A walk by the sea (62)

She slowly turned to face a ghost, smiling at the power of her fancy and that of her will, which had fought and defeated the improbability of Joshua actually standing there in front of her. She saw him so clearly her mind could hardly have tricked her, but for him to be there in the flesh would have been a divine miracle- and she was not yet sure she believed in God enough to deserve it. His face shone a little in the pallor of a tired moon, and his eyes, once sparkling with glee were now blurry and deep, bottomless pits of despair. She stared at him for a short while, her smile not leaving her lips. It was an uncanny vision, but when he sighed, the sight of his chest lifting painfully brought her back to reality, confirming what she dreaded and craved at the same time. She had been crushed, destroyed, emptied of joy and of pain, and there he was now, staring at her with eyes that, like hers, did not believe what they saw.

In the course of things written and decided centuries before their happening, the fact that Mary and Joshua had to meet by the ocean was a natural occurence, but for them, two of the countless pawns in the game of love which is unlooked for, unaccepted, mocked at, unbelieved in, their encounter was exactly what the outside world thought of them. Unlooked for for fear of getting hurt, unaccepted for fear of the opinions of those who did not matter, mocked at for the wish to comply to those who did not know love from hate, and unbelieved by two people neither of whom trusted they deserved a second chance.

Waves met behind her to create deafening noise, but even through the clamour of the life-giving and sustaining ocean she clearly heard her heart drum stronger and stronger as the vision became a fact and his broken breaths reached her neck above an open cardigan she liked to wear when walking on the beach. Her strength to stand on her feet was quickly leaving her limbs, and what a moment before was her ridicule in the face of something improbable, now quickly became a desperate need to hold onto something.

-What are you doing here? –she asked him, one of the many questions that welled up in her awakening mind. The words sounded alien with a background of of waves and sand behind them, but at least brought back some of her strength of mind.

-I live in Los Angeles –the dearest voice in the whole world replied.

She could not believe she was talking to him again. He was so close and yet, so distant, retaining part of his miraculous quality. He was different, so different, even after she saw him perform. Standing together where they originally met, where their feelings for each other were born and evolved: by the sea, an endless pool of the joy and sorrow of the Almighty, everything seemed like a long lost memory, albeit altered by time. Just as the backdrop of sea turned into that of an ocean, just as the way she saw Joshua now as opposed to her cherished memories of a beautiful young man, her feelings for him had multiplied, grown apart, grown solitary, then painful, then destructive. After her loss, her breakdown and her almost perishing she felt infinitely more for him than she ever had.

He held his eyes on her, angry, perplexed, questioning eyes that were burning her skin.

-I thought you were dead –he spoke with difficulty, looking terribly shaken. His beard shone from the drops of water settling in it under the pale moonlight. His shirt was half unbuttoned under his jacket, and his hands hung limply by his sides.

-I’m not that old –Mary replied, the unlaughed at joke stifling some of her fright at seeing him, and seeing him in such a state.

He breathed out, and she had the impression he was going to fall onto her. She braced herself to be strong bodily and emotionally to receive him, but he took a few steps away from her, walking towards the sea without a reply.

He may have expected her to let him be, but his presence drew her like a magnet. She followed him, her mind boggled and her heart void of emotion. The only certainty was his presence, after all that time that she felt lifeless, purposeless, empty; she could only follow him, stay close to him, close to his warmth, however dubious the next moment was.

-Did you… I went to say goodbye and I saw your footprints leading to the sea… -he said to no one in particular. –I guess… now… that back then, you wanted to remind me of the fact that I was unwanted… but then I thought…

She listened to him in shock, the meaning of his words slowly dawning on her. Unwanted. Of course, her own words would have led him to that conclusion, but… Unwanted? When he was her reason for everything? The fierce emotion-ripples that words can create in the soul of a human being reverberated in her own unbearable pain. Unwanted!

