Author’s Note: Illustration by Leslie Nesbit. You can find more of her artwork at her blog: Tell Me What To Draw.
Patricia sat on a short ledge overlooking the beach. She watched the waves roll over, searching for metaphors, a poet’s quest. A cool breeze brushed through the trees. Autumn approached, slow and steady.
A young man and his dog walked along the shore. Patricia’s eyes followed them. Even in the cooler October weather the man wore no shirt. His dog jumped and laughed with him. Tracks fading in the sand as though they were never there. Patricia pulled her sweater closer to her chest and shivered.
‘A man without time is a happy man,’ she wrote in her notebook. She looked to the ground. A disappearing act without the illusion.
She was staring at her feet when he came to talk to her. She looked up, eyes wide, unsure.
“Hello,” he said.
In her surprise she stumbled over her letters, not reaching hello before creating several hells.
But he smiled anyway. Her own smile was more pursed lips and red faced.
“Do you mind if I sit down?” He asked, pointing to the cold ledge.
“Sure,” she nodded.
As he sat his scent glanced over her: slight coconut with a pinch of salt.
The dog sniffed her fingers. She didn’t move. It licked her hand, then sat down. When it was over, she began breathing again.
“His name is Rufus,” he said.
Silence fell. The waves brushed back and forth. The constant echo of crash and fade resounded in Patricia, ‘alone, together, alone, together’, and like the waves, she could not decide.
“I see you here,” he said, “a lot.”
“Oh,” she said, “you do?”
“Yeah, you always look so concentrated.”
She glanced away to study the docks, “I’m writing.”
“Oh,” he sounded surprised.
She turned to consider him. He had a nice face. Clean blue eyes, a gentle nose. He was subtle. Quiet. She liked that. The thought made her blush. She turned towards the lake.
“What are you writing?” He asked.
The question made her sit up straighter. She considered, for a moment, all the possible answers she could give.
“Poetry,” she said. And she smiled.
“Really.” Disdain crossed over her smile.
“That’s cool,” he said.
The dog lay down on his feet.
More silence. More time to debate escape. More time to feel bumbling and befuddled.
This was not going the way he imagined.
He broke the silence, “I’m Phil, by the way.”
She nodded, as though she had known all along, “I’m Patricia.”
He extended his hand. She took it. It was warm, comfortable.
“Nice to meet you, Patricia,” he said.
She swallowed sharply. A pause to stop a stutter. Her mind on his hand, not on her words. When they let go, she said, “it’s nice to meet you.”
His face was kind when he smiled.
He wanted to make her smile.
But she looked away. Questions about smiling boys and what it all meant. The water was coming in faster. Storm clouds drifted across the city sky.
“Would you like to go grab some coffee, or something?” He asked, also looking at the clouds, “get inside before it storms?”
Her eyes dropped to her shoes again. A swirling pattern crisscrossed on her toes. He was still a stranger even if he had a name.
He studied her purple shoes along with her. She was strange.
“I like the rain,” she said.
He didn’t take his eyes off her. She was the only person he’d ever met that was like this. And he liked that.
She clutched her notebook to her chest. Her pen fell to the ground. He leaned to pick it up, hand brushing her skirt. She scooted away.
Another person could have easily sat between them. She saw his smile slacken.
“Here,” he said, offering her pen.
She took it, careful not to touch him, and placed it back in her notebook. She said, “thank you.”
He nodded. He watched his illusions die with each moment of shyness. Perhaps, he could learn to love her in spite of her shyness. Because of her shyness.
“I have to go,” she said, standing.
He looked up at her. Without saying goodbye she turned and walked away. He’d never seen her walk before, only sit on the ledge and watch the waves. So concentrated. Her body moved with small spurts. Tiny steps that gradually pulled her further from him.
He never saw her again. Still, each day he walked his dog along the beach. He would scan the cold hard ledge. His imagination ran tales of her new life without the beach. Without him. Too many what ifs. He would find someone else. Someone who didn’t write poetry on the beach in October.