Stan stood on the sand, crumpled by how many people and birds running and sliding into it today. Now, it was getting dark, the last of the purple, streaky clouds turning black against a pale, gray sky.
Go or stay, just two choices.
He reached down for the wire handle of the lantern, then slid its switch to on, and set the lamp back on the sand. No one to hurry back home to. That’s what Marie said was the problem. How did she put it? “Dad, you’re drifting.”
A lone seagull flew overhead, screeching at him.
“Okay, okay,” he said. He buttoned up his red plaid jacket, pulled the edge of his cap tight over his ears, picked up the lantern.
His cell phone rang. He pulled it out and squinted to read the number before he answered it. “No, Marie.”
“That’s not what I meant. I mean I haven’t decided yet.”
“You promised you would by this evening.”
He turned back and looked toward the black ocean. “I will.”
She was just like her mom, pestering till she dragged a promise out of him. Hard as it had been sometimes, he’d never broken one. But abandoning Beth’s grave, no, it wasn’t quite that, Beth wouldn’t know the difference anyway. It was leaving home, routines. Making changes.
He followed the path along the boulders and sea oats to his Ford Ranger. Two hours he’d stared at the sky and the water trying to decide. He unlocked the door, turned off the lantern, set it on the passenger side, slid inside, and started the engine. The cell phone rang again, but he didn't answer it. At home, he parked the truck and sat staring at the dark house. Would he ever feel comfortable coming home? What had Marie said? “You’ll be with the boys and us. You can take them fishing. I miss Mom too, but we’ve got to move on.”
Two years almost, all the first and second times for doing everything alone done with. Maybe it was time for a change. He unlocked the back door, turned the light switch next to it on, and walked into the kitchen. Dirty dishes from yesterday and today in the sink. He dropped his jacket on a wood kitchen chair and tossed his cap on the table. Beth would have never put up with that. Well, he could do whatever he wanted now. Wasn’t that the problem — move in with Marie and he’d have to toe her line, keep her schedule? “The boys would love to have their grandfather around.”
Or was it really that Marie noticed he lost things? That dratted Beth had tucked things away, and he’d go to where he remembered she’d put something, and it wasn’t there. His mind was playing tricks on him. His boss looked him in the eye today, telling him he’d have to straighten up or they couldn’t keep him on. Forty years he’d been there, from before he’d married Beth. How dare that young punk talk to him like that?
He stood up, walked across the room, and peered into the empty refrigerator. He’d meant to stop at the Deli on the way home.
His cell phone rang again. He set it on the kitchen table and let it ring, he half-listened to the message.
“Hey Stan, where are you? We’re waiting for you at the bowling alley.”
Was Bob Jenks kidding him? He picked up the phone. “You sure that’s tonight?”
He had too much on his mind with Marie nattering at him to move halfway across the country. What would he do in
“Get your act together, Stan.” He’d grab a burger at the Alley tonight. Stay around drinking beer till they kicked them out.
He tapped out Marie’s number, listened to it ring, and waited for the message to finish. “Hi, Marie. Dad. No, uh.” He held the phone in his hand, and walked across the room and peered through the window into the darkness outside. “I can’t move. Got enough to do here, keeping up with the dishes and all. Doing the things your mother always did.” He pushed the “end call” button.
He’d talk about it all to Bob tonight. Go to work in the morning and show them he could do his job. He just hadn’t been paying attention. He reached into his pocket for his truck keys. Not there. He scanned the countertops, walked down the hall into the bathroom and then the bedroom. He stopped abruptly. “Think, Stan, think.” He closed his eyes and opened them again. “Got to stop scaring myself. This’ll lead to nowhere fast. They're probably in the truck."
Outside, he glanced at the liquid, black sky, so thick there were no stars shining. He drove toward town. Funny, he must have missed the stop sign. He didn't remember the road being this dark.
“I kept my promise,” he said to no one.
Bio: Brigitte Whiting lives in Maine and often uses settings and experiences from her backyard in her writing. She earned Fiction Writing Certificates from Gotham Writers Workshop and UCLA-Ext and is working on her WVU-MFA Certificate. In addition to facilitating WVU classes, she meets weekly with two local writers' groups.