~ by Robert P. Barsanti ~
On his last day, he woke early. He eased out of bed, one foot, turned to a knee, and then slipped out without bouncing the mattress. She slept on; he wanted to be alone for a moment. No noise slipped from the girls room, whether because they were deep in a digital sleeping bag or a real one. He inched down the edge of the stairs, then along the hall and out the open front door. He eased the screen closed.
He had missed the dawn. The sun had floated up into the middle of the crown of pines. Once, he saw each dawn on-island. He met it with a fishing pole in hand initially, and then with one little girl, then two. He led them out of the house, stepping carefully, buckled them into the car seats, and then drove off for coffee, donuts, and Hood’s milk boxes. They drove to Sconset and the swings near the beach while the day wore itself away, minute by minute. But all of those days had passed now. Donuts had shrunk to fruit smoothies with non-fat yogurt and the time kept slipping away, breakfast after breakfast.
This morning held nothing but birds and surf. A twenty minute walk would bring him to the south shore and the slow breathing ocean. No more walking. Instead, he sat on the front step and watched the pine shadows move over the twitching grass and the idle regrets. Once, in his childless youth, he swore to buy it. And a day had come when there had been money and the price was conceivable and he called Frenchie. And he paused for a day or an hour too long. A minute later came children and a suburban house and the wrong man retired at the firm. Then the boom fell on the island like a hurricane and his chance flew aloft.
Regrets soar on an impossible wind, freed from the grinding of gravity. No arrow can fell them, no branch can grab them, no logic can slowly spiral them to the ground; locked to the earth, you hold a string and watch the lost chance dance far above you. On a morning like this, when the heat was building and the surf was high, the years slipped away and regrets sweetened back into dreams.
The coffee maker and the blender splattered the morning and the day began. The last day walked in procession, clothed in ceremony. They always slipped away at night, leaving one last day. They packed everything and stacked it in the front room, they jengaed the back of the Suburban. Children had to be hurried, rooms had to be checked, garbage had to be thrown out, and one bottle of wine left in the refrigerator. He wanted to think of whomever came next, even if it was only the cleaners. Someone, anyone, would open the clean refrigerator and exclaim “Hey, look what they left!” He wanted to be remembered as the one who left the house clean and left a bottle of wine.
The sun witnessed the morning. They dropped off the keys. They trooped from gift store to candy store to clothing store to boutique while the last day evaporated into gifts and Christmas presents. Then, as his phone battery died and the last purchases were tucked in, they picked up one last bag of Henry’s sandwiches and headed to the beach.
His secret beach had become the “eyeroll” Dad’s beach “eyeroll.” It involved roadway chatter, brush scraping the sides of the car, pausing to let other cars pass, and one stretch of deep sand, but, at last, he returned to his secret beach. Which isn’t to say that it was a secret to others. Twenty other cars were tucked amid the dune, grass, and road. He parked next to a white Land Rover Defender with seats for eight and a “Shimmo” sticker on the back window. Somewhere, somehow, in the dark web, his “secret” beach had been recommended and favorited.
But it remained at the end of a path lined with sandals and rosa rugosa, seventy-five yards of sand slipped under the waves and became a sand bar that tripped the breakers and set them rolling into shore. Not deserted, but not jammed, the beach held large family groups ordered in seminar half circles. He and his small family set up the chairs, freed their sandwiches from their wrappers, and settled one last time at the edge of both ocean and cell-phone coverage.
He picked out the Shimmo group. Mr. Range Rover was ten years older than he was, with four boys in the water and one daughter, in a careless bikini, by his side. He skipped a ball out to the boys and watched them fight over it like labrador retrievers, before throwing it back to the daughter. Behind him, wife and brother read their books and someone’s soon to be ex-girlfriend lay on the
sand and only watched. Mr. Range Rover threw deep off the waves, ricocheting the ball with a lazy familiarity. His back was thoroughly and evenly tanned; he was a man who summered, he was a man who owned. He was a man in full.
Dad put down his Henry’s Italian, left his wife and his daughters, and dove through the waves. He swam twenty strokes out.
At this distance, the incoming waves lifted and settled him. His family had shrunk to Lego size; they waved and he waved back. The ball game continued in miniature. He eased back and lifted his toes to the surface. Somewhere, down below him, fish swam, crabs crawled, and a current nudged him along the south shore. The sun had warmed the water to a fairly pleasant chill. It heated those parts of him that floated.
And it was fine.
He didn’t have the Range Rover and he didn’t have the Shimmo house and he never would. He had today. He had the afternoon sun, though sinking, and he had the warm water and he had this moment, tethered to a wife who loved him and daughters whose love broke out in acne. Today, he had lunch and company and an afternoon, on August, on Nantucket in the warm water.
He swam back in.