Love Letters in the Sand

by

Amateur

“Fish bait?” came a mellow masculine voice from over my shoulder.

I was jolted from my private thoughts at the question. I placed the item I was examining back on the shelf and turned.

“Excuse me?” I replied, I’m sure with a somewhat thunderstruck expression.

“Joe said you wanted to buy some fish bait?” the man inquired a second time. His head was down, his face obscured by the brim of a cap, and he was standing over a tank with a small net in his hand.

I shook my head slightly to clear my mind. “Oh…yes, of course. Yes, two dozen minnows, please,” I called across the nearly fifteen feet distance that separated us.

It’s ironic the memories one little word or phrase can trigger. He had his back to me as I wandered over to watch him catch and bag my live bait. I studied his form while he worked at catching the elusive minnows. My imagination was clearly working overtime; he looked vaguely familiar.

He appeared to be a man in his late forties, maybe fifty. He was deeply tanned, his skin rugged from over exposure to the sun. For a man his age, he looked fit, lean and sinewy as you might expect for someone who works on the water.

“Make it three,” I suggested, hoping he would look my way again. He shifted his position and it only served to disguise him further. I noted a thick braid of light hair tucked down the back of his shirt. A vivid memory from the past surged to the forefront and I tried to shake it off.

“Reds must be running,” he commented without looking up.

I leaned against the counter and followed his build with my gaze. “I don’t know. I just arrived this morning,” I replied.

“Vacationing?” he asked politely.

“Part-time summer resident,” I replied. “I haven’t been down in quite a few years though.”

“Oh? Where’s your place?”

“Old ninety, a couple of miles west of the bay.”

He made a loud splash as his arm went up to his elbow in the tank. “Come here, you little bastard!” he cursed as he missed his intended target. He cleared his throat and shifted his weight to try again. “Sorry it’s taking so long. These things are slippery,” he said as an intended excuse for his profanity.

“Would you like some help?” I laughed.

“I could probably use some. You’d think as long as I’ve been doing this I’d get better at it sooner or later,” he grumbled. “Gotcha! Two for the price of one!” he declared proudly as he emptied the net into the small holding tank. “Only twenty-six more to go.”

“Maybe you should just cut it back to two dozen,” I suggested. “I probably don’t really need three.”

“You probably don’t need two, just call ’em and they’ll come running,” he muttered under his breath.

“Excuse me? Did you say something?” I asked with a frown. Even at thirty-five, I hadn’t begun to lose my hearing quite yet.

He cleared his throat again. “I said if the snappers are running, you could probably get away with a dozen. Unless, of course, you’re trying to stock up a freezer or feed a family or something.” He paused in his efforts for a few seconds as if he was awaiting my response.

“No. Nothing like that. I’m here alone.”

He nodded silently and submerged the net in the tank again. “Were you going to need anything else?” he asked as any good salesman would.

“I don’t think so, not today,” I sighed.

He poured the holding tank into the plastic bag and sealed it with a twist tie. “Are you sure?” he asked again with his back still to me. “No other kind of bait? Or, maybe some tackle…porpoise repellent…nothing like that?”

“You mean dolphin…repellent…” I began with a laugh before my voice trailed away.

He turned to face me with his eyes twinkling. “I never could get that right,” he said softly. “Hello, fish-bait. It’s been a long time.”

“Michael.” His name escaped my lips as one long breath.

“You remember. I wasn’t sure you would,” he said flashing me that unique smile of his.

“How could I forget? How are you? What are doing here?” I gushed with sudden excitement.

“I live here now. Well, not here, but you know what I mean,” he shrugged as he looked around the empty shop. “I own part of this place… and, a boat.”

“No way!” I said laughing with doubt. “Really?”

“Yes, really,” he smiled. “You sure look good. You haven’t changed a bit.”

“Now, there’s where you’re wrong,” I scoffed. “You want to tell me some more lies? Because, I’ll damned sure stand here and listen,” I teased.

His face went serious. “No lies, Cindy. I would have known you anywhere… even with your clothes on.”

We both burst into laughter at that comment.

“Well, that’s probably a good thing, Michael. I keep them on a lot more often these days,” I said looking down at the floor and blushing a little.

