High Tide Excerpt
Straightening up I answer smartly, seriously, "Nineteen days, eleven hours, and twenty-two minutes!"
"Really!" She looks at me intensely. Obviously Karen hadn't expected such a precise answer.
"No," I admit casually moving away to deposit the coffee pot on its burner. "It was a wild guess."
The sincerity of the moment she had attempted is rapidly replaced by my widening grin. "I made it up!" Turning to face her gaze, my laughter explodes. It takes a minute to settle down enough to give her a respectable answer. "He comes in on the 23rd – late. I'll have to check to be certain of the exact time." Smiling, I restrain an abbreviated laugh seeking its freedom.
Karen isn't usually gullible. It seems a bit odd that she didn't realize I was joking, but I shake it off.
"I was just wondering." She picks up her cup for a careful sip of the steaming brew. She hesitates thoughtfully, "You haven't talked about him lately– " Her voice falls away in an obvious invitation for me to fill in the gaps of the conversation.
I study her. For a second I mistrust that she isn't more probing with her questions since she said she was ‘wondering.' She may be older than I, but I am wise to her tricks to coax information out of me. Not today, my friend. Not today. I am not falling for the long-pause-while-I-take-a-drink trick.
"Oh, I–I was busy with the holidays." I offer a lame answer, refilling my coffee as a diversion from the topic. I can tell by the look on her face she isn't buying my story. Without additional incentive, I admit, "Actually, I haven't heard from him since he left."
Karen tilts her head slightly, studying me for a brief moment. She managed to get past me that the original question was a prelude to the later one. She says nothing, simply letting the hush fill the room until the silence closes its fingers around me.
That does it. That does it! I confess as if I was being interrogated by rebels. "I tell myself that I didn't expect to hear from him since he hadn't been back to Ireland for a few years." Cradling my warm cup I nearly whisper, "But that isn't really true."
"No letter? Christmas Card–or phone call?" Karen gently clarifies.
I shake my head to each item on her list. "No, not even an email," I add softly. An inaudible sigh follows my confession. Hopefully the full degree of agony I feel doesn't show in my face. But it doesn't matter, I have betrayed myself by telling her the truth.
The truth is I don't understand why there has been no outward sign Ioseph has thought of me, even once, in the month he has been in Ireland. Surely he has. Yes, of course he thinks of me.
Karen looks up from her cup, meeting my gaze while shaking her head slightly in disbelief. She offers a reassuring smile before another taste of her coffee. I fully expected a comment, but am relieved there is none.
I smile sheepishly to keep my thoughts hidden from her. This time I take advantage of her pause and change the topic. "Since the rain finally stopped, do you want to go to the beach?" I ask knowing she rarely refuses an invitation to the beach when she is in such close proximity.
Within minutes we have crossed the street and the rain-soaked sand to the water's edge. The air is thickly moist and smells of the fishy sea. We pause looking toward the horizon – comfortable to be alone with our thoughts, but near each other and the ocean.
Ah, life is good, I tell myself. Readjusting to stand straighter, I face windward to search the soul of the Pacific.
The sounds of the seagulls' crying and the waves crashing on the beach surround us. We're close enough to the water's edge to feel the spray when a wave collides with the backwash of the previous wave. In unspoken agreement we turn to walk toward the estuary at the far end of the beach.
The afternoon's post-rainstorm beach, with its fantasy-like mood, impedes thoughts of the neglectful Ioseph McLean. It is good that it does, because it would take very little effort to be incredibly angry with him–the kind of anger that makes me physically shudder. He is being thoughtlessly cruel and I can't think of a worthy excuse for his behavior.
Recognizing my anger is driven by the hurt I feel doesn't belay its fermenting. In this high tech world, Ireland isn't that far from California by any number of electronic means. He could contact me. He has all of the gadgets, the techno-toys. He lives and breathes in a world full of the latest communication devices all the lawyers use. It's a fact, he strives to be the first in the firm to have the newest contraption, as if it is somehow a proof of manhood.
No, I can't think about him. It gets my American-Irish blood boiling in an old world, ethnic way. As a third generation American I should be able to temper the fiery Irish woman inside me. She yields only slightly when it comes to thoughts of Ioseph.
Though we walk pensively, we quickly arrive at the estuary. The San Gabriel River is running high from the rain's runoff. Trash flows into the ocean when the rains come. Still there are no water warnings posted on the beach. The rain has caused no bacteria hazard. We are safe. It's too bad there isn't a life patrol to post warning signs for dangerous things in everyday life–jobs, relationships, important decisions. I'd heed the warnings in exchange for a feeling of safety from the hurt of my real world.
Karen and I watch the river dump into the cold ocean. Surfers dubbed this place ‘Ray Bay' because stingrays like the warm river water. There are so many hidden dangers lurking in the beast filled waters. Yet Karen watches the mingling waters, speaking fondly of the ocean; her moods, and the healing properties of being on her beach.
Karen's words regarding healing may be an invitation to resume the conversation about Ioseph, but I let them fall to the sand. I am not strong enough to admit more than I already have. I cannot talk of my dreams and fears about our relationship. She is right though when she said, "The rhythm of the waves and the call of the seagulls blend into a tonic that heals the disquieting things in our lives." I wish for such a salvation. I'd wear it around my neck on a chain like a holy metal.
January might not be the tourist's idea of when to be on the beach, but to us it is perfect. Growing up at the beach teaches the value of a year round commitment, not just for the summer months. The winter sky may gray the mood for some. To me, it's like the moods we go through in longstanding relationships. The gray skies are simply part of the package.