This story is by Robert Cavicchio and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
When I think back my memory conjures up physical feelings. I can feel the stiff chill in the air when the late October breezes unhooks the brown leaves and sends them flying and flipping into the gray sky. That image always disturbed me, even as a child. A feeling of helplessness would wash over me. Never a child to play in a pile of leaves, I would stay inside during those fall months when the world is dying, playing and fiddling with the things around me and hoping I would see the other side of it quickly and refresh myself in the clean air and snow of winter.
As I matured into my twenties and became a man, that childhood feeling of hopelessness transformed into a restlessness, a need to be moving or a drawing away from the wet black structures and streets of the city and gray faces of people hanging in desperation.
Not knowing what could ease my malaise I decided to travel, board a plane and head south for the last grasp of summer and easy breathing in the Florida Keys. A good choice I felt. There is no fall here, not the kind I experience with my eyes and feel stir in my gut. Here the sun shines hot and the green stays bright on the palms in defiance to their cousins in the North. The gentle breezes whip and sway them into a dizzying trance of natures harmony that satisfies me fully during the dull period of my year. It lifts me up and gives me a full heart and returns me to where I have always thought I should be. What a relief, autumn in the Keys, the leaves won’t change as they do in the North with they’re dying flashes of color in yellow and red. Here these colors burn bright with life.
This is the place I met her, she alone on the beach watching that sun sink proud into a sapphire sea hooded by pink and purple streaks in the sky. Her hair like a polished penny flowed in the ocean wind and eyes like faceted green jewels set in crystal took in the landscape with awe and wonder. Beauty as if God Himself kissed her cheek before descending her into the world, and here on to this white sand to me.
She turned to this stranger on that lonely beach that October evening as the sun set and a love set in with wrath and fury between us. Like the hurricane that will whip this sand, and tear the fronds from the palms sending them whirling in the breech. But that is an unfulfilled promise and not for us to know until it is upon us and not to forget until it passes.
The sun is warm here on this October day and it casts a soft gold light over the ocean and makes brilliant white diamonds dance on the surface by the millions. We sat here and spoke of things, and by nightfall were in each others arms for what would be forever.
We would visit this spot every year and remind ourselves of each other. Only now I know it was a celebration. We would watch that sunset and breathe in the salty sea air. Always in this place, here under this crooked palm tree that bent out toward the ocean as if searching for something more. Her arms wrapped around my muscled arms and chest, she would stroke. A thin film of sweat with it’s sweet smell. Her breathing against my back, and her warm breath on my neck would send my shivering in the heat of the sun. The whispers in my ear, the soft kiss on my neck and shoulders as we looked out over those diamonds dancing on the water and dreamed of things only we could dream of. Together and alone. The October winds brushing us and using us, the palms swaying in perfect harmony and casting scissor like shadows that overlapped onto us. The boats on the ocean, flashing white as the sped by, some with tall multicolored sails as the dashed on the stream to be swallowed whole by the shimmering reflections.
Years sped by as they do and we grew closer , just as some do not. Her beauty never faded, her lust for life and dedication kept me righted and straight. The hard times for her, when I was impossible, are now the hardest for me to remember without a deep sting, and every flinch of it I can feel down to the places I dare not to go.
How could I have done those things? How could she have weathered the storm? Was it a lesson she learned on this island to hunker down and wait until it passes? Was it tearful for her? I pray it wasn’t. But it will be my flaw, there can be no apology large enough and I will not accept forgiveness for it, even from Him. The black mass inside me that would bubble and grow until it eventually spewed out of my mouth has gone, it went with her. Her true gift to me, a life of anger, resentment and pain taken away by the only one who never gave me any of those things, even though I imagined that she did. No matter how I suffer now, it’s not enough to satisfy the hole left in me. The hurt in her eyes as she would reach in and kiss me and remind me it would be alright haunts me like a dim ghost creaking the floorboards of the halls of our house a thousand miles away.
But the time for me has slowed and changed over the year past. Accidents happen they say to me, things change, life goes on and as I look into that pink and purple sky descending slowly on the water and I imagine myself slipping, slipping deep into it and want to be held there where I could look up and see that glorious sun, shrouded in a deep blue crystal halo as its light is dimmed on the edges by the sea. Always out of reach and barley reaching me. How deep is that salty stream I wonder, how fast would it wash me away and carry me to another place? But yet I know she holds me still and sure above the waves and away from that pink coral under that speedy warm water. Her hands cradle my head and her face looks down on me obscured by the bright light. She doesn’t allow me a glimpse of that sunken sun as it would be my last and to spite the spike in my heart I would imagine slipping down until there was no sun under the sea, just blackness.
What did I learn from the love of an honest beauty? What shall any of us learn? I wonder if it can be learned. Can I flawed man succumb to it, after feeling an entire life that he never really possessed it? Yes! And I have! But she is not here to ask, my beauty, my love.
My sadness is coupled with the joy of her smile , her eyes, the lazy days and far places and especially here in this spot with the memory of two people and a bond never to be broken, not even in death. And I pray with my hands clasped together and head between my knees on this beach that she hears me, she hears me loud and knows that in my place all that is left of her is an image in my head and a feeling in my heart. And if I could erase me and the awful things I could. And that she, the one who showed me the unreachable light on the horizon, the light not to catch was one we should always chase and move toward. Her light, my light.
Looking up through my wet eyes and still feeling the ghost of her leaning into my back and caressing my chest that I realize those childhood feeling of dread were the engine that drove me here, to her. And she was my angel that saved me from the unknown things that would have been there if she was not. Now that the black mass has been rooted, and she drifting overhead somewhere in a vast and gauzy blue gallery, her penny colored hair casting that corona and flowing in the heavenly winds I wish she is waiting for me as I am waiting for her…as I always have. To be together once again, and hold hands into that light there on the horizon and maybe we can get there, me fixed and humble, sad and lonely but full of love and hope on this October day as the breeze blew gently and the smell of the sea has signaled me home.