A storm is coming.
Like a gray veil being lowered in front of the horizon, the dark clouds and falling rain have spread across the ocean and are moving toward shore. Flashes of lightning intermittently make the sky above the storm glow a brilliant white. The water has turned from turquoise to steel gray and waves with white caps batter the shoreline. The hiding of the sun has turned late afternoon to twilight.
I dig deep into the beige sand and grasp handfuls that I hold, palms up, and let the wind blow it away. The surface of the dunes around me are shifting. The air is thick with the smell of salt water.
On the deck on the side of my bungalow I shake the sand from my shorts, and brush it from my feet and onto the mat in front of the door. Stepping inside, there is a noticeable silence. I have painted the walls in every room the same shade of deep gray with white trim. In the living room the tables and mantle place are covered with marble statues of Greek and Roman gods. Mars. Mercury. Apollo. Artemis. Bacchus. The resounding claps of thunder from the advancing storm causes the statue gods to tremble. At the large plate glass window I watch the rain begin to fall on the beach.
In the darkness of my bedroom I lie on the bed and listen to the rain battering the roof and pelting the windows. Flashes of lightning fill the room with white light. The blades of the fan above my bed whirl about slowly stirring the warm, moist air. Even after showering, I find grains of sand lodged in my ears and fingernails. The digital clock on the stand next to my bed seems to change time at a tortuously slow pace. In my wakefulness the events of my life play out in my mind like a poorly edited movie. Being alone I have no one to tell about being raised on a farm in Iowa, joining a seminary right out of high school, leaving the seminary a year into it, my parents’ suicide pact, me inheriting this bungalow.
Wind rattles the windows.
Morning sunlight casts pastel yellow and pink across the dunes and beach. The bright green ocean is calm and gentle waves lap at the shore. Clusters of white sea foam are blown across the beach by a gentle, warm breeze. Walking onto the dune, I step through the thin crust of sand created by the rain, into the soft sand underneath. Seagulls dance in the baby blue sky. Tufts of cottony clouds move slowly across the skyscape. On the beach, near the water, there’s a body of a man. He’s wearing a shirt, pants and socks, but no shoes. From the dune I can also see that he has fiery red hair. I scan the ocean in search of some sailing vessel and see nothing.
Kneeling at the man’s side, I bend over and place my ear against his chest. His heart isn’t beating. I place my cheek against his lips and feel no breath. There is no pulse in his wrist. In death he has retained his beauty. His skin is like porcelain, without defect or blemish of any kind. His jawline is square and strong, there is a cleft in his chin. I gently raise one of his eyelids and stare into the deep ocean-like green of his lifeless eye. The light blue muscle shirt he’s wearing has a long vertical rip over his left well defined pectoral muscle. A small, dark nipple is exposed. His arms bulge with muscles. There is a tattoo of an angel with his wings spread on his left bicep. A rip along the inseam of his white linen pants extends from his knee to his large testicles. He’s wearing no underwear. A small cross on the end of a gold chain hangs around his neck. I lie down next to him and put my arm across his hard chest and whisper in his ear, “It’s okay if you don’t feel like talking.”
I awake abruptly at the dead man’s side. The sun has dried his hair and I run my fingers through the thick curls.
“You have beautiful hair,” I tell him.
The front of his shirt and pants have also dried, but his white socks are still wet. I remove them and lay them in the sand to dry. His feet are long and slender and his toenails perfectly pedicured. Like the rest of his body his feet are pale white, as if he had never spent time in the sun. The tide is beginning to near us. I roll him onto his side and am surprised to see in a back pocket in his pants the outline of a wallet that I take out. The wallet is brown leather and inside there are two credit cards, four one-hundred dollar bills, and his driver’s license. His name is Barry Rose and he’s from Seattle. I put his wallet back.
“What would you like me to do about you?” I say to him.
Reaching under his arms, I lift him up enough to drag him toward the dunes and away from the tides. In the dry sand I sit down next to him. He looks so peaceful.
Placing my hand on his cross, I say, “I fell in love while I was in the seminary. It didn’t work out.”
A sand crab shovels itself out of the sand, then quickly retreats back into it. The noon sun cooks the beach. I remove my t-shirt and place it over Barry’s face.
“I don’t want that gorgeous skin of yours to get sunburned,” I tell him.
Looking out at the ocean I try to imagine how Barry came to be washed up on the beach. Surely someone who looks like him has someone who would miss him.
