Belle Isola, a Collaboration on Isolation
It’s time for another(STSC) Symposium. The STSC is a gathering of folks who become friends through creativity. This month’s Symposium theme is “isolation.”
My submission to this month’s Symposium is a collaboration between me and Jeanne Thompson, a dear and supportive friend who is also a member of the STSC. Jeanne is an astounding oil painter who captures the emotional essence of people and the powerful essence of Nature in her paintings. I struggled with this month’s theme, considering everything from essays about my friends in prison to essays about the isolation of not sharing food, until Jeanne sent me the oil painting she planned to submit to the Symposium, and finally, all cylinders started firing. See below for her painting and my response story.
Oil on canvas
16" x 20"
by Jeanne Thompson
Story by Trilety
The designed isolation of flip-flops is known only by the big toe. The loneliness begat by the strap’s separation of the big toe from the littler toes. To be so alone, and yet so close. Belle contemplated her shoes that she’d later call thongs, but for now, in her buoyant innocence, she knew them as flip-flops.
Between the peaks of 5 and 7 is the age of 6, the cusp year between awareness only of yourself and the awareness also of others. A non-consensual union with the world. But a necessary unity all the same.
Her first of many summers on Hilton Head Island with her family had just begun, and she’d been standing in the water for an hour. Waves rushed her ankles, and she felt a rebel with her feet immersed in water while still wearing shoes. Almost as adventurous as her older sister, but less so because Belle didn’t want to drench her dress. The spray from the Sea’s roaring lisp soaked her anyway, without full submersion, so all was okay.
Belle proceeded to ponder the pink plastic cleave that turned 5 individual toes into 2 divided groups. It was a split she could feel. A cut the color of tongue that sawed incessantly against her vulnerable skin. Even when she stood still, the toe-post made itself known, needy for the attention of toes. She’d think back to that memory, while in heels or huaraches, and wonder why she hadn’t tossed the shoes into the ocean.
“What were you thinking out there?” her grandmother queried, beer in hand and toes shoved in the sand as Belle made her way back from the water.
“About my wings,” said Belle.
Her grandmother shook the condensed confusion from her forehead and waited patiently for an explanation.
“My shadow and my reflection, they make wings,” Belle explained while wringing out the hem of her wet dress.
The mother of Belle’s mother cocked her head back as if she’d been slapped, and pulled her phone from her beach bag to see the photo she’d earlier snapped. And there it was, Belle’s shadow and Belle’s reflection radiating from opposite sides of her body, the incorporeal wings of her little bird being.
Belle’s observation stung her grandmother who normally loved the ocean because in its roughness, it refused to throw back clear reflections, unlike the quarries she used to skinny dip in when she was a teen. But Belle was right. There was a reflection, it was just folded like a paper fan.
There is no escaping yourself, thought Belle’s grandmother, so you’re never truly alone.
“What are you thinking, Grandma?”
“Oh, I was just thinking about how isolation is a context, but loneliness. . .” she exhaled, “now loneliness is a feeling.”
Belle’s wet dress snapped and flapped in the ocean wind like a flag around a pole.
“Do you remember when Barbie said she didn’t have a vagina, Grandma?”
Belle’s hysterical giggle from the movie theater two days earlier returned, but this time she didn’t muffle it, she howled with a liberated larynx.
“That was funny!" she yelped,"Barbie is funny like you.” Off Belle flew, now without her second wing, just a long shadow that told of night’s coming.
After the family was full on corn and crab, Belle’s grandmother walked down to the beach. Vacationing light saturated the sky, but not enough to dissolve the spilled-salt of stars. She walked into the water, sandals still on, and looked up into the night. The sea frothed at her feet, and she isolated the feel of each burst of ocean bubble against her sensitive flesh, thinking of the frothy waves as the rippling gas of faraway stars fizzing into twinkles. Waves of light and waves of water, the oscillation of celestial ocean and foamy sky trying desperately to meet each other.
She wished she could photograph herself in this moment, the way she photographed her granddaughter earlier in the day as a reference photo for one of her oil paintings. To see herself from a fathom. Not as far off as a star and not as close as a kiss. To paint herself in impasto at the edge of this island. She even chose a title, Isola, the Italian word for Island, and a proximal root of the word isolation. At that, she cackled, for everyone knows that choosing a title for a painting that isn’t painted is a sure way to kill the project.
As she was about to turn around and go back to their rental, she stripped herself of her dress, kicked off her sandals, and thought I am as funny as Barbie, and just as old, and with that, she dove under the crenellation of wave and swam until morning.