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The Journey

by libera 

Posted: 28 June 2003
Word Count: 2244
Summary: A man is self-imposed exile frees himself after a series of dreams.

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The Journey: From Here To Salaria

Here I was at last. I had finally found Salaria, one of the oldest roads in Italy. This road leads to the sea and it was from here that the Sabines had travelled to gather salt from the salt marshes.
It had been a long day and I could feel the heat of the sun rather uncomfortably against my skin. However, I felt very alive and powerful, rather than weak and dehydrated. Being on this great Salt Way of Rome (this road was named after salt since it lead to the sea), seemed to provide me with strength and a sense of existence. This ancient road had also empowered Rome, so much so that the Romans went to great lengths to promote and preserve the salt trade in Italy. They too recognized the many benefits of salt, both as a preservative and as a health benefit.


I was awakened again by smell of salt and the hint of my wife Audrey’s presence. I snoozed for a few more moments with the lulling sound of the sea in the background before opening my eyes. Indeed there she was before me, the love of my life, carrying my breakfast tray as usual, with a flower and the paper.
Audrey looked elegant and poised as always, with her tall and lean stature, and was still very beautiful despite her fifty-four years with her fading brown her tied back tightly revealing her high cheekbones. She still had a spark in her eyes, although I would say that she also was verging on being drawn, not surprisingly.
This woman had given up everything for me and I often wondered why. I remained perfectly still on the bed, the white sheets enveloped perfectly around me as I awaited the usual routine. She would feed me and then wash me afterwards, as I never wanted to do anything for myself. I did not feel capable.
‘Good morning, my darling,’ she said cheerfully, kissing me on my forehead. ‘Did you sleep well?’
‘Oh yes,’ I replied. However, upon reflection, I concluded that if feeling alive during my sleep meant that I could not have slept well, then no, I did not sleep well.
‘Actually no, not really. My dreams interrupt me too often to sleep soundly.’
‘You do say the funniest things sometimes, dear. You’re lucky you remember your dreams. I never remember mine,’ said Audrey in rather a sad tone, leaning over to prop me up against the headboard and to adjust my pillows. I caught a whiff of her sweet perfume. Then I looked on ahead at the view from the window. It was a beautiful sunny day. I could see the beautiful coast of Cornwall and hear the cries of seagulls. Audrey had truly picked the perfect spot for our retirement.
‘Audrey, if you had no choice but to lose one of your senses, which would it be?’
‘Gosh! What a question! It sounds more like nightmares you had last night,’ she replied, now walking over to the bedside table to take away my empty glass. I did not have much of an appetite these days but I did find comfort in water.
Audrey was about to leave the bedroom but instead turned towards me again, slightly amused, and studying my face affectionately.
‘I don’t know. My ears? That way I wouldn’t have to put up with your rubbish every morning! You really are a silly old fool. But I love you for that.’ She kissed me on the head again.
‘Well, I have already lost most of my sense of touch….’ I said, rather bleakly.
‘Oh James….’ replied Audrey, in despair.
‘So I would say my sight,’ I added.
‘And why your sight?’ she asked, now sitting on the side of the bed holding my hand.
‘Because I don’t need my sight to find happiness. For my dreams provide me with a view of a very long road that goes on forever, like a long line of hope. And it makes me happy.’ Audrey smiled at me as she attempted to feed me some porridge.
‘Why does that road make you happy, my darling?’ I moved my mouth away from the spoon being aimed at it.
‘I don’t know. All I remember from my studies was that it went on forever. It epitomised Rome. I dream about it all the time. Rome didn’t only represent my workplace during my days as an archaeologist, you know. It truly is a magical place. It is an eternal, timeless city. I feel that since it seems to last forever it represents hope. I feel the same way about that road…and I wish I had been able to see it.’
‘And what’s so special about that road?’
‘I can’t explain it. Only my dreams can.’
‘Don’t torture yourself James. At least you got to see some other wonderful places before….’
‘You can say it dear. Before the accident.’
‘Yes….before the accident.’


