(Oh, wow, this is so late. I didn't do any writing last month because my brain was fried after grad school applications. Got results back -- was turned down by one school and accepted into another, in Dublin. ^.^
And this month, I started working again, and I always have SUCH a hard time writing while working. Ugh, the struggle. - Sarah)
"I don't know, Daniel," I said. "I don't know."
I held the GPS up in front of my face.
"It's a completely different route. It wants us to hug the coast," I said, "and then drive through Boston. I hate city-driving. Maybe I should just go the way I'm used to. Mid-state."
"Except you've never driven to the Cape from Maine, right?"
"So follow the GPS."
"Yeah," with hesitation.
"All right, fine." So I veered down an unknown street.
We drove half a mile through pine trees. I chewed on my thumb.
"No, no," I finally said, swinging down a side road. "I can't do this. I don't trust my GPS. I am going back to Massachusetts the way I know."
I reversed the car.
"That's fine with me," said Daniel. "Do whatever you feel comfortable with, Sarah."
But we drove back only a quarter of a mile. My eyes were scanning the street signs erratically.
"No, I'm being stupid." I struck on my turn signal. "I should follow the GPS. Shouldn't I? I should. I'm turning around."
"Go ahead," said Daniel, with deadly serenity, "but this is it, Sarah. You've flipped your last flop."
"This is it; I promise," surprised at my anxiety, glittering along the roof of my brain.
"Gal." Daniel fished up the M&M bag from the ground. "I've never seen such dithering."
"I know it." I swung the car into a side street. "I'm so sorry."
Except it wasn't a street.
It was a dirt road: someone's driveway. It was very narrow, and a rickety house came into view beyond some hydrangea bushes. The house was leaning, lichen-colored. I stopped the car, and squinted. There were three men standing in the drive way, huddled together. A sign nailed to a rotting fence said Private Property. Beware of Dog. I shoved the car into reverse and started backing into a three-point turn.
Daniel swallowed an M&M. Suddenly all three men in the driveway turned on their heels. One squared his shoulders at us. I rolled down the passenger window and smiled, as I backed up.
"Sorry, we're just turning around. Am I going to roll over any flowers?"
But Daniel hissed under his breath, "Go, go, Sarah, go."
The man stormed towards us, kicking up dust with his boots. He was wearing a ripped t-shirt. "What the **** do you think you're doing?" He put a hand to the hip of his jeans.
"Uh-oh." I slammed the gear into drive.
"Yeah, that's right!" the man shouted. "That sign says stay the **** off our property! Can't you read? Who do you think you are?"
I accelerated -- the car wheels shrilled through the dirt.
I pulled onto the street. We drove a mile down the road before I realized my knuckles were herringbone-white.
"Oh, my." I relaxed my fingers and exhaled. "Oh, my. Can you believe that man?"
"They were all chancers! Sarah, did you see yer man? He was wearing knuckle dusters. He put his hand in his pocket and put them on!"
"What are those?"
"Like metal -- what do you call them -- like brass knuckles."
"What!" I slapped the wheel with both palms. "What is wrong with people? I'm sorry, but you just saw the backwoods of Maine. At least they didn't have a gun. You know what probably happened? We probably ran into the middle of a drug deal or something. Because they were way too keyed-up. Whew, now I'm on edge."
"You handled it so well, though, Sarah."
"You did," he asserted. "You just kept going and said nothing."
"Thank you, love. But I don't know why I'm so rattled," I said. "Feed me M&Ms?"
Daniel filled my cupped palm with candy.
"I'm sorry," I repeated, hefting them all into my mouth at once. "Welcome to the redneck part of Maine." I crunched. "Actually, I just like the brown ones. Somehow I feel like the synthetic dye isn't as bad."
So he gently searched for and tucked brown M&M's into my hand, for two miles. Then I laughed suddenly.
"No. You know what? What pathetic men, to feel intimidated by a giggling girl in a pink car."
"That's exactly it, Sarah. You hit the nail on the head." He crinkled through the bag until he found another brown M&M. Then Daniel added,
"But you know, henny, the brown dye is probably the worst one to eat. It has to be all of the colors combined."
His voice had a coy, hard edge to it.
"Yeah, you may be right. Oh, look, Dan!" I suddenly exclaimed. "It's a moose! -- Oh, wait, no, it's a parked car."
So he gushed blue, yellow, and red M&Ms into my palm.
"You did it to me first," I said, looking at the rainbow in my hand.
