In the tenth chapter of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the narrator discovers that he most return to his home – and to Ursula. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
Brandy, her eyes wide with excitement, said this to the three of us who faced her, huddled in the West Hollywood Park. We held pillows in our hands, grasping them by the cases, and I nervously swung mine back and forth. Well, I said, it looks like we pulled it off.
There were nearly forty people in the park along with us, and all of them had pillows.
A few weeks before this momentous and historic day, my roommates Bianca, Sue, and I came up with the idea for a flash mob event out of boredom. It was important to us that this flash mob have no other point besides being pure joy. There was no point to it other than doing it. So we picked a date, a place, a time, and the barrage began. MySpace bulletins. Craigslist ads. We put up flyers around Hollywood, we told our friends, and we knew that even if no one showed up, it would be silly enough if the four of us ran through West Hollywood, obliterating each other with pillows.
So, suffice to say, the turn out was a surprise, and the energy filled that park as strangers with pillows quickly assembled, greeting one another, grinning like fools whenever someone looked them in the eye. The four of us watched as more people parked, got out of their cars, and came shuffling over to the growing group, ecstatic that this was truly happening. I felt my phone buzz a couple minutes before our scheduled start time, and I pulled it out to see a text message from Leo. I sighed.
U WANNA COME OVER LATER
I did. That was my first thought, but then I caught myself. Is it really worth it, Mark? Is he worth your time?
I thought about the way his jeans sat on his hips. For the moment, that was enough.
I sent him a reply back:
“Sure. Got something to do until 8:30 though.”
Pause. Seconds later:
WAT R U DOIN
I sighed again, though this time, I was amused. Was I going to tell him I’d just helped organize a pillow fight in WeHo with a bunch of strangers from online? Actually, I should tell him, I thought, because he needs to know that this is precisely what he was getting into if he was still interested in me. Was he still interested? I ignored my brain for the moment and sent back:
“Honestly, I’m about to take part in an epic pillow fight in West Hollywood. Honestly.”
Pause. Ten seconds later:
I rolled my eyes, and if I could have controlled the earth’s gravitational pull, it would have been the eye roll that caused the next great California earthquake. That was the problem with Leo; any thing that didn’t fit his narrow idea of what it meant to be gay in Los Angeles was always “weird.” He made no effort to expand his horizons in any way possible. I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that I was wasting my time hooking up with him. I was attracted to him – seriously attracted to him – and when he wasn’t judging the hell out of me, he was a joy to be around.
Except he judged me all the time.
Bianca nudged me gently. “You okay?” she asked.
Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, I told her.
She gave me a suspicious look.
I swatted her with my pillow. I’ll be fine once this starts, I said.
“Okay. Talk to me. Later.”
I nodded at her, and let her get our fight started. Sue whistled loudly, and everyone gathered around. Bianca began to explain the simple rules we were all to follow: No headshots. No one starts fighting until we were at the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica. No involving anyone who didn’t have a pillow with them. Folks nodded their heads in agreement, and I was pleased that we’d gotten parents, their children, teenagers from Fairfax High School wearing school sweaters, and other total strangers. As we all began to head towards ground zero, people came up to us to thank us for organizing this. “It’s so silly,” one woman said, “and I’ve been looking forward to it all week.”
I smiled. This was a good idea.
It only took us a few minutes to arrive at our destination, and god, I can’t forget how beautiful it was when, precisely at 8:00pm on a Friday night in West Hollywood, my friend Bianca shouted, “PILLOW FIGHT!” at the top of her lungs, and then it was just a blur. White pillows flashed by, and I couldn’t even tell where I was getting hit from. Thwack. Thud. We were hit in every direction, but that wasn’t the sound I’ll remember the most. It was the laughter. The giggling. The people shouting at us from bars.
It was all the signs that we were alive.
I made it to Leo’s house a couple hours later. He lived on the eastern edge of Hollywood, in a run-down building that sat over an ugly automotive repair shop. In order to get upstairs, you had to press a small black button near a junky wrought iron gate and wait for Leo to press another button upstairs that would open the gate. Then it was up a staircase covered in peeling beige paint that flaked away with every step. “Don’t use the handrails,” Leo told me the first time I came over, bent over in front of me while he used a set of tweezers to pull a splinter out of my finger. “This is what happens.”
This? I wondered. Did he mean the splinter or did he mean holding my hand in his, our brown skin touching, my eyes locked on the ridges I saw poking above his jeans?
He greeted me that night with a quick kiss and a hug, and I ran my hand along his bare back, feeling the muscles flex as he turned back into his apartment. It was a small studio with exposed pipes from an old heating system lining the place where the ceiling met the walls. Like most of the places I’d ever lived in in Los Angeles, the owner had decided that a sickly coat of white paint spread thickly and liberally about the place was a better way to deal with the previous tenant’s sloppiness, so Leo’s walls always looked like they were sweating. They shined tonight, but he dimmed the lights, and the walls sank quietly into the background.