That same night Audrey had been reading to me and when she was certain that I had fallen asleep she turned out the light and went into her own bedroom. We agreed it would be best for us to have separate bedrooms. Unknown to her however, I was not asleep and caught part of her conversation with our friend Gemma, a fellow archaeologist.
‘Gemma?’ There was a long pause.
‘ Hello Gemma, it’s me, Audrey.’ I obviously could not catch the whole conversation but one part in particular saddened me.
‘It has been a very difficult time for us. James has not been himself since the accident, which left him crippled as you know. He doesn’t want to see anyone. It is as if he is ashamed. And he never really talks to me. Sometimes he mentions that he has vivid dreams but he never really tells me what they are about.’
I could not bear to hear the rest. And I felt so guilty that even though poor Audrey had assumed the same reclusive lifestyle that I had chosen I never even had the courtesy to share it with her.


The next morning I was woken up by the sound of Audrey’s footsteps again.
‘So what did you dream about this time?’ she asked, kissing me good morning.
‘Same sort of thing, but this time I could also hear the lyrics to the song ‘Many Rivers to Cross.’
‘By Jimmy Cliff?’
‘You’re joking. Really? That’s not your style.’
‘I’m sure that was the song. I could make out the words ‘white cliffs of Dover’ or something like that. Anyway the words of any song are more meaningful than the style or melody. That’s just the icing on the cake.’
‘Listen, I’m just going to check on your breakfast,’ said Audrey indifferently. ‘Kippers and toast this morning.’
‘I’m not hungry. Would you give me a bath now instead?’
Audrey looked a little puzzled.
‘Whatever you like, darling, but don’t you usually prefer them at night?’
‘You don’t mind do you? I mean…it’s not a hassle for you is it?’
‘Of course not, as long as this doesn’t become a regular request, two a day is rather taxing. And we both know that getting you out is a problem.’
‘The ancient Romans embraced water as a healer.’ As I had said this totally out of the blue Audrey looked clearly lost now.
‘ What are you on about now, darling?’
‘And did you know that salt is one of the most powerful of commodities? The ancient Romans used to trade in it and a famous road in Rome called Via Salaria derives its name from the expression ‘to be worth one's salt’ or ‘salary’.’
‘Hmmm. Like salami? How enriching,’ she replied sarcastically. But there was an ironic wisdom to her words.
‘Audrey, would you add some salt to my bath today? If you leave me in it long enough maybe it will solidify my limbs and help them regain some life.’ As I uttered those last few words a tear dropped down my cheek. I was finally crying out for help and this was the first time I had let Audrey see me cry in five years. I tended to keep things inside, and often no showed emotion, as if each day was about passing the time, and feeling nothing.
‘Oh my darling,’ said Audrey wrapping her arms around my neck to comfort me.
‘Audrey, will you take me outside? Take me down to the beach. Take me out of this room! I want to see the sea! Properly! I want to feel the waves against my skin. I want to feel something!’
Audrey paused, not knowing what to make of my sudden outburst. I had not been outside for two years as I was too afraid to confront the outdoors. It reminded me of my once active life and when I was a physically-able being. In all fairness, Audrey had often protested and offered to take me on walks in my wheelchair, but I always refused. I believed a room with a view of the sea alone would suffice.
Audrey managed to manoeuvre the wheelchair outside, which had not been used for years. I took a deep breath and for the first time a smile appeared on my face. This was the beginning of a fresh start.
When we got down to the beach, Audrey gently lifted me out of my wheelchair and placed me on the sand. She watched my reaction as the water reached the spot where I was sitting, fully-clothed. She could not imagine what I must have been feeling at that moment. I wanted not only to feel alive again as the cold water brushed against me, but to feel my body transported away from my bed-ridden life.
Although I would probably never physically reach Salaria perhaps I had found an equivalent, miles away from Rome, and not on land of course, but in water, here in Cornwall.
I closed my eyes and imagined that the water was taking me away. There was that familiar smell of salt again, this time more poignant. I thought I could even feel tiny grains of it like the sand, against my skin.


