Jones walked along the road overlooking the ocean and a string of small beaches that appeared during low tide. He’d been doing this walk for years and resented those times when strangers were on one of the beaches. He knew they had a right to be there provided they didn’t distrurb the tide pools. But the solitude of the beaches empowered the loneliness that dictated how he lived.
For three consecutive days he’d noticed a woman sitting on the rocks at a beach with her back to the road. She wore a light green sweatshirt with a handbag strap cutting her back on the diagonal. She sat as if she were posing for a painting. When he saw her on the fourth day in her customary position, he went down the steep path that led to the beaches. Was someone painting her? Why was she so still? Curiosity had trumped his aversion to people.
As he approached his feet dug into the sandy gravel producing a scraping sound he assumed she’d heard. But she did not move. He became concerned he might startle her. While he kept to himself, he respected the privacy of others. He considered the best way to let her know he was there. He stepped as far to her right as possible and did not look at her until he was a good five feet away. She remained staring straight ahead.
He offered a “hello.”
She spoke with very clear diction without looking at him. “My husband died last week—his remaining ashes are in my purse and I’m trying to get the courage to say goodbye.”
“I’m sorry—let me leave,” he said.
“No, you’ve given me some strength.” She stood up and walked until her ankles were covered with water, then she took a canister from her purse, unscrewed the top and with a deep underhand motion, let the ashes fly.
“There that is the last of him—four days of this is enough.”
The wind picked up and Jones sensed ashes were on his cheeks, but he didn’t touch his face. He watched the woman hike up the trail. He scampered after her–for the first time in months he wanted to speak to someone.
“Can I talk to you for a minute? he asked.
“Certainly.” She said it with a smile and for Jones it was if she had accepted a proposal of marriage.