“Now, that’s a real shame… I was hoping when you said you were here alone, I might get to see you with them off again.”

I drew in a deep breath. “Do you still have your guitar?” I gaziantep escort bayan reklamları asked with a tilt of my head.

“You know I do. Why?”

“Then you must still know how to sing for your supper. You don’t need an invitation, Michael. You know where I live.”

“It’s been a while, but if you can still cook, I can still play for you,” he said with nod. “What time?”

“Seven?”

“You’re on!” he said with a broad smile. “The minnows are on me!”

“I’ll see you tonight then.”

*****

Michael was right; it had been a long time. It had been precisely sixteen years, but it seemed like only yesterday. On the drive home, I began to think about how Michael and I met.

I was a beach baby, born and raised. Since the time I could walk, I spent virtually every summer on the beaches of Florida. My mother owned a summer home there and Florida was my port in any storm.

I was nineteen, pushing twenty when I landed at the beach house that summer. I was going through a difficult divorce at the time, so naturally, when the walls started closing in on me, I ran as hard as I could for those sugar-white dunes laced with sea-oats along their peaks.

When I called my mom to tell her I was headed down there, I had no idea how long I would stay. I needed the freedom and the carefree ambiance; perhaps, I need more than that. The separation had been that brutal.

My first afternoon there, I opened the house, went out for provisions, and by evening, I was sitting on the deck sipping margaritas and listening to the music that drifted over from the old landmark lounge across the highway. When I still couldn’t fall asleep and it was past four in the morning, I decided to load up my car and drive over to the beach.

I donned my bikini and a cover-up, and along with a few accessory items, like a pail, a net, a flashlight, a couple of towels and some sunscreen, I made my way there in the dark. I knew that area of the beach like I knew the back of my hand and I also knew the beach would be abandoned at that hour of the morning.

The waxing moon was no help in tracking down my prey, but a strong flashlight beam guaranteed a successful harvest of the gulf’s bounties. Blue crabs were running, and in no time, I managed to fill my pail to overflowing with the cantankerous crustaceans. Boiled and properly cleaned, they made an excellent gratuitous crab-meat salad which would serve as both dinner that evening, and lunch the following day.

I nursed them by changing the water in the pail often, a new supply of oxygen to keep them alive until I decided to head back home later. In the meantime, I frolicked about in the water’s edge searching for natural treasures to keep as souvenirs from my vacation. When at last, the sun broke the eastern horizon, I was more than ready to shed my cover-up and go for a swim.

Before I dove in, I carefully scanned the horizon. As was common in the early mornings, I spotted a pod of dolphins trolling parallel to the beach, moving east to west. I watched them long enough to note the large male who dominated the pod. He was easily distinguishable by his size and a slight imperfection of his dorsal fin. The tip of his fin was twisted and lopped lazily to one side. I would recognize him if I saw him again.

For a while, as I swam, I trailed the pod, but kept them between myself and the deeper waters. They seemed impervious to my presence while they fed on schools of small fish ahead of me. Suddenly, the one I dubbed ‘Neptune’ made a sharp deviation and disappeared below the surface. His change of direction momentarily alarmed me as it was a signal that something had caught his attention, and whatever it was, it was very near me. I executed a quick change of direction myself and headed back towards the breakers.

It must have been around half-past six in the morning when I changed the water for my dinner again, and flopped face down on my beach towel to take a snooze in the morning sun. I didn’t sleep long, awakened by the usual stressful dreams that always plagued me throughout my life, I yawned and stretched. If I hurried home, I could have my crabs cooked and cooled in time for an early dinner that evening.

As I stood to gather my belongings, I noticed an anomaly in the sand near where my towel was spread. Someone had scrolled, either with a stick or their finger, the quotation, ‘When I looked at you, I fell in love, and you smiled because you knew.’

I hesitated for a moment at the curious etching. I looked nervously about the desolate beach; there was no one in sight. I shrugged off the uneasy feeling as I knelt in the sand and scratched below it, ‘Wm. S.’. I encapsulated the entire message with a heart before I headed home again.