“So,” he said, and he did that thing I hated so much, where he started talking to me without looking at me. He kept himself busy rustling papers or putting away dishes whenever he did this, and tonight was no exception. He started folding clothes that were already neatly organized on the edge of his bed, and I pursed my lips in frustration.
But then he looked up at me, and the right edge of his mouth curled up in a smile, and I could see his abs move whenever he breathed, and he knew that I loved that, too, so he walked over to me, his hips moving as perfectly as hips could move, and he pulled me close to him. “Pillow fight,” he said, placing a kiss on me with those full lips of his.
I reached up and ran a hand through his black hair, smiling. Yep, I said. I wasn’t lying about that. I really did have a pillow fight tonight.
He ran his fingers lightly over the spot above my waist on my back before pulling away. “You’re weird,” he said, and I was thankful he was turned away from me. He didn’t see the momentary scowl pass over my face.
I went for it regardless. So, I said, what did you want me over for?
“Oh, you know. I was bored. I thought we could have some fun.”
Okay, I said. I’d like that. And I’d like something more.
Leo laughed, but it was tinged with pity. “There you go again with that nonsense.”
Leo, come on, we’ve been hanging out for months, and I never do anything but come over here and have sex.
“And?” He resumed folding his clothes. Again.
Is that all we’re going to do? Can’t we like…go on a date?
He tilted his head to the side. “Oh, honey, you’re so adorable. I swear.”
I felt a pang of panic in my chest.
He walked back over to me, a tank top in his hands; he passed it from hand to hand. “That’ll never work, and you know it. Now why ruin a good thing?”
Because I like you?
“Well, I like you, too, Mark. But we can’t date.”
I grabbed one of his hands. Why not?
He pulled it away from me. “When are you going to join the real world, Mark? We can’t be seen together. It’ll never work.”
This time, I laughed at him. Are you serious, Leo? I asked him. We’re adults, Leo. This isn’t tenth grade. No one gives a shit about that anymore.
“Honey,” Leo said. I hated when he called me that, but then he licked his lips, toying with me. “You’re not an adult yet. We can talk about this when you’re thirty. For now…” He ran his hand down my torso and slipped it in the front of my shorts. “This is the only thing we can talk about.”
When I laid him down on his bed a few minutes later, my face burning in shame, all I could think was, Well, at least he’s paying attention to me.
- HOW IS THIS BOOK REAL, I SWEAR.
- So, I wanted to tell a story that touched on my favorite passage in this chapter, which is Lettie telling the narrator that adults are, at heart, the same people they were when they were children. I celebrated my thirtieth birthday a couple months ago, and I can honestly say that I barely feel any different as a person as I did when I turned eighteen. My circumstances have changed, and obviously, the people in my life are different. But I don’t feel like a different person at all. Yeah, I’ve gotten better at dealing with a lot of my issues, but I’m still the same person I was as a teenager and on that night in early 2006. I actually didn’t know what I was going to write about until I tried to think of a time when I truly felt like a kid again, and then I remembered the pillow fight. Initially, I was just going to write about that until I recalled that I was seeing Leo at the time, too, and the dichotomy was too good to pass up. I felt like a kid again during that pillow fight, and then I felt like the same kid who was desperate for any sort of affection later that night.
- This chapter is seriously fantastic, and I’m drawn to Lettie’s matter-of-fact personality. I mean, it seems all the Hempstocks are like this, but Lettie in particular isn’t interested in lying to the narrator. She’s ambiguous as hell, sure, but when he actually asks her questions, she’s not one to mince words. Her entire bit about adults, monsters, and fears is incredible, and that sort of honesty is something the narrator probably didn’t understand at the time, but I imagine it was a big part of his development as a person.
- Hell, even in that sense, I think that we’ll see that the narrator is precisely the same person he was when he was a kid. Just because he didn’t remember everything from his childhood doesn’t mean those events were meaningless.
- Lettie’s confrontation with Ursula is TERRIFYING FOREVER. We learn that Ursula – or whatever it is she is – is not the first of her kind to come to this world. It seems these beings are… thematic? I don’t know how else to explain it. Lettie tells of a creature that made people lonely, and Ursula gives people what they want, but only to hurt them. So what are these beings?
- Harmless. Well, relatively so. We finally find out why Old Mrs. Hempstock calls Ursula a flea: Because they attract varmints. Called “hunger birds.” WHICH DOESN’T SOUND OMINOUS AT ALL. Oh my god, what the fuck.
- And why does Lettie use toys to keep Ursula within the yard? Why do they tear matter? I DON’T UNDERSTAND IT.
- AND I DON’T WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT THE HUNGER BIRDS ARE.
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