A Walk on the Beach
Thomas J. Robidoux
The rhythm of the crashing waves mesmerized him on his walk along the Florida beach. The late afternoon sun intimated the beginnings of a sunset display behind him as he stared out at the tormented Atlantic. At least it seemed to him that the mild furor of the sea indicated an inner turmoil that mirrored his own.
Five months she had been gone and his grief could still wrap itself around him like a heavy cloak almost smothering him. The smothering was coming less and less and he was able to pretend he was a functioning human being again. In a sense his grieving began over a year ago when faceless strangers in white coats pronounced a death sentence for her using words like inoperable and virulent. Those months were like bizarre episodes in some sick serial movie. Pretending to care about mundane matters such as politics and weather or the price of gas taxed him to the maximum. These daily walks on the beach had helped him cope with his loss. He wasn’t embittered, only saddened. He felt an odd sense of thankfulness for all of the years they had together. He had had the seasons of his life and accepted that he was entering the last of life’s seasons and had little to complain about.
For the last two weeks he listened to his MP3 player on his beach stroll. Tonight he was listening to oldies from the late fifties and early sixties that reminded him of his high school era which he had idealized to the extent that little of the reality of those turbulent years seeped through. He found the nostalgia painfully comforting. They began their courtship shortly after high school and some of the songs invoked exquisite memories that tortured him.
He was reminiscing to the sound of “There’s a Moon Out Tonight” by the Capris—he didn’t like the song but he loved the memories—when a hand tapped his shoulder. He started and turned to a woman with an embarrassed smile on her pleasant face. He fumbled with the MP3 player in an effort to turn it off or at least reduce the volume. He dropped it but the cord around his neck held it to his chest. The ear buds blared at almost full volume until he finally found the tiny off switch. He felt like a slapstick comedian. The greater his fumbling the more uncomfortable she appeared. The blood rushing up the sides of her neck caused a slight darkening of her skin and her cheeks displayed a sudden flow of color in spite of her deep tan.
“I’m so sorry,” he stammered. “I don’t hear as well as I used to, and I keep the volume too high.”
“Oh please! I really should apologize to you for this intrusion.”
“It’s not a problem. What can I do for you?”
It was her turn to stammer as she explained that she had noticed him weeks ago and was sure that they had gone to high school together. What seemed like a perfectly innocent and reasonable explanation when she had rehearsed it in her mind sounded cheap and tinny in the telling. Her chagrin grew until she was rewarded by his most welcoming smile and the affirmation that he was Al Braxton and yes he did go to Hartford High. He even remembered her name was Karen Kowalski; it was now Henson she told him.
He remembered her vividly from the afternoon hangout place with the loud jukebox on Farmington Avenue. They had mutual friends but never knew each other very well. Her five foot three frame was thicker than it had been almost five decades ago but still shapely. Her hair was streaked with gray and her face lined but she was still an attractive woman. She explained that she knew about his wife’s death from the obituary and understood what he was going through. She had lost her husband two years ago and related some of her struggles. The talk flowed effortlessly and they were surprised when they realized that almost two hours had passed. They had strayed far down the beach and started back.
“I used to have a crush on you but you were an esteemed upperclassman and member of the elite NKA fraternity.”
“If I am not mistaken you were a member of the select Sigma Phi sorority.”
“True, but you barely knew that I was alive.”
“You think so? Did you undress me in your mind and imagine us entwined in a myriad of sexual positions?”
“No! Of course not, you pig!” She blurted out with her delightful laughter.
“I did it to you all the time. I was especially aroused when you would walk over to feed the jukebox. You had this way of cocking your left hip and flexing your buttock muscles that made your butt look so good,” he signed dreamily.
“You noticed that! I spent hours looking over my shoulder into a mirror to perfect that little twitch, and I always thought it was for naught.”
“Fear not, I was not the only one that noticed, it was the subject of many a locker room discourse.”
“You’re kidding me right?”
“Never underestimate the power of sex in seventeen year old males.”
“I will keep that in mind; does this sordid power extend to sixty-ish men?”
“Absolutely, the only difference is that we need a one hour notice and a little blue pill before we can be counted as dangerous.”
They continued their walk in a companionable silence for a while.
“I recognized the song you were listening to before; I like the oldies sometimes too.”
He smiled and turned the MP3 player on and handed her one of the ear buds and plugged one in his ear.
“You can leave it right in your shirt pocket, I can hear it fine.”
“Lucky you; as it’s going I will probably need a hearing aid before long. The golden years are not quite what they’re cracked up to be.”
They poked fun at the absurd self-conscious posturing that they affected during their high school years. They both recognized that the silliness was an important social prop back then but it was fun to revisit it together with the music acting as a catalyst.
“You used to hold your arm at an absurd angle with your wrist bent as if it was broken,” he laughed.
“Holding your arm like that was almost mandatory if you wanted to be cool. And you thought you looked so cool when you danced with your right hand pressed against your side like you had an attack of appendicitis,” she countered.
Their laughter filled the salt air with magic as the setting sun displayed its magnificent array. For a moment the world seemed enchanted as they joined hands and moved to the slow rhythm of “The Stroll.” She more sure of her steps than he. Their reverie was interrupted by shouting and arm waving fifty yards down the beach.
“Oh God, that’s my daughter and granddaughter. It must be past my curfew,” she joked.
Karen tried to make proper introductions with a minimum of awkwardness. But with the blunt honesty of a child her granddaughter said with a look of profound puzzlement.
“Grandma, you were acting silly with that man.”
“Yes dear, sometimes it is good even for grandmas to act silly. I might even act silly tomorrow if I get the chance.”
His smile gave assurance that the chance would be there tomorrow.