I’m back! About bloody time, too. Here’s a dollop of melancholia for you this Friday evening:
The waves lap leisurely at the shore and my toes dig into the sand a little with each step. I know the footprints will last only a few moments under the onslaught of the water, but my eyes are trained in front, not behind, scanning the sand for that glint of a hiding seashell. Four already rest in the palm of my left hand, none of them larger than a centimeter. Two white, two speckled with dark gray. My hand is gently cupped so they won’t fall out or accidentally get crushed, while my sandals dangle from my hooked index finger. Every few steps I stop, bending over to dig in the sand with my other hand, but most shells are chipped or crushed and don’t make the cut as I move on further down the beach.
I’ve taken this walk so many times, with company, and lonely, and alone, and now again lonely. I don’t need to look up to know when the beach will curve, when I’ll pass by the now-closed kiosk that sells ice cream and sun block and cheap plastic kites that almost always break once you’ve flown them twice. The sun has started its slow trek down behind the horizon, and the air feels like evening. Earlier it rained, that’s why I’ve hardly seen anyone since I came out here, might not see anyone while I stay out here. The thought makes my throat tighten, and I push it away. Once it’s dark, I will drive back home. Night-time drives are not as cozy when you’re at the wheel as when you’re dozing off in the backseat, but some rituals are better preserved.
We used to meet at sundown, used to stay out far too late and sleep until noon, damned near every night, just to sit together and talk and laugh, and make a fire in the sand and occasionally go night-time swimming. Those few weeks were always the highlights of my summer, the highlight of my whole year when things were bad. The last night was always bitter sweet, simultaneously the pinnacle of our summer together and the end of it. Somehow I thought we’d always have that, but everything changes.
I find a larger shell finally, just as the old changing booth comes into view in my peripheral. An intact one, a cradle for the small ones. I rinse it out and place them inside, then I leave the edge of the water to head toward the shed which looks more and more dilapidated every year. Flowers grow around the edges of the building, those little blue ones I never remember the name of. I pick a few, put them in the big shell with the little ones and place the tiny offering on the one stone step, then sit down next to it.
I sit for a long time, as the air cools further and the sun dips lower. My knees get stiff and my toes get cold, and goose flesh spreads all up my legs and down my arms. A dog and its owner walks by, and I return the ‘hello’ though I don’t recognize them. Do they know me from when I was all hoodies and awkward insecure laughter, or are they just being nice? I dig my toes into the sand again, but it doesn’t feel as nice up here where its dry.
You don’t come. Once its dark enough that I need to use my phone to light my way back to the car without tripping, I put my sandals back on. I’m not surprised, I’m just… disappointed.