Then I hear the clatter of stones from the path in the pinewoods and look up, alarmed. I see a momentary flash of white through the trees and then nothing. Quite far off yet. Silence. Stillness. Suddenly — crazily — I think: SMEE. It is Smee. Then: what nonsense! Deranged fantasies. For God’s sake, get a grip on yourself! It must be Emilia. Or more likely Ulrike and Tobias come to look for me, to thank me for my gift to them. I won’t call out. I’ll just wait and see. Whoever it is will be here in ten minutes.
I walk up and down the small beach, more composed now. A few midges darn the air. I think of Hamish again and watch the mild waves come in, unfold and collapse. I step down from the dry bank of seaweed onto the strip of sand and pebbles. I look round me. I look at the pebbles at my feet. I plan to select one stone and skim it over the water. Which pebble shall I choose? The beach brims with astonishing potential, each stone teeming with all the possibilities of being a pebble on this particular beach. Rocked and rolled by the waves, rubbed up against its neighbors, draped in glossy seaweed, covered for a while by rank flotsam and jetsam.… I stop and choose. Now this flat pebble will be hurled out to sea.
I throw, west, towards the setting sun. Skipskipskip — skip skip. Sink. Rather beautiful. The arc of the throw was strong and flat. The stone partook easily of the air and danced briefly on the water.
There are more noises from the path in the pinewoods. I stand my ground. Up above I hear the human cry of the gulls as they beat their way homewards. I turn and face the sea and watch the waves roll in. I wonder which way my life is going to go now? I have a sudden vision of it as a wave. The little motion in the waters that was my birth, the gradual swelling and building as trough and crest developed, the roar of the breaker as I trundled through the decades. And now here I am on the beach and someone is coming towards me. I consider the possibilities. It couldn’t be Smee, could it? Is it just an old man’s guilt and paranoia? More likely to be a lovelorn Emilia. Or perhaps it’s her greasy husband and his brothers. Then there’s Ulrike, come with news about my retrospective. Or even, the happy fancy strikes me, the American private detective, the one who’s been asking so many questions about me in the neighborhood, sent by Doon to seek me out. Or, less exciting but more plausible, it might simply be one of the island’s lean spectral dogs, picking its way down to the shore to mooch for scraps of food. Six possibilities, then. Six roads my life could take. Six sides to the die. I pause. The moment coagulates; a sense of stasis thickens almost palpably around me. This is my reality, absolute, steady, poised.
What will become of me? Death at the vengeful hand of Monroe Smee? A fraught encounter with a passionate Emilia? Battered again by her husband and his decrepit thugs? Fame and renown with. Ulrike and her film buff? Reunited with my enigmatic Doon? Or left here, as I am, with a pye-dog for company?
I don’t know. I care, I know what I’d like to happen, but in the end we never know. I am uncertain, and so is my fate. Well, I’ll go along with that, I think, as I stand on the beach, waiting. The world and its people spin along with me, an infinite aggregate of atoms, all obeying Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. I look back at my life in this gravid tensed moment and I see it clearly now. Above me, two gulls ride high on the thermals heading home. It has been deeply paradoxical and fundamentally uncertain. That’s how I would sum the whole business up, my time on this small planet — deeply paradoxical and fundamentally uncertain.…
I ponder all the possibilities that come with being human. Good and evil, happiness and misery, achievement and failure, love and isolation — everything that goes into being the particular person you are in your particular social and historical setting. That’s a lot, isn’t it? My God, that’s some menu! I smile to myself, with faint pride, I suppose, but with some wry resignation too. Yes, I’ve done that human being business pretty thoroughly, thank you very much. I’ve participated in the human drama, all right. You — yes, you — can testify on my behalf that I’ve hunkered down in the mulch of the phenomenal world. Boy, haven’t I just!.. But then, so have you, I daresay. We all do that, don’t we — all of us. Like it or not.
As I stand here on my modest beach, waiting for my future, watching the waves roll in, I feel a strange, light-headed elation. After all, this is the Age of Uncertainty and Incompleteness. John James Todd, I say to myself, at last you are in tune with the universe.