Sunday, April 21, 2013
Incoming waves stretched toward the shoreline widely overlapping those receding back into the sea. It seemed more violent than usual but considering my present state of mind, I pondered the likelihood that it just might be transference of the contention within me. Dark clouds etched in at the horizon and defined the exact point where the water met the sky, and radiated a beryl tinge in both directions. The melting sun was conceding to its fate of being inexorably drawn into the dark and ominously impending squall. A cool wind began to blow in from the same direction and I pulled the corners of the blanket I was sitting on up around my shoulders.
“Nothin’ more beautiful er disturbin’ than a storm comin’ over tha seas.”
I jumped at the sound of another voice. I had been sitting here for hours without seeing another creature with the exception of an occasional sea bird or crab. He chuckled at my startled appearance and took a deep draw on his cigarette and smoke curled about his gray bearded weathered face as a cold gust blew against us.
“Ya been starin out there a long time, are ya findin’ any answers?”
Astonished at his presence, I glanced past him and scanned my surroundings. I had walked for two long hours to find an isolated place on the beach assuring my solitude. Careful scrutiny of the terrain ensured there was nothing or no one for as far as the eye could see, no cottages, no tourists, nothing at all but beach, birds and myself. Again he chuckled to himself and I found it difficult to hide my annoyance. He took a final drag on the cigarette and removed it from his mouth, and with a doting glance, tossed it into the sand and buried it with his toe.
“Damn things ‘ill kill ya. Not in the habit are ya?”
Hesitating to answer, I finally replied to his query. “No”. Emotions at his presence were a mix of irritation at the disturbance and relief from my own melancholy. “Where on earth did you come from?” This time his chuckle turned into an outright laugh and I felt my face begin to burn.
“So, ya thought ya were all alone here, did ya? I been watchin’ ya for a long time but storms come up pretty quick ‘round here and I didn’t think ya would be able to get back tonight in this storm so I come out to check on ya. Gather yer stuff up there and come with me.”
I glared at him offended by the unbelievable gall, defiantly shook my head and turned my back on him and returning my attentions back out into the sea. A little rain would not melt me. “I’m afraid I would not be good company,” I said without turning around. No reply came back. Refusing to be drug into an argument, I stared out at the waves. Even as they agitated the seabed and slammed against the shoreline, they brought on me a sense of calm. I hated being rude but I needed this time alone and wet or dry, I intended on staying put. Finally, hearing a clatter in the distance, I again turned to watch him leave, hoping to discover where he came from.
“HEY!” I jumped to my feet and ran after him. “Put down that bag!” I shouted. Now it was he who didn’t look back and continued his pace as he proceeded on his trek to an undisclosed destination. He was tall and thin and his stride was long and quick and unimpeded by his age. I had to run quite a distance before I could catch up with him. “You crazy old coot!” I gasped between gulps of air, “Give me back my bag!”
He stopped dead in his tracks and stared straight ahead. When he turned my direction, something in his face seemed to reflect the menacing skies. He rubbed his hand over his beard and pressed his crusty lips into a thin straight line of determination. Narrowing his eyes at the darkening horizon, he tightened his grip on my duffel bag, turned on his heel and continued his journey.
With the slightest tilt of his head in my direction, he said “When yer a safe distance from the tow that’s sure to come, I’ll give ya back yer bag. Ya kin sit out on the porch in tha rain if ya like, ya don’t hafta come inside. I can’t jes leave ya here to be sucked up by the sea.”
I stood there in shocked amazement. This antiquated benevolent fool had taken it upon himself to force an unsolicited guardianship upon my person and had confiscated my belongings, like I was a willful child intent on self-destruction. I resisted the urge to stamp my feet but given no viable alternative, I hurriedly pursued my benefactor.
“Look,” I gasped as we loped along, “I am sorry I lost my temper,” I pleaded in my most patronizing tone. “I am certain you have my best interest at heart but I am not a child and I don’t appreciate your condescending attitude. I am a grown woman and perfectly capable of handling myself in an emergency situation. Please return my belongings and I will be on my way. If I was trespassing I apologize. I didn’t realize that this was private property and I didn’t think anyone resided in this part of the beach.”
As I breathlessly pleaded my case to his backside, he ambled up what looked to be a very long and steep sand dune. The top was covered in sea oats that now swayed in the gusts of wind coming off the ocean. The sun could no longer be seen above the clouds and lightening began to streak across the ever-darkening sky. There was a chill in the wind that cut to the bone and I would have liked my jacket out of my duffel bag but considering the circumstances, my pride would not allow me to make a request of further care. A couple of sea gulls cried out as they flew by struggling against the wind.
Large drops of water began to fall out of the glowering skies, making great splotchy discolorations in the sand. Then suddenly, the rain came down in torrents. As we crested the peak of the sand levee, the old man turned and grinned.
“Turn ya around there and see where ya was sittin. Ya would be swimmin’ by now then wouldn’t ya? Nobody owns the beach mah lassy. It belongs to the sea and she lays her claim on it, as she will. As long as ya know that, then ya can get on with her just fine.”
