This short story, Cheating Paradise, is from the short story collection, Fractured Hearts. It is one of the 5 award winning stories in the collection and received the following recognition from the Editor in Chief of Writer’s Digest magazine:
“This year’s contest attracted close to 18,000 entries. Kathryn Mattingly’s success in the face of such formidable competition speaks highly of her writing talent, and should be a source of great pride.”CHEATING PARADISE truth is paradise when warm, breezy, easy but seldom otherwise… it is hard truths that surprise, make us run make us hide, make us cheat paradise
My view from this room has deeply affected me, like a painting that speaks to the soul through the artist’s brush. At first all I saw was the very average and dated décor. When slipping through the sliding door onto the deck, disappointment was further felt at how small the inlet was with its white sandy beach barely bigger than a picture postcard. There were lots of native Hawaiians everywhere at first glance, and although I found them interesting, they were somewhat intimidating. At least, upon my initial arrival to shores more foreign than familiar.
But slowly the view from my deck transformed… became interesting, as it gathered personality and depth, just as you did. The cumbersome black lava dock that seemed less than picturesque with its noisy machinery – at second glance – is merely the backdrop for the tiny boat-studded bay. Dock activities upon even closer examination are one intriguing event after another, and never boring to observe from my binoculars.
The sailboats bobbing in the sea beside the broad dock have set my heart to dreaming unencumbered dreams that have no boundaries, no rules to fence me in. There is just ocean blending into sky as my thoughts soar unrestrained.
I have observed the mood shifts of this scene outside my window, created by the different shades of light and array of sounds, just as I know your moods by heart. Each morning a rooster crows in the distance while pigeons coo in nearby palms. The sky glows a soft pink and hills beyond the bay shimmer in a rosy mist. Canoes and kayaks are neatly arranged on the early morning shore, and there is order in the peaceful dawn, where soon there will be chaos.
After the rooster quits crowing and the mist on the hills lift, people begin to appear on the beach and along the wide dock. Skippers are preparing their boats to set sail, or transport divers and deep-sea fishing tourists to where they can renew their spirits. Each day they embark upon a different adventure and capture another memory to sustain them on the mainland through stress filled days ahead of hectic routines, just as our stolen moments sustain me through the harrowing weeks without you.
By midday toddlers run in the shallow waves and lovers lay side by side on towels letting lotion-drenched bodies absorb the mystical powers of a tropical sun. Kneading out knots formed by a career of choice, spouse of choice, lifestyle of choice. Loosening muscles constricted by daily duties that weigh us down and send us looking for where the clock stops. Where time stands still. Where palm trees, sun, surf and sand merge as one priceless therapy session.
Early evening brings a subtle breeze to lick at hot, oiled skin and clear out semi-conscious thoughts of selling everything you own and leaving everything you are to come here and be someone else, anyone else. The lights begin to glow in the lamps that dot the shore and line the dock of the tiny mystical inlet, or fantastical lazy bay. The harbor changes color like a chameleon, from sea greens and misty blues to shades of melon and peach as a tender sunset caresses the shoreline.
In the middle of the night I lean on the rail and feel as one with this setting, as I now feel as one with you. The sprinkling of lights everywhere give feathery shadows to the palm leaves moving ever so slightly in the balmy, barely distinguishable breeze. Sounds are noticeably nocturnal. Hushed, reverent. Lush greenery rustles – swaying like a whisper, and the tide is but a tiny ripple kissing the sand. Boats in the harbor are moored with creaking ropes that strain against the lapping sea. Silent twinkling stars light hills beyond the bay. Nothing stirs in the predawn but my imaginings.
A morning serenade from the neighboring rooster awakens me. The native birds are quiet, but can be heard in the late afternoon as a frenzied chorus of chirping in the bushes beside the paths traveled endlessly by browned, barefooted beings. I know the routine well – the sights, the sounds, the life outside my railing on this miniature island beachfront postcard, with the long wide dock and glistening sea-blue bay. It is holding me hostage for a fraction of time, an instant. It is a taste of what life can be at its most illusive height of non-reality –just as you are.
I have come to know your sounds – your touch. Memories of you tickle me like a soft tropical breeze. Who you are has melted into who I am, similar to this view, this inlet, this bay of sailboats silhouetting the horizon. You are my paradise. You fill me up with your poetry, like exotic flowers – delicate, fragile, oozing a sweet scent. Luring me in, seducing my senses. Like blossoms on the breeze, salt spray in my hair, your hands on my body. Caressing, arousing – tasting, tantalizing.
Your love is like shimmering colors in the mist, with no hope on the horizon, as we dare to dream beyond where even sailboats boldly roam. I lie near the shoreline where waves rush over me. Foamy, frothy, and glistening as they soak into the sand beside me, as I sink into your strong arms, fall into your mirage of safekeeping from the world. For only an instant – like paradise – fleeting, costly, not obtainable, not really. Not for long. Not forever. Not for every day tangible touchable reality. Because we have lives to return to, loved ones to protect, lies to tell.
Why do we hide who we really are, what we really are all about? Why do we cling to images and illusions that define us through others, but not through our own eyes? How did fear and deceit come to rule us? What courage it would take to give up the falsehoods we hide behind, to respect others with our honesty. We are cheating those who trust in us to be true, cheating on private beaches with stolen moments.
What could be more foolish than that?
I am sad to leave this room and this view that I have grown so accustomed to. I will mourn the loss of my short stay in paradise. I will never forget the sounds and the moods, the various settings of light and shadow. Like the back of my hand, I know this picture of perfection – these palm trees, lush hills, and sleek sailboats. This harbor will live forever in my mind, only its details fading with time.
But the monstrous dark lava dock will remain crystal clear to me always, because it is part of the real world, the everyday busy working world. It is the link from fantasy to reality, the lifeline that clearly defines the truth of the matter – I cannot return again to your open arms, any more than I can ever forget our time in paradise, our last hurrah, our final kiss, our love that could only leave a wake of destruction in its path.
An illusion of integrity merely makes a mockery of it.
And so the tiny picture postcard of our shared fantasy will sit unassumingly in the journal of my life, and if I could write upon the back and mail it to your door, my sweet, lost, forbidden love, it would simply say that paradise comes with a cost.
And that price is more than I can bear.
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