After that very first time, Audrey and I would make a weekly trip down to the beach and slowly I began to make progress. My arms got stronger and I was even brave enough to manoeuvre a few waves now and then. Audrey had to be close by of course, to make sure I did not get carried away. There was a true feeling of innocence and rebirth during the process. Like a young child learning to swim rather than a crippled old man trying to manage a few movements for the first time in years.
‘You look beautiful, dear,’ I would say, admiring her in her bathing-suit.
Audrey would smile back as if to say ‘you always say so’.
It must have been yet another tedious routine for Audrey but she never said so. She knew that it meant the world to me as she watched the sea brushing against my lifeless limbs.


Recently I had been sleeping in, not waking automatically like before, so Audrey had to wake me each morning.
‘You sleep so deeply these days. More dreams, darling?’ she said kissing me good morning.
‘Not anymore,’ I replied.
‘ I’m so glad,’ she said smiling. ‘But you never did tell me what you used to dream about, darling.’
‘I know, and I’m sorry. I suppose I thought there were rather stupid, that’s all.’
‘No dream is ever stupid. You know what they say, that it is your sub-conscience telling you something.’
‘Do you really believe that dear?’
‘All right, I will tell you. I used to dream of that long road called Salaria. And about the sea.’
‘Maybe it’s because you see it day in, day out from your window?’
‘There’s more to it than that.’
‘So what do you think your dreams meant?’ asked Audrey whilst undressing me.
‘Audrey, before I started having those dreams I believed that I was going to die. I mean I wanted to die. But those dreams gave me hope.’
‘There’s something nurturing about salt and water.’
‘Well, you know what they say, about how one cannot live without them. And my mother always used to say that if you were to have just one provision in the house it had to be salt and that every household as a rule must have contain some salt. So maybe that’s what the sea represents. Healing. Even the doctors say so.’
‘Is that why you chose for us to move down here?’
‘Oh I love you, Audrey. I never really believed moving here would be good for me, but you were right. I will learn to love it here and I believe being here will cure all my pain. I just want to heal and feel well again, like Priessnitz did.’
‘The nineteenth century founder of water therapy? So now I have a doctor in my hands!’
‘Oh no! I am not preoccupied by alternative medicine, my dear. Just by a simple road that I once missed.’
I was back on track, with, or without the feeling in my legs. Here in Cornwall I had found my own Salaria, in the sea, and it was the route towards my journey of recovery.


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Comments by other Members

Becca at 09:25 on 29 June 2003  Report this post
Hi there Anita, welcome to the Shorts group. The great Salt Way of Rome, and the whole idea of salt and healing seems to me like the nugget of a good idea for a story. It's interesting that dreams are involved in this piece because as I read it, it had a dream-like quality in the sense of being seen from a distance. Did you mean it to be so distant?
It you didn't, one of the ways that writing loses immediacy is when the writer tells us things, rather than shows us things, for example: 'I tended to keep things inside, and often showed no emotion' is telling not showing.
Another distancing tool is when the emotions of the characters are not explored, and exploited even,- that also tends to distance the reader from the work because there's lack of engagement or empathy with their plight. I felt that if your main character could say 'I want to feel something!' he would have been in a very bad way emotionally, and yet I do not feel this from the piece. The story is told from his POV, yet there are times when this slips a tad, as in 'Audrey paused, not knowing what to make...' While you could argue that he knew her so well he could say this with conviction, a tougher and more writerly way to present this would have been to describe her expressions or actions. Again, this is telling, not showing.
The dialogue flowed along and was very readable, except that I felt the two characters needed to be drawn more distinctly, at times it could have been the same person talking.
On a technical point: would Audrey have been strong enough to lift an inert fully grown man up and place him on the sand?
There is a sureness in your writing which I think will serve you well, it's only a matter of never stopping, staying on the journey!

libera at 13:08 on 29 June 2003  Report this post
Thank You Becca for your comments. I really appreciate all comments I receive as I am not very experienced at all! My legal background may be cramping my creative style! At the moment I am exploring all mediums of telling stories - screenplays, poems, articles and short stories. Short stories are the toughest so far, as there are word limits so I think that can result in my work apprearing distant and not passionate enough. I hope in time that my process of writing/story-telling improves and that I can really engage the audience. Having ideas is one thing, expressing them well is another!

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