She sat in her favorite spot on the porch of the beach house, the salty air sticking to her skin, the oncoming storm blowing sand across her bare feet. The crisp envelope bent beneath her fingers as she laid it on her lap and reached for the pen in her dress pocket.
The air felt invigorated. She smiled. She thought of storms as, even more than hardships, common enemies that brought people together.
And that that enemy was, though very animated, inanimate, was the best part of it. She had met Daniel in a storm – both taking cover under the eaves of the general store-and-bait shop in South Beach. He’d offered her a towel that sat draped over his shoulder. She’d thanked him as she’d dried her face.
She loved storms even more than sunsets. She knew she wasn’t the only one. The couple in the neighboring house would always come out on their deck as the clouds massed. Nowadays, they brought out their baby, too. They were both blonde. She looked like a model for J. Crew or Abercrombie or whichever brand was currently most successfully advertising itself as white and wealthy. He looked like…he’d met her at that company at a new models’ introductory lunch.
She wondered what that life was like. She knew, of course, that it couldn’t be all plush carpet beneath freshly scrubbed white feet and lazily draped, tanned-and-toned white appendages, the fine golden hairs catching the sunlight just so – catching it and batting it around amongst themselves until finally tiring of it and letting it move on.
She knew it, if for no other reason than she’d seen them arguing – seen it through their large bay windows. Seen it as she’d lain on her couch in an unlit house, at that time of evening when the sky was still light but the shadows were dark. At a time she’d felt a shadow amongst shadows.
She’d just stared at the couple, their pain barely registering, if at all – she preferred to believe the former. What she saw – or, felt – was a merciful distraction from her thoughts. An animated, soundless scene in front of her that left her only enough mental energy to feel her cool, wet, heavy eyelashes as the vestiges of her catching sobs slowly died away.
The fights with Daniel had been epic – long, drawn-out battles that had had highs and lows, mini arcs, false resolutions, subtle thrusts and elegant parries. Exhausting campaigns – battles of attrition that depleted their reserves and were often more tests of endurance than reasoned debates or even trials of passion.
Days would feel like weeks. Every trip out of her room would become a stealth mission, every half-hour out of the house that her cell didn’t ring an emotional assurance that it never would.
Then the resolution, which was a celebration of relief. A shared purging of emotional toxins through the physical.
It was like an addiction, she thought. It’s not going to run its course. I’m not going to grow out of it. I need to quit cold turkey.
Before she could control it, a thought came to her of the Thanksgiving they’d spent in that same house, rather than at his mom’s or her parents’ – it had felt so young and careless and self-indulgent and free. They’d eaten turkey nuggets – wait, was there such a thing? Maybe it was chicken nuggets they’d simply called turkey nuggets.
The memory was blurry. Stronger was the one of her dousing the table cloth in red wine when he’d left the room after knocking down one of the candle sticks.
The other, he’d thrown across the room. The wax stain on the wall was now more a part of the house than the sad memento it had begun as.
Just like the chair-shaped dent in the wall.
And the glass-shard-fashioned scar on her forearm, now as much a part of her arm as the freckle it sat above.
Time heals all wounds, she thought.
But you’ve been abusing time. And, just like anything else, if you abuse it, it’ll run out on you. Or turn around and hurt you.
Time was no longer her friend. It felt as if it’d gone from being on her side to working against her almost overnight. What had been the demarcation? That third wrinkle below her left eye? The ache in her right knee? The last time she’d said, “I love you”?
No. I’m too old for any more storms.
She stood up and walked toward the beach. At the edge, she stopped and took in the scene. Tried to impress forever on her memory the sight of the dark clouds in the still-bright sky. The fresh, salty smell of the air, and the electrified feel of the wind. She reached down and grabbed a handful of sand and let it run through her fingers.
Like a human hourglass, she thought.
When it had run out, she placed the envelope on the railing, finally addressing it.
Inside were three pages, cut down over the three days from ten. But even one would be unnecessary. He’d know as soon as he saw the envelope.
She stuck it securely in the metalwork of the screen door.
She didn’t even go inside. She’d already locked everything.
She took one last look at the ocean, then turned and exited the porch from the landside.
But she didn’t feel regret. In fact, as she went, those familiar slabs of the boardwalk under her feet for the last time, she began to feel something she hadn’t in a long time – anticipation.