Sometimes in the winter, I come here when the tide is just turning to start its inexorable march to the ice-lined shore, and the sand crunches underfoot and the wind stings my face, and I watch as the water glides in and out over the last smooth remnants of the cinder block foundation. I know that someday soon, they will be gone and wonder if then she will be gone, too.
Sitting here, pulling my wool cap low over my ears, tucking my chin inside my coat where my breath is warm and thrusting my hands deep into my pockets, I can see the pink lilacs my mother has clipped and placed in water in the Mason jar on the kitchen table. The air smells sweet. The window is closed against the early May breeze, but a draft comes through where the salt air has eaten away the caulking around the panes and the curtain, the one she made from the thin red skirt she used to wear over her bathing suit, swirls like a butterfly. Just behind it, the first row of laundry waves in an array of colors. They don’t know I’m here, and I can’t see them, but I can hear them.
“Here, let me get the rest of this.” I know that my father is standing behind her the way that he does, resting his hand on the small of her back and tracing his fingertips up her spine.
“You’re hovering again. I’m fine. I can do this.”
“You need to rest.”
“I said I’m fine.”
“Okay. Sorry. I just worry about you.”
“I know,” she says. “We need to tell Edward soon.”
There’s a long pause and I can tell my father’s hands have come to rest on her shoulders and he is leaning in close to her ear.
His voice is low. “When we get home. There’s no need to ruin this for him. Let him enjoy this last time and then we’ll tell him.”
“I can’t hide it much longer,” she says. “The tremors are getting worse. This morning he asked me why my hands were shaking. I told him it was just a chill from this drafty old cottage.”
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he says and his voice trembles the way mine does when I’m trying to hold back tears.
My mother says nothing, but I can tell she is crying, soft, silent sobs.
After that spring, we never rented the cottage again and, instead, my father would take me to a cabin in the mountains near a wide stream that ran cold even in August. The sound of the sea, he said, reminded him too much of my mother.
Once the barrier dune breached, it was only a matter of time; the sea chewing up the beach with each passing tide, creeping ever closer. I watched when the bucket loader came, crashing its jaws through the roof, eating the cottage plank by weathered plank.
By this time next year, the last of the foundation will have been washed away into the sea and that last glimpse of my mother, barefoot in the sand, shading her eyes from the sun, and smiling as she watches me stand on my father’s shoulders and dive into the salty water, will be gone forever.
The light is fading and the dark water covers the last stubble of cinder block. I stand, shake off the cold and glad to turn my back to the wind, walk slowly to my car.
A former reporter and editor, Ernest Hadley is the author of several books in the field of equal employment opportunity law. He has studied fiction writing at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA, the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in Truro, MA, and Grub Street in Boston. He is a former recipient of a writing residency at the Outer Cape Artists in Residency Consortium, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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