*****

The following morning, it was sunrise when I made the long trek over the dunes to the water. Armed only with a towel, sunshades, cocoa butter, and a thermos filled with gaziantep escort resimleri tequila and orange juice, I set up a small spot for myself on the sand. I slipped off my sandals and shed my t-shirt before I scanned the water for Neptune and his harem. They were nowhere in sight.

I waded into the water despite their absence and began my morning swim. It wasn’t long before I spotted my odd friend making a return trip from west to east. I was late arriving and had missed their first pass along the shoreline. It took them a few short minutes to overtake me, swimming past in deeper water.

Once again, Neptune seemed to do a double-take as he swam past, suddenly turning my way and diving below the surface. A few seconds later, I shrieked loudly when something “bumped” past me, brushing me with enough force to knock me aside. It crossed my mind that there were sharks of all species even in the shallows, and in my panic, I began to flail helplessly about, going nowhere in a hurry. Within seconds, I saw that familiar lopsided fin appear merely two or three yards ahead of me and I knew, Neptune was responsible for the collision.

Even knowing it wasn’t a shark didn’t calm me as much as it should have. I made a hasty retreat to the knee-deep breakers where I stood unsteadily with my hands on my hips, watching him and his harem swimming in circles as if he was inviting, or challenging, my return. I slapped the water’s surface with my hand and shouted a sound admonishment for his rather ungentlemanly behavior.

I’d been swimming with wild bottle-nosed dolphins most of my life and never had one been so aggressive as to deliberately run into me before. I pondered what might have caused him to do such a thing, but I remained bewildered by his unusual behavior. I made my way to my towel on the sand, limping with each step as I realized a deep aching in my thigh. I sat down and poured myself a drink from the thermos while I examined the extent of my injury.

I wasn’t visibly bruised, except for my ego perhaps, but the muscle was knotted from the blow. I used the cocoa butter to massage the soreness for a while before I drained my cup and stretched out in the sun. Already, early risers were drifting down from nearby condos and hotels, invading the area I liked to think of as my own private domain. I was determined to ignore their presence and I closed my eyes to shut them out. I must have fallen asleep again.

It was nearing lunch when I woke with a start. The sound of a child’s voice, shrill and excited, made me flinch awake. I raised my head and looked about. There were children playing in the surf. The sun overhead was blazing, and I could feel the heat beginning to burn my skin. It was time to seek refuge from the sun.

As I sat upright, I was astonished to find another note scribbled in the sand at my feet. I stood up and carefully skirted it so not to damage the scrolled message. It was the first and last lines of Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet. It was framed by small bits of seaweed, driftwood and shells. It was no coincidence that the second message appeared where and how it did.

I decided to answer with a cryptic message of my own. I swept the granular page clean with the palm of my hand and quoted Dickens. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’… I left it scrawled within the framework along with the initials C.D. which also happened to be my own.

I stood and scanned the beach for any hint as to the identity of my admirer. Finding none, I studied the pattern of indentations in the sand. Footprints approached from the west, paused at the message, then followed a path over the dunes in precisely the direction of my home. My eyes followed the path taken to the top of the dunes, and there, I could make out a distinctly male figure. He was shirtless, wearing jeans and sunglasses with a towel draped around his neck. When he saw me looking at him, he quickly disappeared behind the dune.

In a rush, and for the sake of curiosity, I gathered my things and dug into the sand, powering my way to the crest only to find that whoever he was, all traces of him were lost in a multitude of similar tracks heading in different directions. I was breathless from the effort when I made the descent to my car and I headed home with thoughts of the oddity of people and dolphins alike.

*****

On the morning of the third day, I found a response waiting for me despite my early arrival. As I gazed down at it, I wondered how he could have such a depth of perception. His third message, in answer to Dickens, was brief. ‘Love is so short, forgetting so long’. In the cool morning darkness, a red rose, still fresh, not wilted and fragrant, was an accompanying gift to his insight. I was mesmerized.

And so, it began and it continued over the course of days; an exchange of messages written in the sand. It was a mystery to me how this person could know or predict the days gaziantep escort bayan sitesi when I would come late or early, and the times when I would remain alert, searching the faces of those people I encountered, looking for the one responsible for the messages I looked forward to with such hope and eagerness.

