"The littoral zone is the part of a sea, lake or river that is close to the shore. In coastal environments the littoral zone extends from the high water mark, which is rarely inundated, to shoreline areas that are permanently submerged. It always includes this intertidal zone and is often used to mean the same as the intertidal zone. However, the meaning of "littoral zone" can extend well beyond the intertidal zone."
In Andrea Barrett's short story "The Littoral Zone", she takes as her subject the "happily(?) ever after" period in a couples' life. What happens when you give up one, already partially lived, not especially unhappy life (or in this case a pair of people) and trade it in for what seems to promise an ever after lifetime of passion? Only to discover the ever after is actually in reality pretty disappointing.
Once again, the people in Barrett's story are both scientists and teachers. He, a botanist, and she a teacher of invertebrate zoology at a small college in New York. They have come to the New Hampshire coast to do research at a marine biology research station. Both are drawn to the island for research as it is an opportunity they can't pass up--the pay was too good, but by the part way through the course they agree that the pay is not enough.
"The days before they became so aware of each other have blurred in their minds, but they agree that their first real conversation took place on the afternoon devoted to the littoral zone."
Maybe the draw and then the disappointment is the perfect metaphor for what happens to the two lovers. They instantly click despite the island's shortcomings (no fresh water for which to bathe and drinking water brought in on a boat--meaning hot, sticky, salty, thirsty, itchy students and teachers).
Ruby is telling the story after the fact, however. And it's clear from what she says, that her life with Jonathan has not been the happy, passionate love affair that seemed so promising at the moment.
"They have always agreed that the worst moment, for each of them, was when they stepped from the boat to the dock on the final day of the course and saw their families waiting in the parking lot."
Their families--unaware and hopeful--nothing else would seem as awful as that exact moment of treachery towards them. The children, now grown, seem more or less contented. They were happy "enough" growing up. They don't try and dissect their parent's relationship, just accept it with their little bit of curiosity. What happened on the island?
This is what I always think of as a "sliding door" moment. I think we have all had them, and I know I often think of those "what ifs" as well. You know--if you make a dash for a train and make it just in time, how might your life differ, the outcome change, if you had not made it? If you had missed the train? They had a moment of bliss, or connection and took up the offer, so to speak. They don't wonder what their lives would have been like had they chosen differently, though, the life they did chose has turned out to be simple and ordinary, much like themselves.
"They're sensible people, and very well-mannered; they remind themselves that they were young and then and are middle aged now, and that their fierce attraction would naturally ebb with time. Neither likes to think about how much of the thrill of the their early days together came from the obstacles they had to overcome."
Yet another thoughtful, introspective story. It leaves me wondering about that littoral zone. Maybe the solution, the explanation is here:
"Ruby had talked about the littoral zone, that space between high and low watermarks where organisms struggle to adapt to the daily rhythm of immersion and exposure."
Something to think about.
Next week: "Rare Bird".
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This week's (August 3 issue) New Yorker story, "Five Arrows" is by a new to me author, Heinz Insu Fenkl. It is very much a storyteller's story filled with images of dreams and folklore and symbolism. There is some interesting and rather sad imagery in it. Did you know that the number four is unlucky in Korea? Much like the number thirteen here? A young man returns from America to Korea and travels to the countryside to visit "Big Uncle" who has absented himself to the countryside with his gangrenous leg. He tells young Insu about how he came to be in the situation he finds himself. Do you think this is true:
"You should always remember your dreams, Insu-ya. Dreams are your real life. It's a shame if you don't remember it."
Hmm. You can read the author's Q&A here.