Mark Reads ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’: Chapter 4

In the fourth chapter of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Lettie takes the narrator to another world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Chapter IV

“Don’t let go of my hand.”

I stood to the left of my mother, my brother on her right, and the sun, an impossible ball of heat in the sky, showered pain down on to us. I glanced up at my father and saw the sweat trickle down his temple.

“This is the hottest it has ever been,” my brother said, and it sounded like he had to push the words out of his mouth.

“I know, honey,” my mother replied. “We’re in the desert. It gets hot here.”

But this is literally the hottest day ever, I added. Literally.

My mom eyed me, but ignored my exaggeration. We’d driven from Riverside to Yuma, Arizona to visit her sister, and in the process, we experienced summer in the desert. Riverside had hot, dry summers, with temperatures easily getting above 100˚F for weeks on end. But we also got the Santa Anas, and the wind that sometimes visited us in the afternoon made the heat bearable. This, though? This was the worst feeling. This was like having an iron pressed to your face. This was like a hand to the stove but forever.

“Are we really going to Mexico today, mom?” my brother asked, referring to a conversation we’d overheard at my aunt’s house. She wasn’t that far from San Luis Río Colorado, a small municipality in the northwest corner of Sonora, and sometimes, there was a street fair or market on Saturdays if you timed it right. We hadn’t been in the car long before we parked and began the walk across the hot asphalt and dirt towards… well, we didn’t know where we were going.

“Actually,” my mother replied,” we’re already there.”

I remember stopping, my mom yanking me along once she realized I wasn’t moving, and being hit with the immensity of this statement. I was in another country. Not just any country, but this was the same country where my birth parents were supposed to have come from. As we came to a crest of a hill, my mom squeezed my hand tighter and said, “Don’t let go of my hand. I don’t want any of these people taking you.”

It seemed like a strange thing to say at the time, but I was stunned into silence once I saw the mats laid on the dirt, the bracelets and shawls and wooden figures placed on top of it. There were stripes of bright, flashing colors, geometric shapes and angular lines, and there were knives with stone hilts, and there was a doll with its face painted like its skull next to it. My mom slowly tugged me away from each vendor, and I was lost in their language. They spoke so fast, so certain, and then they’d look at me, then my twin, then our mother, then back to us, and then look at one another. Two ladies began pointing at us, babbling on excitedly about something, and then our mom squeezed tighter and pulled us away again.

Our aunt Betty arrived, and she began to excitedly drag my mother from one sale to another, which meant that we came along, too. We were standing in front of an older woman, whose hair looked like thick cobwebs and whose skin was wrinkled like leather, when she offered us bracelets. “¿Quieres esto?” she would ask, and my aunt insisted that the kids all get matching bracelets with our names on it. So my brother and I squatted down and began rummaging through the woman’s trinkets and bracelets, seeing if our name was there. Our mother drifted to the table next to us, and the eyes began to fall on my brother and I again. I looked up to find the woman who made the bracelets staring at me, expressionless.

“You noticed, too?” my brother suddenly said.

I looked at him and nodded.

“They look like us. A lot.”

I held up my hand to the woman in front of me and closed one eye, moving so that my hand covered half of her face. It’s exactly the same, I said to my brother. We’re the same color.

“That’s weird.”

We agreed it was, for the time being. My mother came back to us, paid the woman for the bracelets we found, and grabbed our hands again. “We’re leaving,” she said. “I don’t like it here. It feels so trashy.”

We obeyed our mother, who quickly took us back to the car as women stared at my brother and I, whispering to each other, and we left. I’ve never been back to Mexico since.

*

Thoughts

  • It was the idea of holding hands while entering a strange world that triggered my memory of going to Mexico for the first time when I was a kid, and I was drawn to this idea of Lettie leading the narrator to this mysterious place by holding his hand. Actually, I suspect there’s more to it than I realize, given that she was so insistent that he not let go. Obviously, I don’t understand the mechanics of this world at all, but clearly, Lettie followed a specific ritual of some sort to access the place.
  • You know, it’s very common for Gaiman to write about worlds that exist in tandem or parallel to our own, but this is one of the most jarring introductions to a world I’ve read. There’s no explanation for nearly anything here. Why do they follow colors? When Lettie says they’ve gone “further than [she] imagined,” how literal is she being?
  • MANTA WOLF
  • WHAT THE FUCK!
  • The creatures in this world are abstract, and yet they’re specific enough to make me feel dread when they’re on a page. Like, it’s hard to visualize the grey and pink thing that Lettie talks to, and that’s part of why its so unsettling.
  • So, this thing granted the opal miner’s desire in some way, and clearly, it didn’t fully understand what the man meant by his wish, and it acted to help other humans? How did it get to our world?
  • WHAT IS THAT FLAPPING THING THAT FLIES AT THE NARRATOR?
  • THE CATS
  • THE CATS
  • Okay, I feel safe saying that something happened when the narrator let go of Lettie’s hand. Is it related to the pain in his foot?
  • Something is going to go wrong, y’all.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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