Clarisse by James C. Clar

typewriter

Hawaii is known for its near perfect weather, but a new report from the University of Hawaii’s Sea Grant program states that islands in the Pacific might be unrecognizable in the coming years as climate change makes them hotter, arid, stormy and even disease-ridden.

Huffington Post 8/28/2014

Experts have found very high levels of cesium-137 in plankton living in the waters of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the west coast.

Nuclear Emergency Tracking Centre

Her name was Clarisse and she sunbathed naked every morning for forty minutes beginning at ten o’clock. She lived in the estate next to mine and I’d watch, binoculars in hand, from the Black Point side of the place where I’d taken up residence on what used to be Waialae Beach.

She’d lay, twenty minutes per side, on the diving board of her pool. The pool, of course, had no water and was full of rocks. Still, the physical space it occupied and Clarisse’s devotion to ritual held some symbolic value. It was a witness to the kind of excess that once was possible but which never would be again. My reverential devotion to her daily display owed more to an appreciation for that – and to boredom – than it did to any perverse, voyeuristic tendency.

This stretch of Kahala Avenue, along with most of Oahu’s coastline, had been rendered all but uninhabited and, frankly, uninhabitable. The few of us who had remained behind in the wake of the rising sea level and the radiation coursing through the Pacific from Japan kept mainly to ourselves.

I had never spoken to Clarisse apart from a shouted ‘hello’ one afternoon when I had first taken up residence. I had been attempting to run a hose to my house from the abandoned public shower at the end of the beach access lane that ran between our two places. She waved timidly in response then vanished behind a stand of palm trees and a dilapidated drift fence.

Her reticence was understandable. Most of those who had survived and, occasionally, ventured to the coast from the mountains and inland valleys to scavenge, were afflicted with all manner of physical and mental “issues.” I had spent most of my lifetime along the coast. How was she to know that I was of sound mind and body?

One morning, it must have been mid-to-late August judging from the oppressive humidity, she failed to show. I watched in vain as the shadows lengthened and heat built. I sat on my second floor terrace in anticipation and growing unease. Despite the fact that it was clearly hurricane season in the central Pacific, the sky was cloudless and blue enough to mesmerize.

I had jury rigged a minimal and somewhat unreliable supply of electricity from the solar panels that stood on the roof of my home and had managed to power, among other things, a stereo that I discovered in what had been a large family room. I was listening to an old vinyl recording of Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” done by Emerson, Lake and Powell.

Later that afternoon, Old Jacques joined me for a drink. The former owners of my place must have been wine connoisseurs and I was working my way through their still substantial cellar. Jacques would occasionally drop by after a morning of surfing. He was one of the few people left in the area who still actually went into the ocean, at least for extended periods of time or just for recreation.

Jacques was in his early sixties and, so, a few years older than me. Despite his bulk – he resembled Odd Job, the old Bond villain – he was an accomplished surfer. The south shore swell that we were experiencing due to the impending tropical storm rendered the conditions optimal.

“Nice out there today, my friend,” I greeted him as he mounted the stairs and joined me on the terrace. His entrance scattered the geckos that were hunting insects on the warm tiles.

“A real ‘bump’. Should be good waves for the next few days… at least,” he replied.

“I still can’t believe how much time you spend in the water, not to mention out in the sun.”

“Just doing my part for the greater good,” Jacques stated without a trace of facetiousness. “Think of all the random and, potentially beneficial mutations I’m storing in my genes! I’m the vanguard of the next phase of human evolution. All I need is someone to mate with… multiple partners in point of fact… just to increase the genetic diversity.”

I knew better than to laugh. Jacques was quite serious. We watched a gecko with what appeared to be an extra leg scuttle across the terrace and down the side of the house. I felt like commenting but decided against it. I had no desire to insult a guest and, besides, in our world companionship was at a premium.

“Speaking of potential partners, how was the show today?” Jacques asked archly.

As far as I knew, he and Clarisse had never met. A few months ago, in a gesture of bonhomie, I told Jacques about my neighbor’s daily ritual. I’d since regretted the revelation as a being almost adolescent in nature. Something about Jacques’ question or, rather, his tone, sparked a tinge of jealousy. Lord knew, though, that I had nothing whatsoever of which to be ‘jealous’.

Still, for whatever reason and, whatever the nature of the psychology involved, I had begun to think that Clarisse’s morning routine and my silent observation of it bound the two of us together in some type of intimate union. The fact that she was unaware of my participation was, in my mind, a trivial matter. I began to worry that perhaps I was suffering from a psychosis – or an obsession – that rivaled Jacques’ evolutionary aspirations.

Without thinking I lied and said that Clarisse had stuck to her accustomed schedule. I quickly changed the subject. Eventually, after more wine and small talk chiefly concerning the weather, Jacques picked up his surf board and left. I spent the rest of the day and most of the evening sitting on the terrace keeping vigil on Clarisse’s estate.

The weather deteriorated over the next few days. The wind picked up and it rained sporadically, sometimes nothing more than a clinging mist but, at others, in truly torrential downpours. Through it all, Jacques continued to surf though, for whatever reason, he hadn’t bothered to stop back in for a drink. Of Clarisse there was no sign.

