Beth slipped the key in her pocket and stood with her back to the door. The weather had turned and a low hanging blanket of grey spread over the ocean. She stared toward the water, at a jagged line of debris that stretched the length of the beach. It formed an unsteady line that divided the forces of nature.
She rubbed at her arms and considered going back in for her coat, yet decided against it. What harm could a little rainwater do? The quiet of the cottage had driven her out. There was little to do now the others had gone and returned to their make believe worlds of rip, tear and bust. She liked living here – having her friends down for the week every once in a while. It made her feel close in a distant way. It gave her a taste of the world she denied she was missing.
At the end of the beach, she could see her neighbours preparing to fish. It had become a Thursday night ritual to join them. On Fridays she pan-fried her catch in an old frying pan that her mother once owned. She decided on spending the evening tossing a line and spinning a yarn with her neighbours. The T.V was broken and she hated the silence of being alone.
The light was beginning to fade, and a slice of sun slipped between cloud and horizon. It flooded the ocean in hues of deep violet and pink. This was her favourite time of the day, yet still she felt restless. She set off along the grassy path that joined her cottage to the sand, and she collected a small lantern that sat at the end of the path. She kicked off her shoes, hearing her mother’s voice nagging her as she went…”watch your feet – there could be syringes…” She shut out the voice in her head and enjoyed the squeaky grittiness of the sand against the soles of her feet.
Up ahead, she saw Pete. She watched him casting his rod and saw the line snag straight away. Beside him sat all the usual props – esky, stools and an orange crate he had stolen from the dairy. On the upturned crate sat an old wireless – its music winding toward her as she walked. She smiled at the notion that Pete still believed the music enticed the fish.
Dancing about nearby was Pete’s wife Elsa, and their five-year-old son. Their laughter lifted high on the salty breeze. They both began waving as they spotted her heading toward them.
“I was just coming to see you,” Beth shouted to them, holding the lantern high in the air. Her hair flew about her face and whipped at her eyes and mouth. She could taste salt on her lips already.
“Have they gone yet?” Elsa shouted into the wind. Her son stopped to investigate a burrowing crab.
“They left a while ago…” Beth answered now close enough to no longer scream to be heard.
“You ok?” Elsa asked.
“He didn’t show, did he?”
“Nope – no biggie – I’ll just consider it my final fling…” Beth flippantly replied, though her heart was twisting in half. An uncomfortable silence fell between them and was quickly filled with the returning roar of the ocean.
“The inconceivable dream, perhaps,” Beth added, her smile quickly vanishing.
She watched Elsa chase after her son who was chasing a squawking gull through the line of the weed left on the beach. Beth turned her attention toward the sea. The setting sun had drained the colours away and left her alone with the earliest shades of darkness.
“I thought you might need this,” she said, turning and offering the lantern to Elsa.
“I think tonight, I’ll stay in,” she added.
“You sure you don’t want to fish?”
“I should probably go home – clean up a bit…Make sure you catch me one,” Beth called, edging away, increasing the distance between them.
“Sure…” Elsa linked hands with her son and then led him back to the music.
Beth dug her feet into the sand and propelled herself back up the beach. At the edge of the grassy path that led to her door, she saw the car through the trees as it travelled the road. She reached the cottage just as it pulled into her drive. Her hand wrapped around the doorknob, and with the key in the lock – she froze as she stared at the car, and waited for the driver’s door to open. He had come after all. He got out of the car and in the poor light she failed to see the woman in the passenger side. She studied the woman as she climbed from the car and relaxed when she saw the ageing face and the obvious hunch of the old woman's shoulders as she attempted to straighten. .
Beth turned the key and pushed the door open and then stood and watched them walking toward her. It was too late to pretend to be out; and too early to tell why he had come; why he had brought the old woman along. The woman looked the same as she always had - a little more weathered perhaps. Beth watched him lead her from the car and smile the way he always had, and she could feel herself fold on the inside. By the time they had reached her, the rain had begun and Beth longed for the warmth of the coat she had left inside.