After Adelaide

Sedgwick sits alone on the soft sand. The tide is receding. The sun stretches long shadows down the beach from behind the condos along A1A. The low-rise two-bedroom models suited to the needs and savings of the less-than-wealthy and less-well-connected winter people who couldn’t afford the tall, balconied, places fronting the intra-coastal. Single people mostly, women mostly, who come south when it gets too cold and too quiet up north. People he knows. Women he knows.

Adelaide was one of those women.

Women, now comparatively well-off, who take good care of themselves. Can afford to. Who once had good jobs and bad marriages. Who treat themselves now in ways that satisfy them. In ways that husbands and lovers they’d had, and still some had, did not. Men who did not or could not understand how what they left unsaid and undone, important things, which never entered their minds, but which left lacunae, unfilled spaces, around them. Spaces like dropouts in an audiotape or missing pages in a book. Spaces that left one wishing for what might have been said or done or thought and what would always be longed for.

Sedge felt that he understood that all now. Cared, now. He knew he had not always done so. He’d once been in the other camp. Deluded by an uncaring, convenient, know-nothingness. He felt now though, now that he had twice been kicked out on his ass, now that he’d turned seventy, now that he had accepted his life as a man, who now did what he enjoyed doing and, consciously or not, hurt no one, who had winnowed down the circle of acquaintances with whom he spent time and who made few demands on him and who brought him gladness, a word he might not necessarily say out loud.

It was that that had drawn him to Adelaide: a generous bearer of gladness; an unaffected, guileless sincerity that few women, and fewer men he had known were capable of or comfortable with.

Adelaide, he thought, and not unkindly, reminded him of a Tinker Toy set he had as a child, eight years old, maybe nine, confined to home and bed rest because of rheumatic fever which had damaged his heart and for which, as was the case at that time, he was prescribed inactivity and daily penicillin.

The set, he remembered, had slotted wooden dowels that he could fit snugly into rounded holes in spools of plain, unpainted, wood, so that when pieced together, they made buildings, or automobiles, or free-form figures of pure imagination. Was this way of thinking of her too simplistic? Disrespectful? Perhaps, but still there was the feeling he had, one of contentment with what was.

Adelaide was like that. His time with her was like that. Unhurried, uncomplaining. Assured. Pleasurable. She loved the beach. She loved early mornings and late nights. She loved to tango and taught him to. And they would dance in the hard-packed dirt parking lot of Archie’s, among the engines of the hogs and Harleys ticking as they cooled in the night air, her dress slipping high over her knees, sliding from side to side around her hips, as the music from the patio speakers, loud and thrumming, carried her, carried them both, along in waves, dipping and gliding, holding on to one another, moving as one, like a pair of young colts in a field of high grass.

This he remembered now. Could feel that now, as he sat on the sand on the beach. On the beach where they found her drowned body. The body that the ocean had pulled into itself and then spit back out. The body that he had held so gently and which had held him gently in return.

But he could not think of her that way now. As a body. The word now sickened him. That word that one day is a woman and the next day is not. There should be another word, or different words, one filled with life and another that speaks to its stark absence.

My god, he thinks, she is gone. How can that be? A sadness, so terribly hard to bear, tears at his skin. A diminishment that cannot be described, for which there are no words. A sadness that can only be endured.

The air is cooling and the sky remains endlessly blue. The shadows now reach down to the water’s edge where the sandpipers are running.

At some point, Sedge will push himself up onto his good knee, and then he will stand, rest a moment, getting his bearings, and then he will walk along the damp sand up the path between the dunes, beside the condo where Adelaide had lived, and he will find his way home.


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