I did not always know who he quoted or from where he sourced the poetic expressions he left; it was enough to know he meant them for me, and me alone. Always, I would find his signature rose lying within the frame of his messages.

Naturally, I questioned him, even challenged him with vague threats of contacting the authorities because of his mysterious and persistent pursuit of me. They were hollow threats at best. Some messages were bolder than others. One read, ‘I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees.’ The expression of intent was clear, but it didn’t frighten me; it thrilled me in a way. Romantics, such as he, were essentially harmless from my experience.

I made several inquiries by scribbling, ‘Who are you?’ at the end of my replies, but they went ignored. I began to imagine almost constantly what he must look like, guessing merely by the one glimpse I had of a stranger whose only ‘crime’ was to be looking, coincidentally for all I knew, in my direction from the top of the dunes. From that distance, it left a great deal to my imagination. The only things I could tell about that individual was he was tall, but not excessively so, tan and lean, with light hair, most likely bleached by the sun.

While these things transpired, I continued to time my morning swims with Neptune and his harem’s fishing expeditions. Some mornings, he seemed more curious of me than others, and he would venture close enough to touch, even making the attempt to playfully bump me when I failed to reach out to him. I decided he liked me and meant no harm based on his language of little clicks he made when he swam near me.

Aside from the poet and the dolphin, I had no social contact other than one phone message from my mother asking if I had settled in properly and how long I thought I might stay. I had not yet made any decisions in that respect and I returned her message to let her know I was well, if still uncertain.

In the afternoons and early evenings, I stayed indoors, curled on the couch with a book while I cooked some small bit of something to eat. Usually, cooking involved as little effort as I could put forth and still call myself preparing a meal. It helped while away the time between turning pages and listening to music from the bar across the highway.

One early evening, about a week after my arrival, my lazy routine was interrupted by a call. No one except my mother knew I was there, so I answered without hesitation.

“I figured I’d find you there,” came the familiar southern drawl.

My first thought was to hang up, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. “What do you want?” I asked rudely. He ignored my question completely.

“I called your mom to find out where you were, but she hung up on me.”

“Did you think she wouldn’t?”

“Why does she hate me so much?” he asked begging my sympathy in his tone.

“I can’t honestly speak for her, but my guess is for all the same reasons I do. ‘Like mother, like daughter’, they say.”

His attempt at being civil cracked under my sarcasm. “Stop being such a fucking bitch.”

“You have two seconds to tell me what it is you want, and then I’m hanging up. If you call back, I’ll have my lawyer enforce the restraining order.”

“I just wanted to know when you are going to sign the final papers,” he snapped.

“When I get goddamned good and ready! If I thought for a second it would make you go away and leave me alone, I would have signed them six months ago.”

“I’m thinking about getting remarried. I need you to sign the papers as soon as possible.”

“You need? No, I needed to have been committed the minute I said, ‘I do.’ Because, I don’t; you didn’t; and with any luck, I never will again. I don’t really give a shit about what you need at this point. Who’s the lucky girl anyway? Beth? Sandy? Or, is it someone I don’t know for a change?” I quipped as I paced the floor back and forth.

“Neither. I told you, they’re both just friends.”

“Yeah, I know, and if you recall, I figured out just how good of friends they both were when I found one of their vibrators in our fucking bed.”

“That’s a lie!”

“Really? The judge didn’t think so. He wasn’t too impressed by the letters to Beth I found in your briefcase. Or, the photos of you and Sandy. Or, the ones of Beth working at the strip club and you feeding her sloppy cunt ten dollar bills for that matter. Sandy’s husband is willing to testify to what he found out about you two, and as for the other three? I have it on good authority that their landlords have copies of the receipts where you paid their fucking rent.”

“I should have…” he began.

“Yes, you certainly should have. I told you the first time you laid your hands on me to go ahead and kill me. That was your mistake. Now, you listen to me and you listen good…if you call my number, any number where I’m staying again…I’ll be on the fucking phone to my friends so fast, you’ll never know what the hell hit you. You know me. I’m not fucking around. Don’t call me again. Ever.” I slammed the phone down.

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