At night we’d sometimes sit on the beach across the street. The house was too oppressive, the lit-up air yellow and close. During good periods I could gingerly walk myself, tottering unsteadily like some bundled ancient being, at other times Ross simply carried me. It was a comforting thing to do, sitting on that beach. The dark ocean merged with the black sky, nature mysteriously veiling itself in the night; you could hear the surf crashing, but couldn’t see it, just an occasional silver fringe scuttling up the sand still warm from the earlier heat. We’d sit silently staring into this inscrutability, the night wind scouring our faces. Eventually Ross would leave me to my isolation and walk along the water’s edge, often for a long time until only his white shirt glowing palely marked his presence far up the curve of the beach. Boxed in a corner—the one thing in our relationship I’d always been wise enough to know not to do—he was just withdrawing further into it.
I knew Ross would take my pain if he could. And I’d give him all that I had, if only for an hour, just to be free of it, just to release the grip. Hunched there on the beach, the enemy held, but at times my thoughts managed to break free and run down to the tide line, poking a toe in the water. Recently, these thoughts and memories had become more willful and wayward, appearing suddenly and more often, unnerving in their immediacy—startling, sharply-focused: Izzie . . . Ben . . . the fuzzy feel of tennis balls, Michael’s parents, my old bedroom . . . dancing to the radio with Maureen—the teenager and the eight-year-old, entering that church basement the night I met Ross . . . my lovely burnt sienna, madder pigments . . . standing barefoot in the backyard looking for Venus in the summer heavens at dusk . . .
The memories were crashing in on me tonight, landing, taking off again, like birds tormenting an unwelcome cat. I turned my head; I closed my eyes: here we were, walking home, I remember . . . we had gone out to dinner at Scribner’s down the block and had polished off a considerable amount of wine. When we got back home, we were too smashed to want to go inside, so we made our way down onto the beach—Ross conducting an imaginary pitcher/batter’s duel, me hugging the permanently damp blanket we kept in the trunk of the car. We shook the ratty thing out over the sand and sank down on it heavily and none too gracefully. “You like this, uh?” Ross teased, slipping off his deck shoes. “Romantic, right?”
I kicked off my sandals in reply, sending a shoe high into the air with each kick, almost hitting Ross in the head with one of them, which I found hilarious. “Bring the outfield in!” I commanded just a tad too loudly. Momentarily in a world all my own on the edge of the blanket, on the edge of the world, I burrowed my bare toes into the sand and wiggled them, causing a miniature earthquake. “Oh no! Oh no! Watch out!” I let out a ringing peal of self-amused laughter. Ross evidently had had enough of this and pushed me ever so gently on the shoulder with his finger. I lost my balance and fell backwards, sprawled out on my back, legs in the air, the heavens spinning above me, sand raining down on my face. Ross straddled me and slid his hands up under my dress.
“Ooohh, it’s the showers for you—you just can’t . . . wait, wait there’s sand . . . someone’s gonna see . . .” I warned.
But no one did see us while we rolled around, in each other’s arms, the same night wind as tonight blowing over us; a drunk, happy girl kissing Ross’ neck, biting his shoulder; Ross tickling me, making me shriek laughter up to the skies and to the cars that came racing and squealing around the bend behind us, their occupants neither seeing or hearing us, caught up in their own night dramas.
* * *
These memories would splinter and break up as quickly as they came, dropping me back into dark solitude. Their increasing frequency and capriciousness—starting, stopping, turning on a dime—confounded me. What was their meaning? Was this a returning life force trying to gain a foothold, or the last vestiges of a fading soul? There were angels flying right above this girl’s head tonight on her sanctuary beach. They could be bringing her more time; they could be taking her home.