she opened that bag, and saw the familiar piece of paper. White, unfolded, clean as new. She recognized her imitation of Lauren’s writing on the front, but the backside also had something written on it now.
I saw you putting this on my table, but I didn’t expect such a content. It has caused me much trouble, as it were, and I hated you for it. But when I thought about revealing the real author of this note to the teachers or even my own parents, I hesitated. You were the best student in class—I once admired you, your intelligence and your beauty, which could not be concealed by your old and baggy clothes. Olivia, you deserved better, but this would ruin you. So, I decided that I must give this back to you and promise you that I would keep this secret.
I’ve always imagined myself to be a good student like you, despite maybe inherently I wasn’t born for academics. But I see the light in me which shine in places that others don’t usually notice. Gradually, I’ve grown used to understatement, but I deserved to viewed equally like everyone else, and I wasn’t the person you believed to be, Olivia.
And, do you like the tape? It took me quite some time to search for it. I knew that you had an old tape player, and you liked the Legend of 1900. I am absolutely obsessed with that movie as well, especially the leading soundtrack, 1900’s Theme. I understood that you wouldn’t see me in person—you always avoided me in school, so I asked Dorian a favor. He must have thought that I was implying him that you might be into him. I could tell by his conceited smile. I apologized for my inappropriate way of delivery if Dorian bothered you, as much as I hope my gift and the note is delivered to you safely.
The secrets were revealed now, by Lauren’s letter.
Upon reading it, another teardrop came down Olivia’s face. Then, another. She gaped at the piece of paper in her hand, with a thousand emotions going through her mind. It was all too much for her when she read the letter. But steadily, a new sense of growing realization and understanding filled her broken heart. She hurt Lauren for her prejudice. She deemed class as the sole determinator of one’s future. She let the fervor and flame of youth blind her moral eye, making her indifferent to her own misdoings. She put on such a beguiling appearance to hide her secrets, but eventually she lost them to herself.
From her wet and swelling eyes, she saw everything of the world flowing and circulating. Just like water. Just like waves. The buildings, the streetlamp, the garden—all lost their physical configurations, intermixing with each other. Slowly, they revealed to Olivia what’s hidden beneath their appearances that Olivia has never seen before. She also saw the sea before her eyes. Dark and deep. But it felt closer to her now. Lying on her windowsill, she almost could feel the velvet texture of the sea. And, the sounds! The waves rushed through the strings of her heart, playing the sounds of melancholy. They fondled over the sands on the beach, softly and intermittently, bearing the similarity of her mother touching her hair and skin when she was a child.
Suddenly, she realized the secrets of the sea. The sea has been a double of her life. It has synchronized the beats of her growth. Its colors changed to her varying mood. And it became impalpable when she lost the secrets to herself.
She thought about her life five years ago, when life was as simple as a child’s play. Her mother accompanied her. They often listened to the tape played, which her mother had kept like a treasure. Olivia also reminisced how they used to stroll along on the beach in the evenings. The tender sounds of the sea, which had resonated with the somber buzzles from the town behind. On clear nights, she could see the moonlight dripping from the sky. It pattered on the tables of the sea and altered the sands into a pristine layer of snow, dying her mother’s hair with its silver gleam. The image of her mother became so real and clear at this moment, that she could reach her with her hands. But back then, she was standing beside her mother, staring at her, with her curious, innocent eyes.
In those mirrors that offer themselves, she saw a part of herself that she truly understood, but in present part she saw a stranger. God, how she has changed! The life that she’s wanted to live and the life that she’s really been leading was like two fronts of waves. They intersected at one point, then moved farther away from each other ever since.
Those torn pages of the calendar, five years in total, seemed to be as if freewheeled, daydreamed and sleepwalked through—she has been paralyzed by life’s challenges, the sweet passions of youth, and her own coming-of-age. Now, for the first time in five year, she sincerely regretted all her past faults. She decided to change.
From the faraway skyline, colors of blue and white were approaching her window. They were the earliest colors of a new day, auguring the advent of sun. The morning breezes awoke her, as if from a bad dream. The waves acquired a faint gray color now. She observed their motions, each simple movement presenting to her the wonderful designs of nature, and producing a different composition of sounds.
Yes, the sounds! There they came again. But they were of a different kind. Something she has never heard of. With the whizzing of the morning wind and air, chirping of the early birds, and the buzzling of the streets and pedestrians.
She heard the sea singing out the mixed feelings in her heart, with a rhythm like that her favorite soundtrack from the movie, 1900’s Theme. So, she naturally hummed along, adding lyrics that came to her head at this moment, adjusting the tempo by the beat of her heart, and recomposing it, finally, into the theme of her life.