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Reaching Up

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Photography 35 mm

Daniel Shade

ON LANDING

Tatham Dilks

Everything seems clearer close up.  From a distance I can barely separate the waves rising off the black of the pavement from the tide pressing reverently up from underneath the wooden bridge.  The air and water seem to ebb and flow, both in concert and at odds with one another, too frequently to tell which one moves in heat and which one will soon bring coarse sand and broken beer bottles to my feet on the bay.  As I approach, the air waves clear, and I can move in to observe the small white caps colliding with their retreating partners in thousands of tiny smacks, reaching up toward the beating sun.


I enter the hard dirt of the landing on my bike and pedal as far as I can into the soft sand.  In one motion, I stop pedaling, swing my legs to the same side, step off, and toss the handlebars toward the ground.  The impact deepens the belly of the rubber handle cap into the recesses of the metallic bar with the dirt-sand of the shore.  I squint against the reflecting sunshine and bare my shoulders to it.  I take some ice-cold bay water in my singularly cupped hand thinking that, acting quickly enough, perhaps I can preserve the blue-green color as I lift it away from its body.  I scoop it onto my back.  It is clear as it dribbles down beneath the ribbed texture of my white beater.


Earlier this week, the temperature reached eighty degrees for the first time since school let out.  I slipped the first of five new undershirts out of their Christmas packaging.  As I did, my father emptily suggested that not all wife beaters wore white undershirts.  I shrugged it on over my scrawny body and tucked it into long gym shorts.  I knew calling it by any other name would not stop the violence, and so did he.  No one stopped calling it a beater and we never believed it was anything but the people doing the damage.


I wiped my face with my now salted hand and turned it up to the light of the white blue sky.  I felt the sun take away the last of the moisture from my face, just as quickly as it had dissolved the water on my back.  I reached down to the brown black shell pieces on the water line and observed their stark brilliance.  The water pressing over and over on them had left a shiny residue of its presence glimmering in the unrelenting rays of the sun that, in that one summer, never yielded.


I felt a breeze open the air on the water to the twelve foot plank bridge behind me.  It gave no relief to the heat, but voices tunneled through it from the road and reported newcomers.  I dropped the shells to bask in the breeze for a last moment before the sound.


Three boys, and a trail of dust made out of the restlessness of a hot-hot summer day, erased all thoughts of white caps and shells, and ushered in the advent of strict adventure and loose adhesion to law.  Lawlessness came with its own set of rules, and as the boys dived onto the ground within seconds of arrival, instantly playing a made-up game, my gears were already absolutely switched.  I was ready to pick up, assume and seamlessly follow each and every unwritten commandment that governs the minds of eleven-year-old boys.  More importantly, I was ready to do only that. Thoughts beyond tracking the fun and danger at hand no longer existed.


Simultaneous erasure and careful command of detail beat against each other in my brain, thousands of times, in tiny smacks of conflict that replicated the whitecaps in the bay of which I had, then, no recollection.

Tatham Dilks is a native of South Jersey currently living in South Philadelphia where she can be seen sitting on the stoop with her cat.  She has been published in Toho Journal and Toho Journal Online.

Daniel Shade is a photographer living and working in Philadelphia.  Currently they are working through 35mm film, seeking to capture an altered perspective on common objects.