Whispers on the Cliff (An Excerpt)

Samuel stopped to look at a field where cattle were huddled together, lying in the grass. (Shuffle: Wilco, Impossible Germany) In Indiana, he used to go out to his grandparents’ farm to stand at the fence and moo at the cattle they kept there. These cows were not like those in the States. They had longer hair, shaggy, that hung over their eyes. Someone in Killarney had explained to Samuel they were cows from the Scottish Highlands. To him, they looked like big dogs. But with horns.

He stood, finishing his cigarette in the chilly breeze. The cows made little sound aside from the occasional rustle when one shifted on top of another. The drizzling rain had slowed to a gentle mist. Most of that was pushed along in whisps of the wind, glimmering in the moonlight. How, he thought, how did I get here? The internal question surprised even him. The answer, however, was quite simple. He was compelled to travel to Ireland. It was the first invisible urge he’d experienced, Rebecca the second. Inexplicable. Now that he was in the country, he had no idea what he was supposed to be doing. Even worse, he had no idea what it had to do with Rebecca.

Maybe, he considered, I am going a little nuts. In all honesty he’d always been fascinated by the paranormal. It was much more fascinating than ordinary life. The idea that things exist outside of “normal” human perception was exciting. As far as Samuel was concerned, humans were very limited creatures. He looked at the huddled cattle, “If we’re limited, I don’t know there is any hope for you.” One of the bigger animals, a bull, stared back at him.

He decided to keep walking. Samuel’s fascination with the unexplained was something he rarely brought up in conversation. Most people frowned on it, and considered it rude in a “civilized” discussion. “Civilized” was just a word used to replace “rational”. “Rational” was just a word used to replace “normal”. And “normal” was something Samuel never associated with. A bit reclusive in high school, he never fit into any of the stereotypical cliques found among teenagers. He was always a bit more pensive, always aware of something underneath it all. And he was always the first to point out that twenty years after high school graduation, no one would care about Suzie dating Johnny. Samuel believed standard teenage social interaction was an odd dance of show and lies. It was interesting to him that the majority of his friends knew this was the case, but most of them didn’t seem to care. To them, it was all just a part of the experience. To Samuel, it was a waste of time. He flicked his cigarette out into the road.

As he strolled along it seemed as though this night would not be as peaceful as he had hoped. The quieting of his mind he typically experienced was simply not within reach. The itch to solve the puzzle, why he was compelled to go on this trip in the first place, was too great. It suited his personality. Samuel did not have obsessive compulsive disorder, it was more an addictive personality. Not the heroin-shooting kind of addiction. Addictive personality traits simply mean the individual is predisposed to developing addictions to anything. In Samuel’s case, it was puzzles. Usually, those puzzles were people. He had decided in high school, he himself was his greatest puzzle. He wanted to know himself completely, to understand his emotions, his passions, and why they existed in the first place.

History, as a focus of study, was appropriate for his personality. Too often he found himself reciting “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it”. To study history, in his opinion, was to decipher the motivation of humanity. And within that motivation, his own part to play, whatever it was. (Shuffle: Live, Where Fishes Go) It was the greatest puzzle, just waiting to be pieced together. History was in fact the reasoning behind joining the trip to Ireland. He was getting four credit hours for going on the trip as “independent study”. All he had to do was write a paper about his experience pertaining to the history of Ireland. Bollocks.

Tonight I’m putting this to rest. I’m going to walk until I figure this out. Part of him felt as though he was close. Outside of the excitement of traveling to a foreign country for the first time he had a purpose for being there. He was going to figure it out, if it took all night, even if it killed him. The first clue was in Dublin. Stumbling home from a pub their group happened upon a few people sitting on some steps. They appeared to be homeless, but they were singing and laughing as though they were the richest people in the world. They shouted to the group as they wandered by.

“Oy!” one called out. “Do you play basketball?” The way an Irish accent ticks up at the end of a question was Samuel’s favorite part of having any conversation in Ireland. Sadly, that joy was pushed out of the way by the question he heard most often at home. Here, he’d traveled halfway around the world to be asked the same damn thing. Seth laughed out loud at him, knowing exactly what Samuel was thinking.

“No,” he hung his head and stopped walking. “No, I was a swimmer.”

