Four Tales of the Sea: 4. Floating Flames

I wasn’t quite down to the wire when I handed it in, I told myself. I triumphed in my baccalaureate, met the questions gleefully, and provided quite the spread of food when it was over. My mousse au chocolat was a hit. And when all was said and done, I felt sad. My thesis turned in at the library, my moment over, all my course work done, there was only but to graduate. It was then that I realized what thesis burning was really about. So I made my plans carefully. I talked with the sailing club, I did my research, invited my friends. I made arrangements…

Anne Shirley’s hair was red. With a little bit of cheap hair bleach, mine takes on a brassy red tone, and what with my freckles, the Anne resemblance is unmistakable. Anne tried to make her hair raven black with dye bought from dubious sources, and it turned out green. After bleaching my hair, I intended to make it greenish in a single streak. Now Anne’s plan didn’t turn out as expected… why should mine? My hair was all clumps of blond and brown and red, none light enough to dye any other color and all at the wrong angles.

On top of that, my white dress didn’t look archaic enough. And worst yet, I had forgotten the flow of the chapter. I was going to read the chapter. What chapter you ask? Well, the chapter in Anne of Green Gables in which Anne takes out the flat to enact the Tennyson poem, and instead of floating placidly across the pond, she sunk and wound up clinging to a bridge piling. It is chapter twenty-eight, and it is called “An Unfortunate Lily Maid.” I was going to read it at my thesis funeral, looking like Anne, and do something big. It needed to be big, after all the work, the long nights, the writing and the research and the hard realizations about the implications of my work.

So my thesis was to see an Anne-ish end, because who had a better flare for the dramatic? Thus we assembled on the beach by the sailing club that day, as piecemeal as my description thus far, and we were going to burn a copy of my thesis on the bay. The copy of my thesis. The last one all marked up by my thesis sponsor, the last one listing all the changes I needed to make before I handed it in to my baccalaureate committee.

I had my cardboard boat– and remebering a thesis funeral from long ago, I styled it after Morgan’s. I had on my not-so-archaic white dress. I had my ever-so-awfully bleached hair. And when I started reading the print-out of the chapter aloud, it wasn’t as I had remembered it. Oh, the flow was all wrong for what I intended. When Anne got to the good parts, the sinking of her boat–she was relating it to Mrs. Allan after the fact (only that could so perfectly deflate a crescendo, and Lucy Maude Montgomery knew it) and Gilbert rescued Anne sooner than I had thought… oh, the flow was all wrong! So I rushed it, and when it came to Anne’s rescue, I tossed the pages of my print-out over my shoulder and proclaimed Anne to have been competent enough to have rescued herself.

We took to the boats, then, two to a canoe, and paddled out onto the water. My cardboard thesis craft was laden with white flowers, all that we could find, so many that they overflowed into the bottom of my canoe. A hundred and fifty yards or more from shore, I set the tiny vessel down in the water, my thesis laid flat in it. I learned from the past– I drenched the itty boat in lighter fluid, and then… FWOOSH! It bobbed against my canoe seeking to hang on just a little longer, but I pushed it away with my paddle, my brow crimping. And when it finally dimmed to smoldering, I forced it under with my oar, drowning its charred remains with tears pricking my eyes. Fiercely, fiercely, “it was just the smoke and salt,” I was prepared to lie.

Then I stood tottering in my canoe, my rowing companion steadying the vessel from the back. I took up the last of the white flowers, sopping and droopy, and clutched them to my breast. “Well,” I paused Anne-ishly, looking from boat to boat, “This has a lot of scope for the imagination!”

Whoops, hollers, applause and SPLASH! I tumbled overboard, and began treading water, spewing out salt, ululating sorrow and triumph, choking on brine.

“Shoreward!” I sputtered loud as I could, gliding into an easy side stroke, through clouds of seaweed. I was the last to come in, after all the canoes were hauled up out of the water, my dress dragging, trailing sea plants. My friends waded out to me, standing knee-deep in the bay. They hugged me, even soaking wet.

Only once I was in the car did my eyes flood over. It wasn’t mine, it wasn’t mine anymore, all that work. I let it go, burned not my work, but my bond to it out there on the water. My thesis was all grown up.

And maybe I was all grown up too.

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