It’s been a while since I’ve posted any short creative fiction that I’m working on, and that’s primarily because I haven’t been working on any short fiction. I’ve been working on writing a novel, but all this talk about creativity in the classroom this week caused this story to pop into my head. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I seize the opportunity to make it work.
I hope you enjoy it.
TIME: A Short Story
It was my idea to go. I needed to clear my head and take a break from the mundane, toxic, sad life that had enveloped us both and made us strangers under the same roof. Part of me knew if I left, I might never come back. The other part of me hoped that if I left, something would magically repair itself and what was missing would be replenished, and then upon my return, it would all be just as it was in the beginning, when love was alive and vibrant and we were each other’s best friend.
Years of marriage—and strains upon it—can make us wither and die, and not because we intended it to be that way, but because it happens, like a ball of yarn unraveling when you accidentally drop it to the floor. They say “time heals all wounds.” Funny. Sometimes I think time is an awful demon playing tricks on us. As the hourglass ticks away, we become older, and not necessarily wiser, as wrinkles take over and hair begins to grey, and we sometimes don’t recognize our own selves in the mirror. Time also invades us, makes us resentful of what could have been, if only we hadn’t succumbed to love and lust and need. We regret the time we spent being unhappy or angry.
When I’d decided I was leaving, it wasn’t a surprise; it’s just that I was the one who had the guts to do it. I left John to the house, but I took my car and clothes and other various sundries as deemed necessary. Our youngest was in college, and we empty nesters went the other way. Instead of becoming closer because of the quiet of the house, we resented each other more, both of us wondering if we shouldn’t have left years ago before it became too late.
And now, feeling old and useless, I decided to take my sister, Doris, up on her lovely offer: they wouldn’t be using their small beach house this year, and would I be interested in taking care of it for the summer. They had bigger plans this year—a vacation home in Tuscany for eight weeks, and various kids coming and going all summer long. It had been her and her husband Tim’s lifelong dream to set up camp in Italy for one long summer. I was glad they were making it work.
When I accepted my sister’s offer, I hadn’t told my husband. First, because we rarely talked about anything and second, because no matter what his reaction to the notion might be, I was determined to go. I had to break free of this house and get some air. Besides, I was pretty certain the beach and the sand and sea would do me good.
* * *
When I arrived, the second I put the key into the door, I had no regrets. From the home’s wooden front porch, I could smell the salty air. It was a far cry from the house John and I had in the suburbs, with many full, tall trees and rolling hills. It was flat here, with only low trees and shrubbery in sight. It was not difficult to glimpse the blue skies, and I could look across the way to the beach and to the endless sky if I stood on my tip-toes on the top step. There were two white rocking chairs that graced the grey porch, a small yellow bench, and the biggest starfish you had ever seen decorated the front door. I’d forgotten how quaint the place was. My sister did a great job of keeping it up, and they’d even had the roof replaced in the offseason.
I received a wave from the neighbor across the street; she had returned from her grocery store run and was unloading packages from the car.
“Good to see you,” she called to me from across the way. “Doris said you’d be spending the summer.”
“Yes,” I said.
“We’ll have you over for some sweet tea when you get settled,” she said. “Just the girls.”
I liked not knowing these neighbors well, and I was thankful that they knew very little about me. Back home it seemed that people tried to nose their way into your private affairs, and I detested that about living in a place for too long. Some family things were meant to be private and personal. The whole world did not need to know or judge your every move and mistake.
That afternoon, I settled in and unpacked my things. I also walked the three blocks up to the market and bought some food, wine, and toiletries that I needed. By four o’clock, I’d poured myself a glass of Chardonnay, grabbed the paperback I’d picked out to read, and sat in the rocker on the front porch.
I was having trouble believing this place and this space was to be mine. Mine for the whole summer. I bargained with God: please, I prayed, let time move very slowly, and I promise to do some very clear thinking while I’m here.
* * *
Two weeks in, I’d gotten into a routine. I’d taken long morning walks to Southside Coffee; I’d read the Sentinel from cover to cover each day, paying especially close attention to the books section; I’d signed up for the Yoga class in town at the community center on Friday mornings; and I’d made a couple of friends on the street and had afternoon tea with them on three separate occasions. Additionally, I’d bought myself one of those fancy reclining beach chairs at the 5 & Dime, and I’d been pretty pleased with it. It was worth the forty bucks I’d spent on it. Doris had two beach umbrellas in the small shed out back, and I’d used them on days when I was afraid to get too much sun.
I must have been good luck to the little coastal town, because we hadn’t had a drop of rain since I’d arrived, though the grass out front was looking a little dry. The shed housed all kinds of things, and I’d managed to find a small sprinkler to help with that situation.
And, I’d kept my promise to God. When I wasn’t drinking sweet tea with the ladies and I was on my own, I thought good and hard about my life and where I was in it. I wondered if John had decided to do the same.
* * *
The storm came from out of nowhere. The skies became black, the clouds a heavy grey, and the winds whipped and blew sand across the beach. I barely had time to gather my things when the lifeguards blew the whistle and deemed the beach closed. I supposed all the good weather had to end at some point; we’d done pretty well and enjoyed quite a run of lovely weather. Six weeks with only two nights of light rain. It appeared we were in a bit of a drought, but the change in weather may have been coming to the rescue.
In the distance, I saw a bolt of lightning zigzag across the sky as I hurried off of the beach, metal chair in one hand, paperback book in the other. The house was only six in from the ocean, so I scurried down the sidewalk, hurrying to get back safely before another bolt decided to strike closer to home. As I was making my way down the block, I noticed a familiar car. Then I noticed a familiar person sitting on the steps of my sister’s beach house. Only he didn’t look the same. He looked slimmer and his face looked brighter than when I last saw him six weeks ago. And then he did something that was quite out of character for him—at least for the last ten years. When he saw me coming, he stood, and from behind his back he produced an overwhelmingly colorful bouquet of flowers.
But even more stunning than that, he produced something that made my heart warm: a smile, big and wide and beaming. I’d forgotten that I once found him attractive, as I did now. And all I could think was, maybe time wasn’t a demon after all, but rather a blessing, and maybe time knows what we need better than we do.