Summary: The gulf stretching on my left is as vast as the horizon
and as endless as my grief. (X2, Scott)
Warning: Mild sexual reference.
The website version has several images.
The sea is a living thing, constant in its endless, changing movement
and the white-noise sound of it. Its roar thrums in my ears and my
blood and somewhere beneath my sternum. I've always loved the water
(*ironic, isn't it, since it took her from me?*), and it calms me now
as I sit on the sand in the shade of a sea grape tree -- more bush,
really. I'm dressed in shorts and a loose cotton shirt with the
sleeves rolled up to my elbows, and the sun has neared its zenith but
a sea breeze keeps me cool. Being fully dressed sets me apart from
the rest of the tourists dotting the pristine sand of Captiva Beach,
yet apart is how I feel. A ghost watching others live.
People cross the gritty sand in front of me, and a little girl in
pigtails and a fluorescent pink (*even I can see*) swimsuit is
playing beside a tide pool. The waves slide in and make the water
swirl around her knees, then pull back, teasing, and she's picking
out shells and sea creatures, putting them in a bright-pink plastic
bucket that matches her swimsuit. Her skin is as pink as the rest of
her, and her mother needs to put more sunscreen on her or she'll cry
Abruptly she shrieks and throws a shell high into the air, leaping
backwards and stumbling, arms flailing.
I'm moving before I think about it. So is her mother. We both get
there at the same time and I hang back. I'm a stranger. The child
is babbling about lots of legs (*a little octopus hiding in the shell
maybe?*) and sobbing, and her mother is holding her and that --
-- it goes right through me. Everything I've lost -- in actuality or
in potential -- is right in front of me. A young woman and mother, a
child, the simple comfort of skin contact. The ability to cry.
I walk away, off down the sand, away from the scene, away from the
beach house to which I've been exiled for a week. The professor sent
me down here. The worst of the winter had passed and Jean had been
gone six months when he'd decided that I needed a vacation. So he
sent me to Florida to compete with drunk spring breakers and little
families in minivans -- and what, exactly, does he think I'm going to
get out of this? I haven't spoken to a single person in three days;
I think my voice is rusty. I get up late, eat breakfast alone, go
down to the water and people-watch, go back, make a sandwich for
lunch or put cottage cheese on tomato slices (*Jean would be so proud
of me*), take a nap, get up, make another sandwich, then go sit on
the rear deck and start getting drunk for the evening. Alone. The
only thing in the kitchen is sandwich material, bottled water, and
cranberry vodka. Oh, and coffee.
Now, I just keep walking. Away. And I wonder, if I keep going, how
far could I get before I simply fell down in exhaustion? All the way
to Fort Myers? It's a long key, Captiva-Sanibel, a pair of barrier
islands off the southwestern side of the Florida peninsula, a few
hours drive north of the Everglades. And maybe I should drive down
there before heading back to New York, see the place -- but what
would I see? Palmetto bushes and alligators and lots of Spanish
moss? It's a stark landscape, southern Florida. I'm not sure if I
like it or hate it.
There are pelicans out in the water, bobbing for fish, and the sun is
hot on my shoulders and hair. After a while, I unbutton my shirt and
take it off, tie it around my waist. I don't worry about sunscreen;
my body absorbs solar energy. But the beach is the one place on
earth where I never feel out of place. Almost everyone wears
sunglasses. Sweat from exertion slides down my neck and out from
under my arms before the sea breeze evaporates it. I'm not really
looking at the people I pass (*though there are some things that
should be illegal in a swimsuit*); they're a collage of
leather-browned retirees, obnoxious teens, equally obnoxious young
adults, and middle-agers with kids and coolers. But I don't want to
see people right now. I can't even see myself. I don't know who I
am -- all my self-definitions have become fragmentary, like puzzles
with important pieces missing. Half a man. I've been putting myself
back together for six months and I'm not sure I like the result, or
want to live with it.
"You need a change of scenery, Scott." That had been Xavier's reason
for my exile, and about a week before the school's spring break, he'd
handed me a map and the keys to a beach house that Warren's family
owns down here. (*Three stories with a private garage beneath, a
fully-appointed kitchen, a private beach, and a maid who'll come to
clean up after me if I call her. Which I haven't. I can do my own
damn laundry, thank you.*) So here I am, and it's Wednesday, and I'm
just . . . walking . . . following the curve of sand south, then
crossing the pass into Sanibel. Three old black men in baseball caps
are fishing for mullet off the side of the bridge and cars whip by me
on the road. I'm glad I wore sandals so the concrete doesn't burn
the soles of my feet, and I don't know where I'm going, but that's
the story of my life right now. I just walk.
Some ways down the beach on the other side, I stop for a minute to
catch my breath, hands on hips. I've walked so far that I've hit one
of several conservation areas on Sanibel where sea oats and coconut
palms and stunted scrub oak grow wild. Fewer people and more birds,
and a little ways in the distance up a bank, I spot what looks like a
park with picnic tables under the shade of straight slash pine and
waxy-leaved magnolias, sprawling water oak and gray-barked hackberry,
short Jamaican dogwood and tall cabbage palms. Seven or eight kids
are there, all college age (*no doubt spring breakers*), sitting
around in lawn chairs, drinking beer and laughing loudly . . . and
God, we used to laugh like that, Jean and I, when we'd get away on
our own and I could feed her tequila until she giggled at everything
including the worm in the bottle and the one in my pants that stood
at attention whenever she wore that itsy-bitsy bikini.
