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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Oceanside Affirmation by F. B. Wood

“You gotta see this.” Sid wrapped his massive hand around his wife’s dainty wrist.

“I just sat down, Sid. Let me get some knitting done first.” Caroline tried to pull away. Sid didn’t let go. He was grinning ear to ear--an invitation she could never say no to. He led her out onto the back porch of their retirement bungalow, just blocks from the Wrightsville beach bridge. It had been Sid’s first choice; Caroline had never wanted to retire anywhere near the coast. The cool salty autumn air filled their lungs. Sid pointed out at the night sky.

“There,” he said enthusiastically.

“What am I looking at… that firework?!”

Sid chuckled at his wife’s question. “That’s the moon.”

It had completely passed the horizon with an explosive maroon and had been fragmented by the bare oak branches in their neighbor’s yard. Caroline moved her hand to her breast in an attempt to catch her breath.

Caroline began to descend the stairs of the back porch wearing only her plaid bathrobe and slippers. Her full attention transfixed by what had caught her eye. Sid curiously waited to see if she had left something in the car. She walked by the vehicle and out towards the end of the driveway. With wonder fading to concern Sid rushed down the stairs in his pajamas. He raced after her as fast as his aging legs would carry him. By the time he caught up to her she was three houses down the street and he was out of breath. Sid didn’t think a walk was a bad idea, but they hadn’t had one at night for more than twenty years. It was a cool August night after all. After the day’s heat he didn’t ask any questions. He took her hand, admiring her porcelain skin bathed in lover’s red moon light. They quietly shuffled their way to the end of the street. There Caroline paused for a moment and her attention turned to the right. Instead of moving in the direction she was looking, her feet took her to the left--in the direction of the moon and the bridge that would inevitable lead them across the ocean.

The moon ascended to a fiery orange glow as they stood in front of the aging metal structure. The only circumstances under which Caroline would ever cross the bridge were in a car with her eyes tightly closed.

“We can go back for the car.” Sid’s words were lost to Caroline’s ears as she took her first step out onto the metal grate. Sid offered his hand to his wife. Ignoring it she reached out for the hand rail.

“We wouldn’t make it back in time,” she said to herself. It was an unusually quiet night for the only bridge on or off the island. The lack of cars made Sid wonder and Caroline thankful. They were more than halfway across when the first vehicle drove past them. It was moving fast enough to whip the tails of Caroline’s robe. The bridge’s vibrations set her into a panic. She quickly grabbed onto the hand rail with her other hand. She stood there several seconds leaning on the rail breathing heavily. She found herself staring into the abyss of moving water through the grated walk way. The sound of the breaking waves became deafening. The thoughts of the bottomless water and what it might contain began to tug at her feet. She stepped once or twice trying to free herself. She tried to focus on her breathing. Her panic overwhelmed her as she began to feel herself fall. Sid rushed to offer his assistance. His wife lifted her terrified eyes to meet his. She quickly looked away and all he could do was wish. Wish that he were fifty years younger. Wish that he had the muscle that would effortlessly sweep her off her feet. Wish that he could comfort her in his arms and carry her all the way back to the house. He could no longer hold back his shame that wishing brought. Sid began to silently cry. Amongst the chaos of fear, Caroline made out what she thought was a sniffle. She looked once again at the man she had spent her life with. She looked into his face and saw he wanted nothing more than to help her. She met his gaze, only this time it was gratitude that washed over her. She gently reached for his cheek and wiped away only the second tear she had ever seen Sid shed.

Shades of orange had ascended through flaming yellows. The colors reflected in her husband’s glasses made Caroline gasp as her feet began to move once more towards the beach, only this time she walked hand in hand with her husband. Sid’s eyes never left his wife’s face waiting for the slightest signal to say they would go back. He saw only determination as her focus remained on the orb that had brought them this far.

They sighed together as they crossed the street, making their way past the shops and houses and finally up beach path number four. Caroline came to a stop just the other side of the sand dunes. The moon had risen into a vibrant golden globe. She took of her slippers and wiggled her toes taking root in the sand.

Her eyes maintained their vigil. She let go of Sid’s hand and wrapped her arms around herself. Sid placed his hands in his pockets and smiled.

“It sure is pretty.” His words were barely audible over the oceanic winds. Sid joined his wife transfixed by the landscape. Then after a moment he leaned toward her right ear. “Looks like a golden bridge.”

He pointed out the moon’s reflection that stretched across the breaking tide, over the windswept sand, and came to end right at their feet. The image made them both smile. Sid took a seat first. He took a moment to slowly stretch out his legs. Then he reclined on his arms. Caroline tucked her robe under her knees as they came to rest next to her husband. She used his right shoulder as her pillow. She wrapped both her arms around his torso and gave it a squeeze.

“That walk was easier than I thought. I think it might be the off season.” Caroline’s words carried softly into Sid’s ears. “All that water,” she said dreamily. Sid acknowledged his wife’s fear with a slight nod.

“You did it beautifully.” He kissed the side of her head and nodded towards the ocean. “You know when it’s time to cross that bridge the depth of water won’t matter.” Caroline squeezed tighter on her husband’s torso. They took in the moon’s changing colors once more as it highlighted itself to a brilliant white. Their heads turned almost in unison. Their gaze met and there at the foot of the lunar walkway, the world faded out of focus.

“You’ll cross it with me?” He would forever remember how serenely her mouth moved with these words. The look of innocence as she quickly brushed a few strands of her gray streaked auburn hair out of her face Sid scooped up his wife and they fell back in the sand. Caroline nestled up close to her husband’s ear. She whispered, “Then this is where I’ll be.” Sid closed his eyes, listening to the sound of her breath as it came to match the waves.

It was a fond memory. It was one that always made Sid swell up with pride. It had been Caroline’s last greatest achievement before the cancer took her. Sid opened his eyes knowing it would be the last time he would recount the memory for anyone. When he was younger he had hoped, at this point, that it would be Caroline’s hand in his. His children’s hands turned out to be very comforting alternatives. His weary eyes took one final look around at the generations that stood close to him. Sid closed his contented eyes and exhaled for the final time. His soul left behind a smile for those in the hospital room. He wanted them to know he was going to keep his promise.

About the Author: I currently reside in Greenville, SC with my wife, Joy, and daughter, Phoebe. This particular short story was inspired by an actual moon rise my family and I got to witness on a vacation to the beach. Only I asked if the moon was a firework.

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