Cradle Broken Glass
I flop down in the sand. I’m not dressed for it. I had no intention of driving here, not when I got behind the wheel, but somehow, here is where I ended up.
I riffle through my tote for the can of sunscreen I always carry and spray the exposed bits. For several minutes I sit, legs crossed as if I’m meditating, and maybe I am. My need to expunge the morning, truthfully the past week, from my mind is overwhelming.
Slowly music enters my consciousness. I glance over at the man sitting on a striped blue and white beach chair underneath a blue and white striped umbrella, someone obviously prepared for a day at the beach, unlike me. “Black Hole Sun,” how appropriate.
“Is the music bothering you?” the man asks in a slow deep voice.
“No. Actually I love that song.”
He nods and returns to writing. Writing? With a pen and paper? People still do that?
You forget when you’ve not been for a while just how loud the ocean is. The constant rush and retreat, how your feet become embedded if you let the waves stir around them several times. I splash a little, remembering how I used to splash my little brother, the one who won’t talk to me anymore. He would have laughed at me being here, but he would have understood.
I return to my spot next to my tote where the sand now feels like it is baking.
Pearl Jam’s “Black” plays with all of its angsty heart-broken fervor. I sigh. “You’re killing me here, man,” I say.
“Are you talking to me?” he asks.
I can’t help it. I do the Robert DeNiro voice, “Are you talking to me?” to which he raises an eyebrow above his sunglasses, shakes his head slowly and grins.
“Yes, you. Please tell me ‘Fell on Black Days’ won’t be next,” I say.
He shrugs. “Could be. I think it’s an hour of songs with ‘black’ in the title.”
“How prescient of that DJ.”
“I have fallen on black days.”
“That sounds a little melodramatic for someone who just played in the ocean and is sitting in the sunshine.”
“I ran away from home.”
“You’re a little old for that.”
“Thank you Mr. Stranger for pointing out that I am no longer 20.”
He chuckles. “Neither am I. But I think you get above 30 and it’s no longer called running away. It’s doing whatever the hell you want to do.”
“If only.” I rummage through my tote for something edible, find a single wrapped peppermint of unknown age and origin, and pop it into my mouth.
“You’re an adult. A detour to the beach is just a detour.”
“Unless it’s five hours from where I’m supposed to be.” Five hours. I smirk. Bill is going to have a shit-fit. The smirk disappears when I imagine the words that will greet me when I return. I groan and fling myself backwards.
“Five hours? North or south?”
“North. I’m supposed to be meeting people in Annapolis. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t deal with their smarminess, looking down their noses at me because they wish their little boy had done better. I couldn’t deal with wearing a little posh pink sundress and pretending to like sipping Sauvignon Blanc and air kisses and who’s taking a cruise and who is visiting Europe and who is having babies and where the frig are mine.”
“That sounds …challenging.”
“It’s a load of crap,” I say and then sit back up and watch jets from Oceana soar through the sky. “I like it here. I’ve always wanted to move here. My dad was stationed at Norfolk for a while. I never forgot how much I wished we could stay. But then he got a post at the Pentagon. Not like you can turn that down.”
Mr. Stranger opens his cooler and offers me a bottle of water.
“Do you have extra?” I ask.
“Always. And, no, I was never a boy scout.”
I grin. “Thanks.”
The water is deliciously cold. I recap it and lean back.
“Do you come here often?” I ask and laugh. “That sounds like a cheesy pick-up line. Sorry.”
“I don’t get here as much as I’d like. Working too much. But I needed a break.” He has a nice voice with a hint of an accent from Tennessee, perhaps?
He laughs unexpectedly and then increases the volume on his speaker. “Fell on Black Days.” I roll my eyes.
“What are you writing?” I ask.
“Would you believe poetry?”
“Probably not. Is it poetry?”
“Yeah. I do it to unwind. I like to play with words, feel their rhythm.”
Something about that sounds sexy, but that is one thought I keep to myself. He taps the end of his pen against paper.
“I always wanted to write songs,” he says, as if it’s a confession.
“Really? I always wanted to sing songs.”
“Everybody wants to be a rock star.”
I nod. “And every time I take a shower, I am.”
We fall into steady conversation. In some ways it feels like we’re on a first date, one where we’re clicking, sharing tidbits we would never share with someone else.
“You can sit under the umbrella if you want,” he says.
I scoot over. He smells like sun lotion and deodorant and testosterone. Tattoos play across his shoulders. Suddenly he feels dangerous, dangerous to my fragile state.
Even though I can’t really see his eyes, I feel them sweep over me before returning to his paper. He grins suddenly.
“I’m Matt.” He extends a big, calloused hand to me.
My hand feels little in his grip. “JJ.”
We resume our conversation. He shares half of his cheese sandwich with me despite my protests. I feel my cell phone vibrate in my pocket and ignore it. Hours pass until the sun has moved behind us, casting our shadows on the sand.
We laugh at something silly and then I am kissing him, hard, as if my life depended on it. Maybe in some miniscule way it did. When I pull back, touching my lips as if they possessed some mystical power, he reaches for me and the kiss intensifies. I want more. I want to feel more. But I believe in the vow of marriage, even if my marriage has become words on paper.
“I’ve got to run,” I say, my voice sharp, panicked. I grab my tote. “Thank you, Matt, for an incredibly awesome day.”
Tears stab my eyes.
“JJ, can I call you?” he asks, his voice trailing after me as I run across the dry sand, my feet sliding.
Once I reach the public access, I turn. He’s standing there at the shoreline. He raises his hand slowly and then I raise mine before returning it to a death grip on my tote. I waver between running back and giving him my number and turning around while holding on to memories of the best day of my life. Really, for me, is there a choice?
My car is stifling. I roll down the windows and glance over the texts from Bill that grow angrier and angrier. Childish. Irresponsible. Selfish. Self-involved. Uncaring. Changing locks. Divorce. A litany of complaints I have heard ad nauseam for the past seven years.
A shadow falls over me and I glance up at Matt who is tall and lithe, his aqua blue eyes no longer hidden behind sunglasses.
“I wondered if you might still be here. I thought I’d take a chance,” he says.
I do give him my number, not that anything is likely to come of it. My marriage has taught me life bears little resemblance to romance novels or movies with fantastical happy-ever-afters. Sometimes, most of the time, it’s enough to be happy just for now.