I stood gaping, in awe of the speed in which the water had taken over the entirety of the beach. “Well, it appears I am not as self-reliant as I supposed myself to be,” I relented.
“When she tells ya to go home, she’s no lady about it”, he chuckled softly. “Looks like she is a bit angry at your tarrying about. But she rarely crosses my levee as we have an understanding .she and I, so you just c’mon back and stay a while until she gets it outa her system and then ya can have a walk back tomorrow.”
He turned and went down the hill as deftly as he ascended. I followed slipping and sliding and hoping not to tumble into him. As we cleared the sea oats, I saw a cabin sitting in isolation from anyone or anything.
Out on the porch was an old large dog tied to one of the posts. He seemed resigned to his confinement and barely raised his head as we approached. I couldn’t help but wonder if he found this poor dog playing mindlessly along the beach and took him under the same circumstance as he taken had me.
He glanced back at me like he had heard my thoughts. “I can’t let him loose in the storm. He likes ta go fishin’ and will be swallowed in the waves today. He won’t listen to me either,” he grinned. He scratched the old dog on his head and patted his side. The dog thumped his tail a couple of times against the porch.
“Will he be alright out in this?” I asked.
“Aye” he said, “He doesn’t like it inside much. Doesn’t want to miss anythin’ and nothin’ goes on in here.” The icy wind whipped around between the sand dune and the house, cutting through my blouse. I shivered and the old man opened the door.
“Come in, Lassie. It is dry and warm inside and I can fix ya a bit of tea and a give ya a biscuit. It’ll take the chill right out o’ ya.” At my hesitation, he began that incessant chuckle of his. “Is it this old man yer afeared of? Ya need not worry about yer safety, ma’am. I am not gonna hurt ya.” For the first time, he broke into a smile and his blue eyes actually twinkled with warmth and good humor. He continued to stand and hold the door until I felt obligated to relieve him of his post and walked in. “Make yerself ta home, Lassie. Morning will be here before ya know it.” He walked over to a small black stove and started loading it with wood. I have some clean shirts and britches in the closet, ya can change outa yer wet clothes over there behind the blanket.
The walls inside were bare knotted pine and the floor was peg board. All that decorated the walls were utility necessities, to be accessed easily. It wasn’t pretty but it was clean and organized and smelled of a mix of tobacco and fresh cut wood. The furniture was rustic and homemade. Still shivering, I looked over past the chest of drawers to an old wardrobe made of rough sawn cedar and opened the doors. Looking through the neatly folded stack of clothing, I was struck by the strong smell of cedar wood that emanated from inside the cabinet.
“Hold it right there, Lassie,” he said flatly.
I was so engrossed in my surroundings; I had not heard him cross the room and jumped at the nearness of his voice. Then a small metallic click caused me to look back and there he stood with a large buck knife pointed in my direction. My throat tightened and I froze in place, having no where to run. He seemed to look past me and I wondered if he did he ever look right at the person before the knife entered their flesh. He reached up and grabbed a roll of rope above my head. Panic pulsed through me as I imagined what would occur if he were to tie me up. He stopped what he was doing and looked intently at me as if he were measuring me and carefully cut a piece of rope with his knife as I watched in alarm. At the sound of his voice, I jolted.
“If ya thread this through the loops on the britches, you’ll keep yer drawers up on yer.” Trembling, I nodded and took the rope from his gnarled hands. “Hurry and get outta them wet clothes. Yer tea is all but ready.”
Walking around the other side of the blanket that served as a makeshift curtain and the divider between the wash room and the rest of the house, I sat heavily down on a cane chair and closed my eyes. My body began to tremble out of control until it shook violently and my breath came out in deep heaving sobs.
The sting of the morning’s activities had finally overcome me. I sat in calm determination as I signed each of the papers handed to me. I watched passively as he picked up the pen after me and placed his signature below mine. I remained placid as the judge pronounced I was no longer married to the man I had promised to love for the rest of my life. In the presence of my friends and associates I was demure and composed. I had not cried in the lawyer’s office when I filed for divorce. I had not cried from the first realization that I was no longer the only one to whom he would cleave. I did not cry when I saw him with her in his arms, in my safe place, in my home, in my robe, in my life. It was done and couldn’t be changed. This very morning he gave me back my name and my life that I had given to him and I didn’t cry. He never saw me cry one single time. He would never see me cry.
But now, six months of stored tears, a heart broken beyond repair and frightened beyond logic, I lost all control and all the walls that protected my heart gave way. It was like the storm outside had taken me over, had come from within me, releasing all the fury of my soul, tearing up the shoreline and blowing down everything, flooding the whole world with unshed tears.
When the torrents had dwindled to whimpers, unaware of my surroundings, he again startled me by appearing around the curtain with a cup of hot tea. Still shivering and wet, I took the warm cup from his gnarled brown fingers.
