Seems each time I started a blog post in the last two weeks, I was wonderfully side-inspired for my book in progress, working title ‘Down Under’ (aka ‘In The Land of Oz’). I figured, the best way to give an update was to offer a peek at the non-love, love story of Ava and Daniel, loosely based on Hook and me with all the interesting parts embellished or outright fabricated.
Although I had not intended for my time here in Kitty Hawk to become part of the book, the characters have unraveled at will so I’m going to follow their lead. Of the 96,027 words written so far, I do not know which will remain in the final copy or even make it to the second draft. Nevertheless, a preview followed by a very short life update.
From Down Under
The last time they returned from a three-day weekend on Padre Island, Ava said, “We need at least a week,” and Daniel nodded in agreement. After he died, Ava packed up the Jeep, returning to the saltwater they had known together. When it came time for her to take a year-long break, she sought out a time and space unfamiliar to either of them, far enough away that she couldn’t return with a simple four-hour drive.
In Kitty Hawk, few residents roam the beaches in the off season. Ava has yet to feel any tug to return home, wherever “home” will be after she completes this sabbatical. She remembers a scene in a movie where a character admits that he’s taking time off from taking time off. That’s better than a sabbatical from crying, and she snorts out a laugh as she looks out to the clear blue calm of the Atlantic, a mere 50 feet from her back door. She wonders how she will ever be able to leave the breeze and eastern scent of this oceanfront. The water is broken only with light, white waves falling on top of each other, creating a melodic hum. It is this pattern that keeps Ava rooted to the tropical red deck chair for whole mornings or late afternoons, staring mindlessly into the distance. It took her a month before she realized that the stronger the crash of the tide, the more intoxicating the energy of the water. This beats champagne any day, she thinks then yells out loud, “Shut your face!” to Daniel who probably would have said, You should take a sabbatical from champagne.
“I can’t afford to be sad,” Ava says while refusing to think about why.
Before arriving in North Carolina, the last major body of water Ava stood before were the rushing waves of the Indian Ocean in Waterman’s Bay, a small coastal town in Western Australia. But that was a time suspended from reality as she spread her husband’s ashes in a rocky cove off West Coast drive, down a stairway built from white rock, the boulders covered in green and brown algae which hid the light beige color of human remains that fell on top of them. Ava did not like Waterman’s Bay with its wide, quiet avenues and small town center. It was too tucked into itself, no room for an outsider like her. Had she and Daniel lived there as planned, she would have balked at the eerie feeling of seclusion, too far away from Perth city, too disconnected from social activity of any kind. If they had wanted away from people, they didn’t need to cross an equator to do it.
Yet here she is on the Outer Banks, living alone on the beach with unoccupied vacation homes on either side, sometimes for weeks at a time. That doesn’t stop Ava from feeling annoyed when she sees more than three people on her stretch of the beach. If too many days pass without her speaking out loud to another human, she accosts the first ones she notices from inside the house, hurrying down the wooden deck steps, baby soft sand sticking between her toes as she asks, “Any nibbles?” if it’s a fisherman or “Beautiful day, right?” if it’s a couple strolling on the shore.
People or no people, every day feels whole to Ava. Even the occasional cold-meets-warm nor’easters that blow through with gusts of wind whipping by at 19 miles per hour, making the sand a formidable weapon and the opening of a cottage door risky, do not dampen her days. If Ava didn’t keep the inside wooden door opened while the outer glass door remained closed, she would hear a deep whistling as the wind pushed through the crevices of the door frame. It was during a mild nor’easter when Ava met Polly and Layla who had waited until the day’s second high tide to try and reel in plump red drum. From their ocean side house, one street west of the beach road, they rolled a pier cart full of poles and bait and hooks, down the asphalt road and through the sand, as close to the water as they dared. The wind was picking up and the tide was coming in stronger now, making Ava think of that last time with Daniel.
He sat quietly as she drove the Jeep south over the causeway that connected the city to the port and onto the Gulf Coast. That Ava was driving at all was a clear warning of what was already happening. They had come from their last appointment with the oncologist, what would end up being their last visit ever. The longer Ava drove, the more consumed her thoughts on why they had been chosen to meet. Why Daniel? Why so little time? Why Us? He said only, “We chose one another.”
As she sat on the deck watching Polly and Layla fling their fishing lines over and over again into the water, Ava tightened the wrap she had around her shoulders. Without realizing it, she returned to that day in her mind as the blue waters of the Atlantic lapped in the background.
