Gooseflesh broke out on bare arms and I rubbed them, only somewhat aware the sky had darkened. The sun’s fire blazed on the horizon while dusk’s purple fingers embraced the fading, fiery ball. A salty breeze stirred across the water and the restless waves lapped at my bare toes. Golden strands of hair, gilded by the sun’s dying light, flew about my head like a flock of birds taking flight.
“Hey lady,” a deep voice said, interrupting my thoughts. “Are you alright?”
Tearing my eyes away from the dance of colors on the distant horizon, I stared blindly at the intruder.
“I’m fine,” I replied, the phrase so automatic I didn’t realize I had lied until I shivered.
A soft weight landed about my shoulders; I sank into its warmth. “Where are your clothes?” he asked, crouching to my level.
I had a vague remembrance of ripping the constricting top and skirt from my body in a frantic attempt to rid myself of their oppressive rigidity. Gesturing behind me to the nebulous area between the formal concrete walk and the untamed sandy terrain of the beach, I said, “I took them off back there.”
He waited, his gaze steady and solid as the rock ledge jutting into the water. Hours earlier, I had stood on the ledge’s uneven heated surface, the lure of the fierce and wild sea singing its song of temptation and promising blessed oblivion. Even then, though, the solid earth beneath my feet rooted me into immobility, and I only watched as the waves crested higher and higher, the loud roar pounding its age-old rhythm in my ears.
“I wanted to fly,” I said, and rested my head on my folded knees.
Alarm replaced his earlier concern, but I didn’t care. I pointed down the wide expanse of empty beach where a squalling flock of gulls swooped and dove, their aerial acrobatics an intricate dance as structured as it was free.
“Just for a couple of hours,” I said. “I wanted to feel the unrestrained joy of being.”
“Why don’t you get dressed?” he suggested. “I’ll take you home.”
Home. Like the ancient rock which had withstood the water’s relentless battering for eons, home kept me tethered. Home kept me grounded.
“Thank you but no,” I said. “My car is parked in the lot. I can drive myself home.”
I turned my head and dismissed him, anger swift to rise at his inopportune reminder of my awaiting responsibilities. Nails dug into the soft flesh of my palms and I had to resist the urge to weep. My chance to fly was over.
“Here are your clothes,” he said, dropping the soft pile into my lap. “You can keep the jacket until you get home.”
I examined the navy-blue pencil skirt and creamy silken top as if seeing them for the first time. Their presence was as unwelcome as this man’s, and though I was still naked except for the coat, I felt their constrictive fabric wrapping me in responsible conformity.
“I hate you,” I whispered, my mouth twisting around the unfamiliar words.
“For what it’s worth,” he said, “I’m sorry.”
Several minutes went by as we stared at each other. He stood stalwart and reassuring as a lighthouse in a storm and did not flinch under my angry, unforgiving glare.
As tides ebb and flow, so too did my anger rise and swell then fade to nothingness. I was the first to look away.
“Be careful on your way home,” he said.
I waited until he was gone, and then I dressed. I turned my back on the beach and walked to the concrete path. My high heels, which I had thrown off earlier that day, waited for me underneath a bench. I slipped them on and walked to my car, the precise, measured clip of my heels on concrete drowning out the lonely cry of a circling gull.
(C) Sara Ackerman, 2017