The Wait – By Adelaide B. Shaw
A tall man, in his mid-twenties, stands at the water’s edge. He is hunched against the wind and the flying spray as waves hit the rocks. It is not yet dark. A narrow band of light reaches across the horizon. Blue, purple streaks above, fading to dark.
Hands thrust in his jacket pocket, hatless, he wishes he had worn his red knit cap, the one she had made, and the scarf. It hurt him to remember her, sitting in the wing chair, needles clicking, providing a counter point to his lap-top computer.
Every night in the three weeks since her death, Dick has come to this stretch of beach to watch the sunset. Here he relives their last moments. Here he creates fantasies of Jane being alive, walking out of the surf; here he curses God and himself for his failure and contemplates walking into the ocean and surrendering himself to the tide. With each visit he imagines the cold water enveloping him, chilling his body until he is completely numb and can no longer swim, the waves pulling him out and under.
He removes a flask filled with scotch from the inner pocket of his jacket and takes a swallow. It’s what he does. Thinks about drowning in the ocean, but drowns in scotch, instead. Getting courage, he says. The courage to follow. By the time he leaves he will have finished the flask, and, once home, begin on the bottle.
They had come often to this beach, picnic suppers and long walks, love under the stars. A dangerous section of the coastline, this beach was not often visited by others. A sharp drop-off on the sea floor and rip-tides kept the two of them out of the water and other people away.
Together since high school. Dick and Jane. Teased by the other kids. See Dick and Jane run. See them kiss. See them make-out in the car. Although separated for long months while in college, they had remained true and married immediately after their graduations.
“Don’t climb there,” he had cautioned her. “Those rocks are too jagged and slippery.” He was below her, only a few feet away. A squeal, almost like that of a delighted child, a cry of surprise as she fell, not of fear-too quick for fear.
The rip-tide pulled her out beyond his reach and sight within a matter of seconds.
Stars appear. Much colder now. Turning to leave, a gust of wind nearly sends him tumbling on the sand. High tide, the force of the waves stronger, the spray higher. He steps closer to the water’s edge. The waves slosh over his shoes, now his ankles. He keeps his steps slow, but steady. Up to his knees, his thighs. Soon the sea floor will drop away. Soon he will …
Was that a voice, a whisper in the wind? He turns. Above the rocks a mist is swirling. He walks back, angling his steps towards the rocks. There… in the mist. A figure of a woman, soft and blurred, indefinite features, the face of any woman, all women. He is transfixed, suddenly afraid, but continues his careful approach.
Too much scotch, Dick thinks. The mist clears a little and the woman becomes more distinct. Her dark hair, the contours of her face, her high cheek bones and full lips. “Jane,” he calls. “Is it really you? You’re alive.” He tries to climb to her, but, getting no purchase on the slippery moss covered rocks, he falls back.
“I am not alive,” she says, her voice barely audible in the rasping wind. “Do not try to reach me. You can’t. Wait.”
“Wait for what? I don’t want to live without you. I tried to save you. You know that, don’t you? You must know that.”
“Wait,” the woman repeats, dissolving as the mist floats away, her whispering voice fading into the wind.
Dick sits on the sand, convulsed by sobs. Why must he wait? For her to return in another vision? Or was it an hallucination? Will he be seeing pink elephants next? Or should he wait for his own death? That could be 30 years from now. He had almost done it then, followed her. Why did she prevent him? Doesn’t she want them to be together? That’s all he wants. If it can’t be in this life, then in death. He pulls himself up from the sand, shivering and steps heavily toward the surf, but turns back abruptly and slogs his way back to his car.
In the morning he awakes with the familiar hangover, downs two aspirin and a cup of black coffee before showering and heading for the office. His colleagues, after many failed attempts to lift him out of his depression, leave him alone, except for matters of business. His mind and limbs are on automatic, carrying out his duties in the firm with no emotion or slow-down.
In the evenings Dick continues his visits to the beach, hoping for and fearing another vision.
One evening an elderly couple is there when he arrives. The old man, leaning on a white cane, dark glasses hiding his eyes, stares out at the sunset while his wife describes the changing shades of amber, blue, violet, gold. The old man nods and mumbles, “Yes, yes,” and “How lovely,” and “Beautiful.”
Absorbed by the old couple, Dick watches them more than the sunset, forgetting his vigil by the rocks. When the sky has gone nearly dark, the woman turns, notices Dick sitting on the sand behind them, and says something to her husband who nods and smiles.
“Good evening,” she says when they reach Dick. “We were so engrossed by the sunset we didn’t know we had company. I hope we didn’t disturb your pleasure. We’re visiting our daughter and had to see this before we return to Kansas.”
“You didn’t disturb me. It’s a public beach, although few people use it.”
“Such a lovely spot,” the old man says. “Why not?”
Dick explains about the drop in the ocean floor and the tides.
“Yet, you come,” the woman says. “I sense that you come here often. And alone. Although it’s such a romantic place to share with someone you love.”
“I used to come with my wife. She fell from the rocks and drowned. I tried to save her, but couldn’t.”
“The beauty of this beach surely gives some solace, though.” The old man extends his arm as if to sweep in the beach’s beauty.
But he’s blind, Dick thinks. How can he speak about beauty?
As they walk toward the road to their cars, the man lightly holds onto his wife’s arm, his cane waving about in front. “I wasn’t always blind,” he says, as if he’s heard Dick’s thoughts. “I have that advantage, my memory and my imagination. At first, I wanted to kill myself. A natural inclination when faced with a loss. That was 30 years ago. I would have missed 30 years of joy and discovery had I followed through with my cowardly plan.”
It wasn’t the same Dick thinks later while he tries again to drink himself into oblivion. The television is tuned to a soccer match with the sound off. The old man didn’t lose his wife. He lost only…only… It wasn’t an only to the old man. Cowardly to kill himself, the old man had said. Cowardly not to kill himself Dick had thought each night he stood in the sand, the waves playing at his feet. He had almost done it, but for that vision of Jane, her whispered ‘Wait.”
Why did she tell him to wait? Wait to kill himself? Wait for her to return in another vision? Regardless of why, it had stopped him. Would he have done it if she hadn’t appeared? It’s a question Dick can’t answer. Suddenly, he feels ashamed, the way he felt when as a young boy the appearance of his mother’s best friend had prevented him from shoplifting candy at the local market. Shame and relief had flooded over him while she had calmly chatted.
Jane wouldn’t want him to follow him in death. “Wait,” but not to kill himself or for her to return. Wait, because that’s all he can do. That’s all anyone can do, wait for the days to pass, the days and the night, the weeks, the months. It was…He counts up the months since Jane’s death. Five months.
He reaches for the scotch but doesn’t pour any into his empty glass. He studies the amount left. Just enough to put him out for the night. He wonders if the old blind man took to drink.
It’s supposed to give courage. But it’s not enough. Not enough to live or to die. He sets the bottle down without pouring. He’s been waiting for five months. He can wait longer, as long as it takes. For the first time since Jane’s death Dick goes to bed without passing out.