The party was lame, and when I say lame I mean that there were so many people there I felt like I’d walked into a Black Friday Walmart event. My only reason for attending—a favor to a friend, who’d introduced me to another friend before disappearing into the maelstrom of humanity.
So there I was—or rather there we were—standing like concrete stanchions suffering the abuse of a never-ending sea.
My new companion looked as thrilled about the situation as I felt.
“Give you a lift home?”
She laughed, “That obvious?”
“It’s coming off you in waves,” I smiled.
“Thanks,” she said.
I helped her into the passenger seat, slipped a tip to the harried valet running the key-stand, jumped behind the wheel, slammed the door, and exhaled in the sudden silence.
“Right?” she laughed.
I liked her laugh, there was something easy, yet heavy to it, like it had to push its way to the surface and was almost surprised at itself that it had somehow made it again. I smiled back at her.
I maneuvered out of the lot, inching past cars that most people only ever dream of buying. On the open road, I finally loosened my tie and sank back into my seat.
“Sorry about the lack of introduction. Did Kelsey drag you out too?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “it’s fine though. She’s great.”
“Yeah, she is.”
“Where am I heading?” I looked at her. “For you, I mean—sorry, I totally forgot to ask.”
She hesitated, “Would you mind if we just drove for a little bit?” Then in a quieter voice, “I’m not really ready to be home yet.”
“No problem,” I said. “Help yourself to the radio; passenger has DJ status.”
“Okay,” she said.
We drove on in silence for a couple minutes before she reached over and tuned the radio to an oldies station.
“I’ve got a place I like to go and sit when I want to be alone,” I said, staring out the windshield. “We can go be alone together if you want.”
She was quiet for a long comfortable moment.
“I think I’d like that,” she said.
Twenty minutes later, I’d backed my truck onto a dune overlooking the ocean. I pulled a blanket from under the back seat, and she followed me to the bed of the truck. Sitting there side by side, the gray sands ran away from us into the curve of the ocean, the waxing gibbous washing it all in an otherworldly glow.
I don’t know how long we sat, but the moon had moved a good hand’s breadth toward the black line of the horizon before she spoke.
“Kelsey made me come to that party because tomorrow . . . or, today I guess, is the anniversary of my divorce.”
I didn’t say anything. It’s always taken me a long time to think of something to say, and then more often than not I usually just say it to myself. Besides, there’s no correct response to something like that. I didn’t turn, but I felt her staring far away into the water.
“Do you ever wish you could stop time?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said.
She sighed, a quiet sound, almost drowned in the whish of the whispering surf. I don’t know if she even heard it herself.
“Just enjoy it,” I said, “tomorrow’ll be here soon enough.”
Her head was resting against the back of the truck, but she cut her eyes toward me and smiled. She had a beautiful, tired smile—the kind of smile that was finding it increasingly hard to get up in the morning.
“It’s hard to let people go, even when they’re gone,” she said.
I nodded then looked back out to sea.
“Do you think he ever really loved you too?” I asked.
She pulled her knees up to her chest, rested her chin on them, “Sometimes I wonder about that . . . but rarely more than twenty times a day.” She forced out that deep breath of a laugh again. “I don’t know why I’m dumping this on a complete stranger.”
I shrugged, “Sometimes the right person’s just in the right place at the right time.”
“I don’t know,” she said. She turned and looked right at me then. I could feel the weight of it.
“You have this . . . I don’t know . . . this cosmic sadness about you, like there’s someone way down deep in there—someone safe. Do you ever let people in?”
“I try not to,” I held her eyes for a few moments then offered a rusty smile of my own.
“What would it look like if you did?” she asked.
“Maybe I’m too scared to find out. Maybe they’d see me for the fraud I am,” I said.
She pursed her lips, thinking. Still staring at me but not at me.
“Maybe that’s it: maybe we’re all just frauds.” Her eyes came back. I was still watching her, sensing I needed this moment—this answer—somehow. She looked like she was going to speak again but then nodded like she’d solved some puzzle that had lain unfinished for years on the back table of her mind.
The moon had set. Across the horizon a buzz of warmth glossed the sky. It was a moment when the construct of time disconnects from the spinning planet we call home, the hands of the clock stand motionless almost in disdain of the parameters we dare to impose upon them. The bleeding sky reeled up the sun, but there was a weightlessness—a moment—I will never forget as we sat side by side, and when I looked at her again, she had fallen asleep on my shoulder.
*Author’s note: I have to give credit to Stephen King, Wendell Berry, and the film Before We Go for their influence on this story and to Jake Sidwell’s music for keeping me company while I wrote.