(August 2017)

photo by flickr user sheng fa-lin

To the one who was supposed to get away

Letter to a Stranger

lavinia spalding

What I remember, 15 years on, is not your face or hair or hands, nor the beach or full moon above us that night. I remember the safety cone. It was bright orange, brand new, and perfectly incongruous, so we stared at it for seven hours.

My friend swung by twice to check on me, maybe three times.

“I’m good,” I said dreamily, as you studied the plastic cone or the silver sea of tinsel before us or the spectacle to our right—hundreds of barefoot bodies gyrating to a techno laser lightshow. Perhaps you looked behind us to the dreadlocked girl with the vacant eyes performing fire poi, twirling and swaying inside her trance of flaming hoops.

I wanted to stand up when the giant paper lanterns drifted like white sparks into the sky, burning ash flakes from a campfire. I should have scrawled my wish on paper and flown it into that blackness, or joined the mob of dancers and truly belonged, then, to the tens of thousands on our tourist-trap party island in Thailand. I contemplated finding my sandals. Instead I stayed captive, promised to one small square of sand and one plastic cone and you.


The traveler’s-eye view of men and women is not satisfying. A man might spend his entire life in trains and restaurants and know nothing of humanity at the end. To know, one must be an actor as well as a spectator.” –Aldous Huxley