Brian Hill had fifteen minutes left on his lunch break. He continued to read from his old copy of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, "By the Ocean of Time," as he sipped the remainder of his coffee.
"...The schoolmen of the Middle Ages would have it that time is an illusion; that its flow in sequence and causality is only the result of a sensory device, and the real existence of things is in an abiding present..."
He thought of his abiding present, his dreary, monotonous present, and realized that there wasn't much worth thinking about. He sighed and ran his hand through his light brown hair. What was there for him? What had there been? The job? Nightlife?
All of it amounted to a blur of cold, gray shades in a dull life; gray like the color of his soulful eyes. These weren't strongly thought-out conclusions; they were more a mood that hit him as he stared at the wall in hazy contemplation. He read further.
"...Was he walking by the sea, the philosopher to whom this thought first came, walking by the sea, with the faint bitterness of eternity upon his lips?..."
His thoughts drifted back in time to his mother. She had given him this book as a gift when he was a child of seven. They had walked by the sea that day, so long ago, and it was anything but bitter. The memory filled his mind, clouding over all other thoughts.
"...The surf is seething; wave after wave, with high, hollow sound, rears up, rebounds, and runs with a silken rustle out over the flat strand: here one, there one, and more beyond, out on the bar. The dull, pervasive, sonorous roar closes our ears against all the sounds of the world. O deep content, O wilful bliss of sheer forgetfulness! Let us shut our eyes, safe in eternity!..."
Vivid memories of that day continued to pour in, intruding on his ability to read the words before him. She had taken him to see Virginia Beach.
There, he had seen the ocean for the first time; the surf was seething and the waves were a wonder to behold. The sound of it had, indeed, closed his ears to the rest of the world. It had been a moment of bliss.
He thought, "This planet should be named 'Ocean,' not 'Earth.'"
That day had been the first and last time he had gone to the beach, or into the ocean.
He wondered, "What happened? When did things go wrong? Why did my mother..." He purged the thought and continued reading for the few minutes remaining on his lunch break.
"...O ocean, far from thee we sit and spin our tale; we turn toward thee our thoughts, our love, loud and expressly we call on thee, that thou mayest be present in the tale we spin, as in secret thou ever wast and shalt be!"
He closed the book. For a moment, he was lost in the strangeness of the words. Mentally, he was no longer in the lunchroom but back at that spot on Virginia Beach where she had given him the book. Things were in vibrant color then, and his young life was filled with joy and hope.
He read these words before but still, their meaning remained deep and elusive. The memory of the Eternal Ocean, for that had been his childhood view of it, made him feel a deep sadness. What tale did Brian have to present? All had gone gray and stagnant after his mother...
"Brian! Brian! Brian, you have a phone call; it's important."
The sound of the secretary's voice woke him from his reverie.