When I first moved here, three years ago, I walked down to the beach everyday. It’s not a beach like you might think, those wide expansions of sand stretching out from dunes to the roaring ocean, wind blowing rivulets of wavy impressions in the sand. My ranch-style house, a rental, is only a block from the river and the little beach. The Beach Park, as it is called, is a small section of river and sand. It has a grassy plot of land, a flagpole, a trash can that gets emptied weekly, and a monument for a war hero–that’s it. There’s no bench. You have to bring your own chair or mat. I always forget to bring anything; so I sit on the sand, or the grass or just stand and look out at the river and listen to the sound of the flag whipping against the flagpole and the river lapping gently on the shore. The view is wide open, straight out south-east, where it joins a bigger and even broader river. There’s a huge barge like thing in the middle of the bigger river–a long ways away. I have never been able to figure out what this structure is. I always wonder about it when I’m at the beach park and tell myself to bring the binoculars to take a proper look. Every single time I wonder: “what is that big thing in the middle of the river?”
After a few months, I got used to the river and the little beach and ventured further a field. I thought the walk along the boardwalk into and around the marshes would do me good–exercise is always good. I discovered that the town brings in food trucks to the boardwalk, every Friday night–to give the town people something to do and somewhere to spend their money, and maybe attract some tourists and improve the economy. In the end, I don’t think it’s been as successful as the town had hoped. It is a marsh, after all, and a lovely habitat for mosquitoes who take advantage of the people who frequent the events. It makes for an unpleasant experience and dissuades repeat visitors. But all who come, do dine. The food is delicious–hot dogs, burgers, fries, wraps–everything that can be deep fried, is deep fried. Everything else is frosted, rolled in or laced with sugar. It’s tempting, if not addictive. I dine and the mosquitoes dine. The mosquitoes are happy, I suppose, but I am not. I can’t bear mosquitoes. I hate them as much as they love me. I must be delicious. I come regardless. It’s a ritual now and besides, as I said, it’s all very addictive and effectively cancels out the exercise of getting there.
One Friday night in August, it had rained the week before and it was the first clear day. As habit dictated, I was on the boardwalk. I was in line at Kathy’s Krab Kake truck. Their specialty is, of course, crab cakes as well as homemade wine coolers of assorted flavors. My favorite is watermelon. The crowd was bigger than usual. I wasn’t used to waiting in line. The mosquitoes were loving it, after a week of breeding, they were out in scores. I was about to give it up and go home when someone touched my shoulder.
“Here, use this.”
Next to me in line, a man, slightly greying hair, moustached was holding out a blue and gold spray bottle. I looked at him, puzzled.
“It’s bug repellent, homemade, nothing harmful. The mosquitos hate it.” He held the bottle and tilted it from side to side, in a friendly gesture. “Try it,” he smiled.
I took the bottle from his hand and examined it as two mosquitos lit on my wrist. I swatted them, too late, whelps rising on my skin. The man looked at me, his eyebrows raised in a question as if to say, give it a try. I shrugged and sprayed my arm. The aroma was lavender, almost but not quite–something else, something pleasant.
“Go ahead, use as much as you like,” he urged.
So I did and the mosquitoes disappeared. My skin felt cool and moist and a pleasant smell rose into the air and embraced me. I took a breath, a relaxing breath. It was all very peaceful, a feeling I’d forgotten. A minute or so passed and I looked up at him and smiling, handed the bottle back. He examined it, held it up to the sun, and the gold liquid sparkled and reflected points of light upon me and on the ground around us. My smile broadened. He returned my smile as he slipped the bottle into a pocket.
“Thank you,” I said. “This is quite wonderful.”
He was silent and nodded.
“In lots of ways,” I said.
His smile broadened.
“The mosquitoes are gone and …” I paused for a moment and looked up into the trees to check for a breeze. There was none.
“Somehow, I feel much cooler.”
He tapped the bottled that was in his pocket. “It has that effect.”
“You should market that, “ I said.
“Hmm,” he pressed his lips together thoughtfully and at that moment music wafted across the marsh. I titled my head and listened. “Violins?”
“You expected fiddles and banjos?” he asked.
“I did,” I replied. “It’s usually bluegrass music, not to say I don’t like bluegrass, I do, but this is even better.”
“It’s Bach Concerto, In A Minor,” he said.
I recognized the piece but I didn’t know the name and was surprised that he did. I took a closer look at him. He was tall, grey eyes with flecks of gold and his blondish, greying hair curled around his collar–early forties, I thought. He wore a t-shirt featuring a local brewery logo. His legs, were long and muscular with blondish, reddish hair. He smiled at my glance. No doubt he’d looked me over too but I hadn’t noticed–maybe he hadn’t. And if he had, I wasn’t at my best–these days.
You could say that I’ve fallen into disrepair, mimicking many of the houses in town. Sure, there are the jewels located directly on the river, blocking the view from the other houses. But properties, further away from the riverbank, have gone into decline. My house, a block from the river, doesn’t have a view. But there’s a courtyard patio and a garden, or there was a garden once, which is now, thanks to me, being taken over by weeds. The owner of the house, removed all the perennials and left the beds with shrubbery, replacing mulch with white stones–a shadow of its former state. The shrubs are one by one dying–I don’t know why. I have the lawn cut, and at first put down weed and feed to nurture the grass along but without much success. The mosquitoes are fierce and keep me from tending the garden. And I’ve lost interest. The house is beginning to look like a rental. The moisture is turning the trim grayish with mildew. Luckily the house is brick and has a strong structure. The kitchen, plumbing, electric and flooring have been upgraded and modernized. I’m comfortable but my things weren’t quite a good fit–many of them still in the garage, others donated and when I look around, even the art on the walls doesn’t take away the sort of shabbiness I’ve come to accept. My red rugs have been rolled up and put in the attic–too much red. My treasures, found in antique shops, look misplaced–a hodgepodge collection–once interesting accent pieces.
“Miss?” I heard the man’s low voice break through my thoughts. “My name is Marshall. Would you like to go listen to the concert?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m Zoe,” I held out my hand and we shook. And so it began. We both glanced up at the food truck. For some reason the cartoon images of the crab cake sandwich with legs and glasses of wine coolers with smiley-faces made us laugh. We left our place in line and walked to the tent where the string quartet was playing. The tent had twinkle lights strung in the ceiling and torches were strategically placed to provide light. The quartet was on a small stage. People were standing, listening and silent.
We stood together listening to the progression of the music from one classical piece to another. Surprising for August, a breeze blew through the tent. From time to time, Marshall would touch my shoulder and we’d smile in agreement about the beauty of a piece–Beethoven, Mozart. An hour later, the concert was over and the applause was loud, going on for several minutes. The musicians stood and bowed. I turned to speak to Marshall, but he was gone. I remember thinking that maybe he’d just stepped away for a moment. I waited. The crowd began to disburse and the musicians were putting away their instruments. I stood still and looked over the crowd for a tall blond man, towering over the others. Disappointed and a little confused, I walked along the boardwalk, past the food trucks, out onto River Street where cars were pulling away from the curb. As I made my way toward home, a fog was rising and in the road ahead of me, I saw a misty figure in the headlights of a car. It was him! I smiled and almost waved but stopped when I saw the driver’s door of the car fly open. A woman jumped from the car. From the way she waved her arms about and stomped her feet, I could not hear, but could feel, the angry words she flung at him. He said something. She threw up her hands then got back in the car.
The engine revved and with a screech of tires and smoke, the car sped away leaving Marshall in the dark. As the BMW raced past me, a child looked at me from the backseat and stuck out his tongue. Darkness closed around me.
© Glenda Kotchish