From little Frank's perspective the whole world made sense. A moment's balanced reflection always served to place every reality on an even plane. The truth always made itself brightly evident to him. Even awash in a sea of distortion, the truth was easily defined and understood. His reluctance to speak about all he knew was bred in the bone, as his mother had always contended. The fixed symmetry evident in all things, spiritual and physical, was perfectly resolved to little Frank's way of thinking.
It was with his mother that Frank shared the greatest and most diverse of dialogues. Oddly, much of it was nonverbal and needed little in the way of physical inflection to disclose infinite subtleties. The boy fairly exercised himself in all the languages at hand without showing much preference for any one in particular. English, Spanish, and Rumsen phrases were all the same to little Frank. He would happily express himself using elements of all three languages simultaneously.
Though he found it peculiar, it never disturbed the child when his father failed to hear or discern the more enchanted particulars that always appeared so obvious to the boy, but he possessed a native discretion and never discussed that part of his world with anyone but his mother and then only in their own special dialects. There could be little doubt of Frank's Indian inheritance, but this was not to say that Bill Post had not left his mark. The child displayed evident qualities of ingenuity, endurance, and courage typical of a Connecticut Yankee. The boy even possessed the amiable aspect and rolling gait of a Grand Banks seaman as irrefutable proof of his father's bloodline.
Little Frank also shared his father's passion for birds and the broad vistas of the Pacific. Father and son spent many evenings watching the sunset beyond the opalescent horizon while the gulls wheeled and called overhead. Bill would try to explain what lay beyond the oceans, but his son focused only on what could be seen. It would have been all the same to the boy if nothing whatsoever lay over the horizon. He loved the beauty of the sea for its own sake and asked nothing more of it.
Bill noticed that prolonged contemplation of the bright ocean panoramas occasionally made his son almost giddy. It was then that little Frank would talk mysteriously of the Ancients who had once lived in these mountains, the humans who had stared out over those same bright waters before time was recorded. Bill Post often found his son's manner of expression curious; the object of the boy's focus was so unlike that of other children his age.
If Bill Post ever required valid proof of his son's native predispositions, it materialized on a dangerous night in mid-March. It was a night rent with contrary gales, hazardous winds, and lightning that owned the skies for minutes on end. It was a night not unlike that of Frank's birth, with its attendant natal pyrotechnics. The boy was a hardened veteran of tempests of equal ferocity since that auspicious night, but storms inspired curiosity rather than fear in the child. Indeed, little Frank rather enjoyed a really spirited southwester. He would ask his father to take him to watch the monstrous seas cleave themselves against the great rocks of the coast.
On this particular night, little Frank took no joy in the storms, nor in the safety and warmth afforded by his soft bed and downy quilt. His mother had departed on one of her usual hunting expeditions into the mountains three days earlier. She had promised to return before the weather broke. Frank's father had heartily regretted letting Anselma continue with her usual native routines because she was carrying another child. He felt uneasy about the effects her strenuous endeavors and the wilderness might have on mother and unborn child alike.
At any other time little Frank would have thought nothing of his mother's departure except to feel slightly neglected because he could not accompany her. He had come down with a slight cold, and his father had insisted that the boy stay at home until the symptoms subsided.
This is a complete short story from Down to a Soundless Sea by Thomas Steinbeck. Copyright 2002 by Thomas Steinbeck. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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