They listened politely while I played, and when I finished they applauded and embarrassed me with praise. But when the talk turned to pop stars I’d never heard of and football teams I no longer cared about, I left the glow of the fire and strolled north along the beach through fog-softened moonlight, feeling as I have so often lately, isolated, lost between youth and age. I couldn’t find any road leading into the future, and the road behind me, out of the past, had disappeared.
When I stopped and knelt to take my shoes off, I heard someone running behind me, splashing through the shallow froth. It was Shana, a former student of mine, whom I occasionally ran into around town. She’d invited me to play at the beach party. I wouldn’t ordinarily have chosen to spend an evening with people thirty-five years younger, but Shana was persuasive. And despite living only twenty miles inland, I hadn’t been to the ocean in months.
“Wonderful music, Mr. Edwards,” Shana said.
“Call me Darryl, please.”
“Okay. What was that last piece you played?”
“‘Forlorn Hope Fancy’. John Dowland. English Renaissance lutenist.”
“I almost cried.”
“It’s sad music. Dowland was a master of melancholy.”
We headed up the beach, Shana walking close beside me, her flowery scent mixing with the salty breeze. She was dark-haired, dark-eyed, and olive-skinned, her face delicate and lovely. She was fond of clinky bracelets and turquoise necklaces, and with her flowing dresses, gossamer scarves, and long hair, some hem or strand of her always seemed to be floating on the wind. I’d been divorced for two years when she took my Intro To Music course, and I’d noticed her.
“The first piece you played wasn’t sad.”
“‘Lady Hunsdon’s Puffe’.”
“All part of having to hustle for a living. Dowland composed quite a few musical tributes for wealthy patrons.”
“Why was he so melancholy?”
“Maybe from his one great disappointment.”
“He applied to be court lutenist for Queen Elizabeth. But she was Protestant, and he was Catholic.”
“She turned him down?”
“She did. You should have taken my Renaissance Music course.”
“I almost did,” Shana said. “Can I tell you something?”
“I had a huge crush on you.”
“I”m flattered. We older men don’t get much attention from pretty young women.”
“Older men know things, though. I love that. Like you. You know music and play the guitar so beautifully.”
“You learn a few things if you live long enough.”
“How old are you, Darryl?”
“Sixty next birthday.”
“Wow,” I said, and we laughed.
“An ocean of time between us,” Shana said. Then she took my hand, a wonderful surprise. I hadn’t felt that for so long, the primal warmth of a touch.
“I used to sit in class wondering what it would be like to kiss you,” she said.
I stopped walking. “Wonder no more.”
Shana swung around in front of me, scarf and hair afloat on the breeze. I dropped my shoes, and she came into my arms, our first kiss a mix of delight and awkwardness. When the kiss ended she stayed in my arms, head resting against my chest.
“What was it like?” I asked.
“Better than my daydreams.”
We kissed again, already more sure and eager, our pleasure rising toward hunger. I could hardly believe it, a miracle, holding such youth and beauty in my arms. I nuzzled into her hair, kissed her ear, and whispered into it. “Would you consider spending the night with this older man?”
Shana laughed and pulled away. “I’d consider it. But my husband wouldn’t be too pleased.”
“You’re kidding. You’re married?”
She nodded. “Two years.”
“Where’s your husband?”
“He’s a doctor, an intern. He works, works, works.”
“It’s too loose. I’m afraid I’ll lose it.”
My legs felt weak, the feverish surge of life suddenly drained out of me.
“Before you kiss someone who’s not your husband, Shana, you should fill in all the pertinent details up front.”
“I never saw that coming, Darryl. I’m sorry. I just… I want everything, I guess. And I spend my life sitting home alone.”
“You can’t have everything.”
“I’m truly sorry.”
I felt like a fool. How utterly insane, thinking a woman so young and lovely would share my bed. I turned away from her toward the ocean and stumbled over my goddamn shoes. I picked them up, walked to the sloshing edge of the waves, and flung them out into the water.
“Oh my god,” Shana said.
“Old running shoes,” I said. “Worn out.”
“Like you?” Shana said, but not cruelly. She laughed and touched my shoulder, and I laughed with her. The only real cruelty surrounded me, in the ceaselessness of everything: the tides, the wind, the moon crossing the sky toward another dawn.
“Did you ever compose a musical tribute, Darryl?”
“‘Julia’s Galliard’. For my ex-wife.”
“That’s so sweet. No one will ever compose one for me.”
“Who knows?” I said, but Shana was looking away, toward a cluster of lights farther up the beach. Despite the ocean of time between us, I saw we weren’t so different, standing there on that shoreline. An aging, solitary man, a confused young woman, both struggling to navigate the wayward currents of the heart, a dark ocean that will never be mapped.
I looked the other way, back toward the fire and the parking lot. “I think I’ll head home, Shana.”
“Isn’t there a cafe where those lights are?” she said, pointing.
“I think so. The Portsider.”
“Let’s walk there,” Shana said. “We’ll drink some wine. You tell me how you got to be such an amazing person.”
I laughed. “That won’t take long.”
“Come with me, Darryl. Let’s keep going.”
I looked toward the parking lot again, then toward the cafe lights. A long walk either way, on tired legs.
“Come on,” Shana said.
She held out her hand to me, and I took it.
Douglas Campbell lives, writes, runs and plays his guitar in southwestern Pennsylvania.