-How could you do this? –he asked, turning a little towards her, still avoiding her glance. –All this time, I thought you…

His voice trailed off and he turned away completely, leaving her powerless against his accusations. She knew it now. The reason for him changing so ominously. It was his belief that her purposeful death was aimed at hurting him, and that had turned him into an almost old-looking, hunched, haggard, bitter man.

-I had no idea you were there –she said, longing to stop the words and thoughts, wishing she would not need to explain when leaving everything behind, she would just hold him and cling to him until he pushed her away.

-You left me that painting –he replied, his voice shaky. –You knew I was coming to the States, and you knew I would want to say goodbye.

-I didn’t know… I was hoping you would –she whispered, tears streaming down her face. –You did… but you threw away the only thing I was able to give you.

This time, he turned, and noticing the shiny tear-trails on her cheeks he took an involuntary step closer.

-It was an accident… it fell from my hands. I thought you were dead… I was in shock –he explained, swallowing his own tears.

Her shame at having accused him of throwing away her gift stung her heart, but before remorse could have engulfed her, her earlier resolve came to her rescue. Taking a deep breath, she tried to let it go, persuading herself to believe that she was no more to blame than he was.

He thought of Angela to keep from doing what they both wanted to do; obnoxious, annoying, but helpful Angela, who despite her flaws had been the only link between him and life when nothing else seemed to be able to help him. He could not do that to her. Neither could he watch Mary’s pained expression for long, so he averted his gaze for both of them, shutting his eyes to the tears he still saw, no matter where he turned. He felt them wash away his own pain, and he felt like kissing them off the pale skin that had grown slightly more wrinkly since he last saw her.

She wept silently, realizing why he had become a miserable soul. Her presumed death that must have pointed an accusatory finger at his conscience ever since. But what was worse, to his broken mind, history would have been repeating itself: she remembered his past, she recalled his struggle to overcome his remorse over Susie’s suicide… She knew exactly what he had been through back then, and the certainty of being the person who put him through that again was almost unbearable.

-Why did you want to see me if you knew it was only a goodbye? –he asked, looking at the water.

To say she loved him would have triggered events she was not ready to deal with. Andrew, her life, Joshua’s life… The sky warned her of things to come, and from all of those, her solitude was the easiest to endure. She hushed her frenzied questions and doubts, the crazy ideas of redemption and fulfilment. She had had her chance and she didn’t take it; why tread in the same footprints once again, risking more pain, more loss, more longing once the inevitable end came? Her exhausted spirit and hurting ankle reminded her of the finiteness of things; why cause him more pain by being forced to leave him eventually?

-I wanted you to have the painting –she told him a half lie that brought back happy and miserable memories of flame-lit skin and a firy glance from under thick eyelashes, with her own heart raging inside her as she shaped lifeless paint into a breathing soul captured for eternity on a pale canvas.

He knew it had been a mistake to come to her. He should have let her be by herself. What had he expected? What did he expect still, hoping against the hopelessness of a cloudy horizon behind which flickered only a hint of moon?

-Congratulations on your exhibition –he said in a neutral tone, calming himself. It was over anyway, it had probably been over since the day she made him leave, the same day that he agreed to leave. He had committed the bigger crime in agreeing to tear their unity apart. He should have refused her wish.

She nodded, not caring if he noticed or not. The shift in his tone was so blatant and hurtful she almost collapsed.

-Thank you… I… I hope… no, I know… that you’ll do very well. I… I saw you yesterday… you were marvellous.

He laughed without a sound, hit by the irony of it all. So many chances to meet, so many chances to make up for something lost… carrying the weight of misunderstood words and details that after a while grew so heavy… If only he had been patient enough to look for her that day… if only… he had been wise enough to see that the torn painting, himself looking for a distant sunset, meant he was not supposed to leave at all…

He turned and walked away as he came, unnoticed, unheard, unseen. She knew he was leaving, and this time, it was of his own accord. Her words that tore her throat apart wanted to scream and hold him back, beg for him to stay, at the risk of losing her dignity-

By the time she had the power to turn after him, the beach was empty.