Ten days, perhaps two weeks passed. The weather returned to normal, puffy white clouds, gentle trade winds and sun so intense it seemed consciously malevolent. Those left on the island of a certain age could recall the days when the rays of even the hottest Hawaiian sun were a benison. People traveled here to experience it; now they fled.

My initial unease at Clarisse’s absence grew to the point of mania. I’d sit on the terrace every morning and wait. By noon, I’d be prowling the grounds near the fence that separated our two properties. The foliage – what hadn’t been baked to lifelessness by the sun – was so overgrown that it was hard to catch so much as a glimpse of her place. At night I’d even venture down to the slim margin of sand that once constituted a beach in the hopes of running into her or of finding a better vantage point from which to observe.

It was on one of those evening excursions, the nearly full moon cast a spectral glow on the sand and bathed the combers breaking on the shore with a cool, white light, that I spotted the unmistakable figure of Jacques working his way down the old beach access lane that abutted Clarisse’s house. I hid from view. I watched as he crossed what remained of her once immaculately manicured lawn. He quickly disappeared from view. There could be no doubt, however, about his destination.

It would be hard to describe the emotions I felt as I stood in the ethereal moonlight. Anger, betrayal and a sense of loss would be chief among them. Again, the fact that I had no right to any of those feelings was utterly beside the point. I even entertained the half-baked proposition of returning to my home, packing my meager belongings and working my way further down the coast toward Koko Head. I’d be taking an enormous chance. The odds of finding an abandoned place so ideally situated and in anything resembling “good repair” were slim at best. Then, too, there was the risk of who, or what, I might encounter along the way.

Twenty minutes or so into my vigil, I heard the sound of Jacques walking steadily toward the ocean. I watched as he bent down at the surf line. He appeared to be washing his hands. Finishing his ablutions, he stood and began walking down the beach past my place. I lost sight of him and, after a few more moments, I walked up the lane toward the entrance to Clarisse’s property.

I had never before set foot inside the grounds of Clarisse’s estate, though I admit a compulsion to do so on more than one occasion. My decision now was unconscious, an action borne of desperation. The only part of the grounds that I could see from my home was the pool area… and that only from my terrace on the second level. Despite my unfamiliarity, it was nevertheless quite easy to find my way to a ground level lanai fronted by a lawn of scrub grass, weeds and blighted palms. I gained access to the interior via a broken sliding glass door that had jumped its track.

Eventually, I found her in a room surrounded by reproductions of classical Greek and Roman statues. There were, quite literally, a dozen or more of them. The moonlight filtering in from the windows and glass doors created weird shadows. So bizarre was the scene that it took me moment to distinguish her figure from the sepulchral forms that surrounded her.

My amazement was tempered by a dim memory. I recalled that, at one time, Clarisse’s home had been owned by an eccentric Japanese investor. He filled the grounds with statuary, much to the dismay of his more prosaic neighbors. When the Japanese economy failed, he fled leaving a host of unpaid bills and an estate filled with an unsightly and mismatched collection of expensive lawn ornaments. The property fell into disrepair and, eventually, when things deteriorated here in the islands, the strange home on Kahala Avenue “with all those tacky statues” was all but forgotten. Either Clarisse herself or someone occupying the place before her, must have moved the figures inside.

On my way out, I found Jacques’s surfboard leaning against a reproduction of the Venus de Milo… not many of those in Hawaii these days I’d wager! Acting on impulse once again, I broke precedent and carried Jacques’ longboard to the house he had occupied near Kuilei Cliffs.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. The sun blazed as usual. A lone frigate bird soared between the deep blue expanse of sea and sky. I knew that Jacques would be spending more time on the water than usual in the days and weeks to come. His evolutionary agenda was being advanced in ways that even he could not have imagined.

Clarisse, with my assistance, once again took up her accustomed spot on the diving board. I watched through my binoculars with a sense of unparalleled contentment. I knew that, in twenty minutes or so, I’d have to make the trek to her place and help her turn over. No matter. It seemed like a small price to pay to restore order to our rather sheltered universe. That she had returned to her regimen was worth whatever minor inconvenience it cost me. It soon became clear, however, that I would have to devise a way to keep the insects and, yes, the birds from pestering her while she lounged in quiet repose above what remained of her pool. Properly placed, one of her grotesque statues might prove quite useful after all!

 

James C. Clar

 

Header photograph: Forest & Kim Starr [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

6 thoughts on “Clarisse by James C. Clar

  1. I kept thinking of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Norman Bates. This was by design unsettling, that questions the sanity of the characters. I enjoyed how the story led me unwittingly into a cup-d-sac and the realisation something terrible was in progress, yet to be resolved

    Like

  2. James, you’ve created a chilling, really well paced story, set in a plausible scenario and I enjoyed the read. Bit of polish and it would be pretty well perfect!

    Like

  3. Great story – far from a typical post-apocalyptic tale. Really well constructed and maintained the sense that all was not quite ok throughout. Look forward to reading more of your work. Cheers, Nik

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  4. Hi James, there were very few clues to his mental state. You took us along at your pace until the madness of the reveal. This was very skilfully done.
    I enjoyed this unsettling and well written story.
    All the very best.
    Hugh

    Like

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