The worm hasn't risen in a long time, at least not while I'm awake,
and the few times I've got up in the morning to find that I'd made a
mess in my sleep shorts overnight, I've been struck by a helpless
anger. Not embarrassment -- *anger*. I know I'm young, and healthy
-- not even thirty -- and if I don't find release while awake, my
body finds it when I sleep. But I don't *want* that. I don't want
it. Jean taught me to feel okay about my body, but she isn't here
anymore, and I don't feel okay. About anything.
Now I watch the kids by the picnic tables a minute more, until one of
them notices me and stands, holding up a beer bottle and waving,
inviting me up to join them with good-natured, drunken enthusiasm. I
shake my head, try to make myself smile -- no need to be rude -- but
I fear it comes across as a grimace. I walk on.
The gulf stretching on my left is as vast as the horizon and as
endless as my grief.
The sun is headed down now towards the water, casting across the sky
colors I can't see, only guess at. Seagulls call to one another, an
awful noise. They're dirty birds, and aggressive. I prefer the
little brown sandpipers that scuttle in front of me across the wet
sand, seeking bright-shelled coquina or burrowing sand fleas. I stop
and squat down, watching them for a while as they make zigzags,
racing away from incoming waves. Life is like that, I think. We
zigzag along and try to avoid the water, but its catches us anyway
I never thought I'd be the one left behind. I was the putative
leader of the X-Men, the one most often in the line of fire, and
thus, most likely to die. And I was male, too; most women outlive
their spouses, even younger ones -- especially spouses with a Type-A
personality and blood that's half caffeine. Jean used to tell me
that if I didn't eat better and drink less coffee, I'd have a heart
attack before I was sixty. I�ve never met a fried food I didn't
like. Yet here I am, a widower at twenty-eight. Well, effectively a
widower, and if no one ever plans for death, somewhere in the back of
your head, you know it'll happen and you make certain assumptions --
but all of mine had involved her outliving me. So I'd done what I
could in advance, planned for my own cremation (*because I don't want
my body to take up space*), filed to be an organ donor, and made a
will, too -- a short one, but enough to stipulate that the money I'd
inherited from social security orphan's benefits was to be converted
into a college fund for graduates from Xavier's, kids who (*like me*)
had no parents to pay for more schooling. Jean wouldn't have needed
it, you see. She came from money, and she would have had all my
other things, the intangibles that mattered more.
But I wonder if half my assumption hadn't been *desire*? I'd wanted
to go first because -- selfishly -- I hadn't wanted to hurt like
this. Women are called the 'weaker sex,' but they're not. They're
the ones who give birth, and so Mother Nature granted them a higher
pain tolerance. I think that extends to feelings, too. *Jean* was
always the fearless one when it came to emotions, not me. I never
quite knew what I was feeling, or how to name it. I just knew how to
stuff it down and pretend it wasn't there. It's so much easier *not*
to feel -- just keep busy -- and why the hell had the professor
banished me here where there was nothing constructive for me to *do*?
I just fill my days with sitting and walking and drinking --
speaking of which, it's time to head back. I hear my bottle of vodka
calling me from the fridge.
Turning, I wonder how many miles I've come. Five? Ten? I'm tired,
but it feels good. If I'm tired, I can't think too much, can I?
Like when I'm sloshed and sitting on the deck of Warren's ungodly
expensive beach house with all the glass windows reflecting the
setting sun, bright enough to blind me. I really hate that house.
All white and empty.
It's quite a trek back, and my feet are probably blistered in their
sandals because I don't usually walk this much, but I don't feel the
pain. Just on the other side of the bridge pass, as I'm sliding down
rocks to the beach, I'm met by the sight of a big anahinga standing
on the sand, her wings spread out to dry and her pointed beak raised,
making a black cross of herself. Snake bird -- her neck is long and
thin, elegant like Jean's. Funny, to see something of your dead
fianc�e in a waterfowl, and I'm not sure if Jean would be more amused
or insulted. But she'd had the most beautiful neck, long and white,
and when her hair was up, just seeing it exposed as she bent over a
book or a microscope made me want to kiss the back of it, touch the
hairs at the nape with my fingers. Such soft, soft skin.
Now, the sight of that bird recalls Jean as I last saw her from the
cockpit window of the X-jet, her arms spread and the force of the
water blowing her hair so I could see her swan neck, her face raised
towards the plane behind her, a little desperate, her body all in
black. A pose just like the one in front of me. She'd made a cross
of herself, too -- a soteriological sacrifice.
Now, I drop to my knees, facing that black bird with the red, red sun
going down behind it, firing its plumage. It tears me open, and I
Notes: So much for my fanfic 'vacation.' This story does not
reflect background from AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE. It might
be considered a precursor (of sorts) for GRAIL. Acknowledgment to
MitchPell, who got me thinking about beaches; this sprang out of it.
Feedback is always welcome.
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