He looked at us both when normally he only addressed you.
“There’s nothing more we can do for you,” he said.
I snickered at his use of a cheesy line right out of a Marcus Welby, MD, show. We left his office as quietly as we entered in case he had the power to make our lives even worse.
“I’m hungry,” you said.
I started to name all the different types of food that existed in the world. You placed a hand on my forearm while I exhausted a culinary list of options. We waited in the Jeep like that, with your hand resting on my arm, until I stopped babbling, until I was calm enough to drive.
“Let’s go to Red Lobster,” you said, and I whipped my head to stare at you in disbelief at the suggestion of eating seafood at a chain restaurant. “I’ve never done it before” I heard you say, and I nodded as though you’d given me your last wishes. When we arrived, they seated us in a darkened booth, far away from the people that weren’t even there. You looked pale and thin and I noticed for the first time a hint of yellow in your skin. The hostess sucked in her breath when you walked in ahead of me, then took a step back as I aligned my body with yours. I squinted my eyes at her, silently demanding she treat you as though you didn’t look like you were going to die right there in their lobby.
After we sat down, the waiter brought us thin, plastic bibs. He followed this with two over-cooked lobsters and a greasy substance that was supposed to be butter but looked like a slimy gunk of gray olive oil. It didn’t matter the condiments since the only taste we would have for the rest of that day was the metallic flavor of fear.
When you ordered an entire lobster for yourself, the waiter looked at me to explain how large the crustaceans were and suggested that some couples share. I shook my head, ‘No,’ and said to give you what you wanted. You reached over and placed your hand on top of mine and we locked eyes, staring at one another just as we had on our wedding morning. I answered you without words: Yes, we are in this together.
After we were back in the truck, you said, “Port Aransas,” and we drove home and packed in less than an hour. Once we arrived, we acted as though we’d never been there before, like we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. You asked me where to put something, I snapped at you. Then you suggested we go for a walk. I stared at you with my mouth open. You were barely able to make it up the three flights of stairs to the condo. We’d be lucky if you could make it down the stairs when the weekend was over. When I didn’t answer you looked away, but you stood standing in that stark white kitchen while the ticking of the wall clock sounded. The click of the hand moving made us both look up, then at each other. That was the first time I said, “I’m afraid,” as my heart thumped inside its rib cage, too large for the space between the chest and the back, my breath coming in shallow gulps until you opened your arms so I could run into them.
When we got home, we started saying “terminal” and “death” and “dying” in every day conversations as though this would stop the leaden moments that swooped in with no provocation. You would be standing in the living room or sitting in your man cave and I would yell, “I can feel . . . ” and that would be all I could get out, all I could say before that hollowing washed over me. I would run to wherever you were and you never asked why, you never asked what. You held me and rubbed my back, sometimes stroking my hair until I could finish, “ . . . the fear.” The more I held on, the tighter you squeezed and you never let go, you never let go, not once not even a little, until I did.
As the sun began to fall on the horizon in a lavendar haze, Ava came back to the present. She knew she clutched to whatever bits and pieces of Daniel were still left, visiting every inch of their relationship from dating till death, cataloguing her regrets, still uncertain what it all meant. When she stood up from the deck chair, she grabbed a container of bird seed from the ledge as she walked onto the smooth desert of the beach. Polly and Layla were farther down with their poles, attracted to a portion of the water where the gulls had collected above it. Ava tossed the seed onto the sand, watching the gray and white sanderlings run toward her instead of away.
“Thank you for letting me hold on,” she said.
From where he sat, Daniel could still hear Ava, but his ability to see her was ebbing away. Although days and hours did not exist where he was, he could have measured from his soul how his visual retreat had begun the day she moved out of their home, and he understood what she did not already know: Her heart was starting to open again.
Ava wanted to stand there longer, but she only had an hour to shower and pick out clothes before her date picked her up at the house. She thought about the brunette with the nice smile and said, “I owe it to myself to do this!” Then she stuck out her tongue as though the meaty flesh might grow longer the stiffer she made it.
Even with his receding view, Daniel could still make out the juvenile gesture Ava gave him, and he roared with laughter as she mimicked his long ago behavior. She never heard him.
You can come on the date if you want, Ava thought, then rolled her eyes. Of course he would be there.
~ ~ ~
Well, yes I did have a real first date, post Hook, that started out in a comical vein and which I will absolutely share with you in a Part II, because this post is already long enough.
A Happy Birthday to Allan on this day.