I rub his tattoo. “Did you believe in angels, Barry?” I say. “Sometimes I think there’s an angel looking over me, but then I can’t imagine why the angel allows me to be alone.”
With my fingers I push his hair back from his forehead. “Being alone all the time is similar to death, Barry. ”
I return from the bungalow and stand over Barry, my body casting a shadow on his. After opening the rainbow colored beach umbrella I place it so that his body is shaded from the intense rays of the afternoon sun. Sitting in the sand next to him I remove my t-shirt from his face and brush a little sand from his hair. I take the photo of my parents from my back pocket. “These are my parents,” I say, holding the picture in front of his closed eyes. “I didn’t even know they were unhappy until I came home and found them in the car with the motor running in the exhaust filled garage. They had left a note on the dining room table where I usually sat, as if it was some kind of meal. The note said they loved me but that they found life intolerable and wanted to die together.”
A mosquito lands on Barry’s silky smooth upper lip and I brush it away. “I sold the house and moved out here to the bungalow.”
This time I return from the bungalow with a blanket and a paper bag that contains a sliced chicken sandwich, a bag of potato chips and two bottles of water. I sit in the sand, my back resting against Barry’s side. While eating I watch the gleaming white sails of a small yacht flutter as it crosses the emerald green water in the distance. If they see me or the umbrella they show no signs of it. They sail southward and out of sight. Three seagulls have alighted in the sand a couple of yards from me, and they stare at me almost expectantly as the chips crunch between my teeth.
“You’re wild birds,” I say to them. “I don’t feed wild things.”
They remain until I have finished eating and put the empty chip bag in the paper bag and half bury it in the sand. They fly off just as I open one of the bottles of water and take a long drink. I open Barry’s mouth and pour a little water into it. His teeth are the color of polished pearls.
“Whatever you need, I can give you,” I say to him.
There are bright red and deep purple streaks across the twilight sky. The tide has come in and is within yards of us. The wind has increased and scatters the top layer of sand on the dunes and shakes the umbrella. I remember that I left Barry’s socks where they would have been washed away by now.
“I have socks you can have,” I tell him.
I take his hand in mine and grasp it tightly, feeling the rigor in the joints in his fingers and the coldness of his skin.
“In the seminary, I fell in love with a seminarian named Luke. I was only nineteen and had never been in love before. Like you, he was physically beautiful. At night I would sneak from my room and go to his and crawl into his bed with him. We would lie there together for a while, just listening to each other breath, then I would return to my room,” I say.
I put my hand on Barry’s still chest. “Breathing isn’t overrated.”
Placing Barry’s hand against my cheek, I say, “After the night I was caught returning from Luke’s room I was told to leave the seminary if I couldn’t disavow my love for Luke, which I couldn’t do. I then traveled around Europe by myself for a year. I can’t recall the name of even one person I met during that time.”
Sparkling pinpoints of white starlight fill the night sky. With the blanket on us and an arm and leg draped across Barry’s body, and with my lips to his ear, I say, “Ours wouldn’t be a conventional marriage by any measure.”
A steady cool breeze blows in from the ocean as the tide quietly ebbs and flows. I look at my watch and see it is shortly past midnight. In the pale moonlight cast by a crescent moon his skin has a bluish tint. His body is stiff. I rub my bare feet on his icy feet.
“You’re so cold, my darling,” I say.
I sit up and tuck the blanket around his body, kiss him gently on the forehead, then stand. “I’m going to go get you some socks,” I say.
The sand on the dune is cool and slippery as I climb it. At the top I look down at Barry and feel an undefinable heaviness in my chest. There is such a placid expression on his face that I simultaneously envy, fear and am thrilled by it.
Morning sunlight streams through the living room window. I awake on the sofa with a pair of heavy wool socks in my hand. I recall sitting down, but have no recollection of falling asleep. Barry’s name screams in my head. I jump up and run out of the bungalow and across the warm sand to the dune. The tide has receded and sand crabs scurry across the beach. I look down and see the umbrella and blanket, but Barry is gone.
Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over eighty short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies including The Gathering Storm Magazine, Rhetoric Askew anthology, Fictive Dream, Zimbell House After Effects anthology and Visitant Literary Journal. He is a regular contributor to SickLit Mag. His plays have been produced in several American states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He lives in Richmond, Virginia and writes full time. He is on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012966314127 and Twitter @carrsteven960