Two Ships

prologue; to dream of the sea

He was a quiet traveler in the blue light of early dawn.

On the beach, the clouds still clung to the earth in a thin fog. His body pushed through the grey shroud, his toes digging into the sand as he jogged to the rhythm of his breathing. He never listened to music when he ran on the beach; too distracting.

He liked focusing on the steady push and pull of the water as waves crested against the shore in a foamy rush. He liked listening to the squeak of the tiny sandpipers as they scuttled away from his thumping footsteps. As he ran by, he liked watching their minuscule beaks peck at the shore, looking for an easy breakfast.

The white coast stretched on for miles and miles before him, and to his right towered the enormous, jagged sand dunes, covered in long beach grass and littered with sprawling summer homes that were still fast asleep. But to his left was the sea: a sea that could take him to other distant, white shores, full of people who didn’t know his face, or his name, or his family. As he ran, he imagined himself reading Camus in a café next to the Seine in Paris…or buying fresh fish at a busy market on the banks of the Bay of Gibraltar…just a couple of the naïve, romantic delusions that filled his head.

He had gone two and a half miles before reluctantly deciding to turn around and head home. On the way back, he began to feel the ache in his calves and the burn his chest. His typical anxiety began to push its way into his head.

Not yet, he told himself, focusing on the pull of his muscles and the momentum, pushing him onward and onward. The sun began to crest over the horizon, evaporating what was left of the fog into the already warm air. This was what he loved best about the east coast. California could keep their technicolor sunsets. It was the brilliant purples, pinks and oranges of the morning sky in New England that captured his soul.

He was a mile away from home when the sandy cliff, now to his left, began to shrink. The private wooden staircases down from the summer homes to the beach became shorter, less steep, less treacherous.

It had been awhile since he had realized that the height of the dune was inversely proportional to the houses on the beach – they got bigger as the cliff shrank. “Expansive,” was a word his mother had used. Once, she had been a high-powered attorney, and the ability to make anything sound good with the right words had never left her. He could think of only one word when he looked at the big beach homes: gaudy.

No, that wasn’t true: “ostentatious” came to mind as well. Garish. Excessive.
New, and fake, and just. Fucking. Stupid.

The only house he liked on this part of the beach was an old fisherman’s bungalow that he was now approaching: a large, slanted building with chipped white paint and a curved, black mansard roof. The house had a tower extending from its second floor, with a widow’s walk on top. Ever the hopeless romantic, the myth of widow’s walks haunted him – wives who waited in vain while sea stole the lives of their loves. As a teenager, he’d broken into the house a few times just to see if he could feel the ghosts in its walls.

Today, in the pallid, yet bright light of sunrise, he could see that the widow’s walk was not empty, as it had been ever since he could remember.

She was a small form with folded elbows over the railing. The distance and the wind, which sent the long strands of pale hair across her face, obscured her features, but as he jogged along the beach in front of her house, he felt her eyes on him.

He ran a ways down the beach before he dared to turn his head back. She was gone from the roof, and the house, once again, was seemingly abandoned.

Distracted with thoughts of the woman on the widow’s walk, he nearly ran past his own set of rickety, wooden stairs when he finally came back to them. The entire sky had turned a light, bright yellow. He paused before putting his barefoot onto the first stair and looked down the coast to where his favorite house now sat hidden in the beach grass. He knew that when he put his foot back onto the stairs – stairs that his great-great grandfather had first built when he summered here with his family – he was leaving his foggy, blue world of desire and entering the hot, bright reality of expectation.

With a groan, Daniel Philip Anderson Montgomery the Fourth shook off the ghosts from his back and bounded up the stairs towards home.