“Oh Lassie, poor lassie,” he said to soothe me. “Tha’s a slight wisp of a girl to carry heavy burdens.” He reached up, took the curtain off the wall, and wrapped it about my wet clothes and me. “Drink your tea and calm your nerves a bit. The most violent storms e’er I saw were those that came from a burdened heart. Our Lady of the sea knows the heart of all that sit upon her shoreline. She will blow over quickly now that she has gotten it out of you. It was good yer comin’ here, for to come to here is to find an end of the pain. It is why sailors never come home. She can bind it up and take it away from ya and it releases ya from sadness and pain for as long as ya can stay with her. Come over here and sit by the stove. It is warm now. Drink yer tea. I put a bit of whiskey in it ta help ya sleep.”
He helped me out of the chair and propelled me forward balancing me and the cup of tea. There in front of the stove was an old rocker. It was out of place in the room full of crudely home-crafted furniture. The arms were ornately carved and the cushions were covered in worn brocade. It creaked as I sat down and I as I leaned my head back it rocked slightly backward. The warmth from the stove began to penetrate the blanket and I felt my head begin to throb. Somewhere in a fog, I heard the whimpering of a dog and through swollen bleary eyes, I saw the old dog from the porch. He stood beside me as if protecting me from further anxiety. After a bit he moved closer to me and rested his head on my leg.
The old man looked intently at his old dog sitting so close and chuckled. “Well there Salty, I haven’t seen that in a while now have I? He’s taken ta ya there, Lassie. Ole Salty, He don’ take kindly ta strangers.”
Everything seemed surreal and as I tried to attach the voice to a person, the old man shoved the tea in my hand and commanded me to drink. I lifted the mug to my lips and sipped at the warm liquid. It was strong and bitter with a pleasant glow from the whiskey and I began to feel my head swim as I swallowed the last of the contents. Again I leaned my head against the back of the chair and felt it rock back slightly and closed my eyes. Then, I felt no more.
At some point in the night, I awoke to the realization that I was not in my own bed. The only light in the room was the full moon peaking through the clouds and I used the shadowed reflection to try and make out an object that might look familiar enough to give me a indication of where I might be. The gilded clouds wafted luxuriously over the luminous ivory orb smiling into my window as stars twinkled through exposed patches of cloudless sky. I listened for a familiar sound to quell the uneasy feeling of not knowing where I was and heard the distinct sound of waves.
I sat up and felt around on the small table next to my bed and found a full cup of tepid tea. It was a welcomed discovery. I put the cup to my lips and greedily gulped its contents, grimacing afterwards at the strong bitter unsavory bite of tea neither hot nor cold and the memory of the day returned afresh.
Salty appeared as if aware of the disturbance of the night’s peace and placed his head on my knees and I realized I was wearing different clothes. Mindlessly I stroked his head and visually sought my shoes in the dimly illuminated room. Salty sat down and leaned into me. I moved my foot back and struck something under my chair. My clothes were folded neatly in a stack with my shoes on top under the chair. Upon the discovery, Salty stood up as if hopeful of a pending change of scene.
As I changed from the clothes I was wearing I kept pushing away the awkward visions of being dressed by a stranger like a sleeping child into their pajamas. I was an educated, competent woman reduced to puerility over the course of the day. Exasperated at my behavior, my gaze was drawn up to see the moon, swept free of clouds, smiling benevolently down at me and beckoning me to come out and play. Salty nudged me toward the door. I was anxious to comply and to see the moon glittering off the frothy ebony waves.
Stealthily, I tiptoed through the dark house feeling my way to the door. Salty moved quickly past me and awaited my arrival to free him from the enclosed prison barring him from a moonlight swim. His tail banged noisily on the door. I hushed him quietly and he became more animated. I lunged to open the door so as to quell the loud thumping of Salty’s tail. Salty bolted past and bounded to the crest of the Sand dune and then doubled back before I was off the porch.
The air still smelled of rain but the stars sparkled radiantly unimpeded by the opalescent luster of the moon. I closed my eyes and deeply breathed in the sweet damp air. Salty was bounding up the dune again. On the porch, I saw my blanket draped over the railing and reached up and pulled it down to carry with me as the night, or early morning air had a slight chill. I had no real conception of what time it might be.
I stepped off the porch as Salty returned for the third time and began to make my way up the side of the large sandy dune that protected the little cottage. I felt a little light headed but remarkably unburdened. As I made my way up the steep dune I reflected back on the ease in which my benefactor moved over the hill. His pace never changed from flat to steep, from sand to porch, he walked steady and unimpeded by the terrain. His face showed signs of having weathered the storms of life with grit and determination not to be taken under by them.
As I made it to the top, I was awestruck by the magnificence of witnessing where the power of heaven met with the power of the sea and the realization that something or someone greater than either ruled them both and realized that I was going to heal and not merely survive. Lost in a panoramic backdrop and a sea of contemplation, I started when felt Salty brush against my leg and to find I was not standing alone. We stood without talking drinking in the resonance of the sea and wind and the starlight and moonlight until they began to fade into the morning light.
He touched my shoulder and held out my bag with my remaining contents I had left behind. “Thank-you,” I whispered.
He smiled. “I nou’t but saved tha from losin yer life, lassie. Go home and build yerself the life you want.” His blue eyes twinkled in the first light of morning and he smiled warmly and nodded. I took my bag and headed down the sea side of the dune intent on doing just that.