by Alice Woodrome
Christina dried a mug and put it in the nearly empty cabinet. She replaced the worn dish towel on the rack beside the sink. So warm for an early June morning. She brushed a wisp of unruly brown hair from her eyes with the back of her hand, and walked to the window. Christina unlatched it and pushed it open to let in the cool sea breeze. Lingering there, she leaned against the sill, took a deep breath of salt air and looked across the bay to the rising sun just above the horizon. Her thoughts turned to Brian as they always did. "I miss you so much, my love.”
She tried to hold a picture of Brian in her mind to ease the loneliness. Tall, he had been, with ebony hair that blew in the wind. Closing her eyes, she saw that crooked smile and the way he winked at her when he said something clever. Oh, and how clever he was. A smile drew across Christina’s face. Why he’d ever been attracted to her was a mystery; there was nothing extraordinary about her even when she was twenty, but he’d been drawn to her as surely as she was to him. It was the first summer she had come down alone—nearly fifteen years ago. They met while she was shelling at dawn. He was walking his dog, a black lab named Lafitte. She threw a broken shell into the breaking waves, and the dog plunged in after it, then carried it to Brian.
“Lafitte doesn’t let you throw anything away,” Brian said, handing the shell to Christina.
She laughed, and knelt down to pet the dog. “Lafitte? Isn’t that the name of a pirate?” She looked up at Brian.
He dropped to his knees to face her. “I’m impressed. Most people wouldn’t make that connection. Pierre Lafitte was a French pirate in the Gulf—”
“In the early 19th century, if I’m not mistaken.” She smiled. “Comes from being a history buff.” She nuzzled the dog. “Why did you name him Lafitte?”
“When you get to know him better, you’ll understand. He’s a bit of a thief.” Brian winked, “Lafitte is especially good at stealing hearts.”
They both laughed. Brian asked if he and Lafitte could walk with her for a while. The walk lasted the entire morning and led them to eating lunch together in her beach house and making love afterwards.
When Christina remembered that day, it was more like a dream now, a waking dream that she could shape to her will. If she tried hard enough, could she make the ending come out differently?
The old beach house was empty most of the year. Its coat of lemon yellow paint had peeled off in places revealing a darker gold underneath. The wooden stairs were badly in need of repair, and the hand rail, splintery. The house was barely livable, but Christina had come there every summer since she was a child. The beach had been alive during the summer then. Her family had owned a dozen brightly painted beach houses and rented them out to families from the north during the season. They were already deteriorating and getting difficult to rent when a hurricane took most of them, along with the family's security, when Christina was nineteen.
Her father died shortly afterwards in a boating accident. Another vessel failed to yield and the resulting crash took five lives, four strangers and Christina’s father. His body was taken inland to Covintown, where they lived most of the year. Everyone came for the funeral. It marked the end of summer visits to the bay for most everyone in the extended family, except Christina.
Overcome with the sudden need to walk along the beach, Christina turned from the window, grabbed a tote bag, and carefully descended the rickety stairs to the sand. When she got close to the surf, she slipped off her sandals, put them in the bag, slung it over her shoulder and walked along the shore, delighting in the feel of wet sand under her toes.
The pink in the eastern sky was giving way to gold that bathed the whole bay in an exquisite luster. Several seagulls flew over the water, their voices adding to the ambiance. It happened nearly every morning of her vacation, but Christina never tired of it. These days it was the only bright spot in her life.
Christina’s mother, who had never had a firm grasp on sanity, found life without her husband more than her fragile psyche could handle. After what was termed a mental breakdown, she could no longer live alone. Christina came home from college to care for her, but after a year trying, they moved her to a home where people told her when to eat and when to change her clothes. They dispensed her medications and monitored her delusions.
Christina lived alone in the family home after that and wondered what had become of the life she had hoped for. Her father’s insurance covered her mother’s care, but little more. Christina got a job as a copy editor at the local newspaper, and lived for her two week vacation every summer.
She stayed alone in the house along the remote stretch of beachfront. With the summer people gone, along with her family, the beach became a different place. Someday when the money ran out they would have to sell the beach property to support her mother, but until then, it was the only place she really loved—the only place she found any peace. The only place where Brian’s memory was real enough she could touch him.
With the sandpipers scurrying about, she walked along the beach holding the memory of Brian’s hand in hers—the sensation so real she felt him lift her hand and press it to his cheek and saw the devotion in his hazel eyes. She stopped to watch a pelican fishing, and to gather bits of shell and sea glass to put in her bag.
Christina stooped to pick up a bright blue piece of smooth glass. “Look at the patina on this, Brian,” she said aloud. “It looks like satin, doesn’t it?” She smiled. “Did you know they used to call sea glass mermaid tears? Every time a sailor drowned at sea, the mermaids would cry and the sea glass was their tears washing up on the shore.”
She looked into the translucent piece of blue glass and an image came to her of them together on his boat—a yacht, yes a yacht—for Brian had not only been handsome and gentle, but wealthy. She felt the warmth of his body, holding her snuggly from behind, kissing her neck as they watched the sun set over the bay, the sea spray on their faces. How he had loved her, perhaps even more than she loved him.
Then that fateful day. Another storm like the one that washed away her family's best days, had taken Brian this time. Lost at sea, without a body to bury. Just the mermaid’s tear, and a memory of their happiness together to see her through the rest of her days.
Oh, Christina knew it wasn't true. But it was somehow easier to endure a life without love when she pretended it once had been hers.
I wrote the piece above when the Salvador Dali painting was given as a daily prompt in my freewriting group. Every day we had to write something using the prompt given.