“A swimmer?” a woman on the steps asked. “A bit too long for that aren’t ya?”

The rest of the group kept walking, expecting Samuel to keep moving also. Instead he wandered over to the vagabonds and sat on the steps. “Not as long as I am in other places,” he replied.

They all laughed and slapped their knees. “Well, we’ve found a spritely one!” a second man exclaimed. The woman passed Samuel a bottle. In his preparation class, and from the books he’d read about behaving “properly” in Ireland was never to refuse a drink when offered. It was insulting to say no. Without thinking he reached for the bottle and took a swig. He was expecting wine or beer but instead got a mouth full of Irish whiskey. He swallowed fast and coughed from the burning in his throat. The group on the steps laughed aloud again.

“What are you here for, boy?” the first man asked. Boy? Samuel thought, still lightly coughing. What am I here for? Suddenly, everything was surreal. As though he’d been placed in a bubble out of time. He looked up at his friends stumbling away, making their way back to the hostel. “Are you in there, boy?” the man asked again.

“I’m here for a class, I’m an American,” Samuel said, blinking quickly in an attempt to regain his focus.

“That much is obvious. You look lost,” the woman said. “Have another sip and then give it here.” She pointed to the bottle that Samuel did not realize he was still holding. He did as he was instructed and handed it back to her. Strangely, he was not the slightest bit concerned his friends were getting further away, and they didn’t seem to notice he was not among them. In fact, sitting on the steps with a few strangers, he felt perfectly at home.

“No, not lost. Just going back to our rooms for the night. We get up early tomorrow to drive south.”

“What kinda class is this where you just drive from town to town?” the second man questioned to the rest of his friends. Samuel wiped the tears out of his eyes from coughing. This was the first look he had gotten of the group. The first man, the one that called out to him, had a watch cap on, and what looked like a canvas jacket. Similar to a green German army jacket Samuel saw some kids wearing around campus. He was smoking a cigarette and had finger gloves on. The second man had longer hair and stubble on his face. He wasn’t wearing a jacket, but a heavy sweater. The woman’s face was old and worn. But Samuel could tell she wasn’t old.

“Have you learned anything in this class?” the woman asked.

“I guess,” said Samuel. “There’s no real structure, we’re supposed to sort of, I don’t know, teach ourselves.”

“How can you teach yourself anything about something you know nothing about?” the second man asked. For a bunch of homeless drunks they sure ask a lot of questions, Samuel thought. He watched as the woman passed the bottle to the first man. The streets were quiet. They shined in the streetlights from the rain earlier in the evening. Samuel’s friends were gone and he was all alone with these three people. Still, he didn’t care.

“Well, we’re touring around and visiting places, seeing things. I’m learning as I go,” Samuel explained. “Then we’re supposed to write a paper about it.”

“That’s it?” the first man asked after taking a pull from the bottle. He handed it back to Samuel. “Doesn’t sound so bad. But that’s not why you’re here, is it?” Samuel looked at the man in surprise. He tipped the bottle up to his lips to take a sip, but never took his eyes away from the man. This time, he didn’t cough.

“Lots of people come here for tourism,” the second man started. “Ireland is a beautiful place.”

“It is,” said Samuel, passing the bottle to him. “To be honest I don’t know why I’m here. I just felt like I needed to be here. I don’t even know why I sat down with you. Thank you for the drink, by the way.”

“This is just how it is,” the woman said. (Shuffle: Bon Iver, Holocene)

“What do you mean?” Samuel asked.

“This,” she spread her arms out and looked into the street, as if presenting it to Samuel. “This is just how it is. We live here, we are good to others, they’re good to us.”

Samuel said, “But, aren’t you homeless? Isn’t that hard?” The second man finished his sips and gave the bottle back to the woman.

“Homeless? Look around you boy, we’re not homeless. The city is our home. The island gives us life. To all of us. We’re always home.”

“You’re here because you’re supposed to learn something,” the first man said. “So learn something.”

“You make that sound easy. What am I supposed to be learning?”

“What do you want to learn?” replied the man.

Samuel chuckled a little. “Life. I want to learn what life is all about.”

“I just told you,” said the woman. “It’s about this.” She spread her arms again as if it was supposed to be obvious. The second man smiled big at Samuel.

