Footsteps

“So this is Christmas in New Jersey.” John was going to get sarcastic and the next words to trip off his tongue would be something like, “Jersey’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to die here.”

“I don’t need to hear this,” she said. “It’s warm for December, the beach is empty and I am enjoying myself immensely.” Indeed, there were only one or two people on every hundred yards of sand. The boardwalk arcades were closed until Memorial Day. The gulls haltingly stepped aside when John walked too close, and danced elegantly away from breaking waves as though they were practicing the minuet.

“I wasn’t going to quarrel,” he insisted. ”You had a good idea coming to Seaside. Reminds me of the cross-country trip we made in May of ’98.”

“1999,” she corrected. “The year you retired…and began getting in my hair.”

“That’s what I love about you, Lydia.” He laughed. “You’re right about dates and hard facts but never remember personal things. Places, for example. Remember the time I took you to Tillamook, overlooking the Oregon Coast like this, and you said you’d never been there before? Well, you’d forgotten the time ten years earlier we drove down the coast after my conference.”

She shrugged indifference, using her hand to dismiss a wisp of hair that was beginning to turn gray. Her symbol for waving away his arguments never failed to amuse him. These small gestures—the way she wrinkled her nose or ended a laugh with a rise in her voice—were endearing. If he looked closely he could still see the woman he had married 42 years ago. He had come back to this country after two years in Europe, realizing within a few months that he’d left the best part of himself behind. Doing things the hard way—the only way under Byzantine immigration laws—he’d returned to England, married her and waited until her visa was issued.

“The doctor called and asked me to come back,” he said.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Lydia was angry now. “We share these things. Don’t you ever think of the children? They worry.”

“I know, but I thought it was better if I saw him alone.”

She stopped and put her hands on her hips. “Well, are you going to tell me what he said?”

“The bad news is he thinks it’s Alzheimer’s or senility. I forget things. I told him I stick Post It notes on the kids to remember their names—and he could forget about me paying his bill.” He let out a bark of laughter.

“That’s not funny!” Lydia said, punching him on the arm.

A man passed a few yards away, stepping aside in a self-conscious way to give John a wide berth.

“You looking at something?” John challenged. The man shook his head.

“Don’t be obnoxious, John. Mind your manners.”

“I didn’t like his look. He has the whole goddamn beach and he nearly walked into us.”

“You were talking to yourself. Carrying on like a coot. Next thing you’ll wave your arms and howl at the clouds.”

John ignored her. “I like to think this beach just goes on and on—sort of like Yucatan or something. A symbol of immortality.”

“It ends at the Delaware Bay.” Lydia stated the obvious.

“I said I wished it just went on, that days like this won’t end. We’ll go on forever.” He stopped and turned, while a quizzical expression crossed his face. “It’s weird, but you ever notice, sometimes when we walk together, there’s only one set of footprints? Right now. Look back. It’s like I’m alone. Weird.”

Lydia smiled and linked her arm in his. “It only seems that way. When you’re married as long as we’ve been, two people become one.”

Ω

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