“Have another drink and get to bed. You look like you’ve had a rough day.” Samuel did as instructed, thanked them again for the conversation and shuffled off toward the hostel where the rest of the group was assuredly already asleep. What an odd encounter, he thought. Learn something? That’s not exactly what I would call helpful. His eyes were heavy and he yawned as he turned the corner to walk into the courtyard in front of the building. There he found Rebecca and Seth sitting at one of the picnic tables.

“There you are,” Seth said. “We were getting ready to come look for you.” Rebecca looked at Samuel, her face with an expression of obvious relief, then joy to see him. He was glad to see her too.

“Yeah, I just stopped to talk to those people.”

“How was that?” Rebecca asked.

“Good.” He paused. “At least, I think it was good.”

“Well, glad you’re back safe. I’m wiped. I’m going to bed.” Seth got up from the table and walked toward the building.

“Come and sit,” Rebecca patted the picnic table next to her. Samuel moved around the table and sat, straddling the bench. Well, he didn’t really sit, it was a half-fall. The whiskey he sipped with the people on the steps was hitting him. She turned to do the same thing, facing him. He looked at her longingly. Her blonde hair was shining in the street lights. The air was chilly enough he could see goosebumps on her arms.

“You’re cold, we should go in,” he slurred a little. She giggled.

“You’re a little drunk, we should sit here a second until you sober up.”

He smiled wryly. “Yeah, I guess.” She looked at him, and he watched her eyes trace the outline of the hair on his head, around to his ear on the left side of his face, down to his chin, up to his lips, his nose, then his eyes. It was hypnotizing. “What?” he asked.

“We’ve nearly avoided each other this whole trip,” she started. “Why is that?” Samuel thought for a second, staring back into Rebecca’s eyes. Indeed, why is that? Half his face curled up in a drunk/tired/smile/chuckle.

“I don’t know.”

“I do,” Rebecca answered.

“What then?”

“We’re in love.”

Samuel giggled. “Love? Is that all?”

She smiled. “I love it when you get tipsy and your really terrible impression of an Irish accent comes out.”

Now he was consciously trying to sober up. “What do you mean we’re in love? How do you know?”

“The first night we met I knew, and so did you. It’s that magnetic attraction when you know that no matter what, the other person is going to have a significant impact on your life.”

“So it’s not love, it’s just intuition,” he retorted. He decided the night they met, this was not love. This was more powerful. “It’s just that we know that about each other.”

“Isn’t that what love is?” Rebecca asked. “The purest form of intuition there is?”

“No, no it isn’t,” Samuel insisted. “Love implies the other person make one happy or something. It doesn’t have to do with intuition.”

She smiled at him and reach out with her left hand to hold the right side of his face. (Shuffle: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Thank You) “Exactly. Love is the purest, non-judgemental, innocent, naive form of intuition. It’s unconditional.” Rebecca reached up with her other hand to hold his face in both hands, then leaned in to touch her lips to his.

Samuel was locked in. He closed his eyes as he let Rebecca’s soft lips brush over his. The goosebumps were crawling all over his skin now. She was so soft, so gentle. This inexplicable force had put them on this trip together, for this moment, for this kiss. The chills ran from his toes to the top of his head. Again, he found himself in this surreal bubble, trapped out of time. Neither of them moved, just sat with their lips gently pressed against each other. No sound, no breeze; as if they’d left their bodies and floated above the atmosphere, locked in a moment fate determined they would share.

What seemed like half an hour only lasted a few seconds. Samuel was the one to break the bond and lean back, just slightly. “Whoa.” Rebecca’s eyes were wide. She leaned back and shuddered a little from the electricity moving down her back. “What was that?” Samuel smiled.

“Love,” Rebecca whispered. She smiled as wide as her face would let her. “Good night Samuel.” She stood up and began to walk into the hostel.

Samuel, still reeling a little said, “Wait, that’s it? Don’t you want to talk about this?”

“No need to talk about something you already know,” she said over her shoulder. “Good night, love.” And with that, she walked into the house to go to bed. Samuel couldn’t believe it. First, a homeless woman tried to explain to him that life was about an empty street, then the girl he’s been obsessed with for three months kisses him and walks away. Now fully sober he thought, Pretty sure I should just go to bed before the night gets any more strange.

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