"This is true," he said. "Primus narkus."
* * *
For hundreds of miles, our car meandered through woodland roads.
But a trip that I thought would take four hours somehow took seven: the amount of time required to travel from the north of Ireland all the way down to the south. The sky, too, was turning gray.
By the time we reached Cape Cod, the hook of Massachusetts, a sixty-five mile peninsula that muscles into the Atlantic Ocean, it had begun to rain. And something seemed wrong: almost no cars were going our direction on the highway.
"This is eerie," I said, switching lanes. "I've never seen this. Look at the traffic going northbound."
Northbound, the direction leaving the Cape, was at a standstill. Cars were bumper to bumper, moving only a few inches at a time. Bikes and kayaks were corded to roofs and racks. The sky was looking sickish; the trees were knocking their heads into each other.
"Ah!" I suddenly howled. "Did you see that sign?"
"The one we just passed!"
It was large temporary sign, wheeled onto the side of the highway. Orange letters were flashing: Tropical Storm Warning. Take Precautions.
"It said there's a gale coming."
"A Nor'easter can be really, really bad. What should we do?" I squeezed the steering wheel. "Do you want to turn around? My parents live about fifty miles from here. We could stay with them."
"Well, you're the driver, Sarah." Daniel was sitting in lotus position on his seat, making his way through a bag of Tostitos. "You're the captain of this ship. I trust your decision."
The rain intensified, our hood clanging with hard water. I looked up through the windshield. The sky was convulsing into a catastrophic color -- electric yellow-green. Like the gut-belly of a garter snake.
But I decided we would risk it. "Because we've driven seven hours already. And we're a half-hour away now."
"I was going to suggest that, too, but I didn't want to pressure you. Besides, look at that --" The northbound traffic was now at a standstill. "We would be stuck in that for hours. So the worst thing that happens to us is we have a few days inside because of the weather."
A driver sped by us, splashing a puddle against our side.
"Actually, the worst thing that happens is our cottage floods," I said, increasing the wiper speed.
But we pressed on. I mewled occasionally, humming to myself. Tapping on the brakes.
"I don't know why I'm so frittered," I finally said. "Maybe it was the long drive." I scratched at my cheek. "And the knacks. And that the GPS sent us through Boston for some reason."
So Daniel put his hand on my thigh.
"Trojan," he incanted. "Trojan." And popped brown M&Ms in my mouth.
Then we heard a siren's wail and looked over to the northbound side. An ambulance was trying to move through the frozen traffic.
"Oh, Sarah, let's say a prayer," breathed Daniel. The ambulance was maneuvering laboriously. "That poor fellow inside has a hard road to go."
So we were silent, as the rain crackled against our windshield like fireworks, and the traffic slowly angled itself out of the way. Eventually the ambulance made it through.
And, finally, we ourselves reached the town of Brewster.
The world was rumbling, and my wipers were slashing wildly, choking on the water. "The GPS says we're a couple miles away from the cottage," I said, readjusting the device. "But we need food if we're going to be housebound for days."
So we turned on a random side street. Only a half mile down, we found a convenience store, with a blinking neon sign, pink and green.
Slamming the car doors shut, we flung our arms over our heads, splashed through puddles, and ran inside. Even luckier: we had arrived two minutes before closing.
We shook ourselves free of droplets, and suddenly, inside a dry store with bright artificial lights, smelling of blueberry pies and pastries, our adventure seemed almost humorous to me.
With a light heart, we ran up and down the aisles, not even stopping for a basket, filling our arms with tuna fish, bread rolls, rosé wine, chocolate cake, Mike's Hard Lemonade, pickles, deli meats, veggie burgers, and potato salad.
We dropped everything on the counter, panting, and thanked the cashier for keeping the store open for us.
"No problem." She was a bouncy girl, with multiple piercings in one ear.
We heard a crash suddenly from the deli and turned around. A stack of plastic crates had fallen, because of the scrambling antics of the pimpled deli-boy.
"Ah, he's useless," the cashier said, raising her voice so it reached him. We all giggled.
But there was a warm glint in her eye.
* * *
We pulled into a gravel driveway, horseshoe-shaped. The cottage had weathered shingles and was hedged by beach roses. Through the gloom, I could see that the shutters were mussel-blue. I unlocked the front door and we ran our luggage inside.
Inside was cold and too bare. It smelled musty, but I felt safe at last.
"Wellp. As long as a tree branch doesn't fall on us tonight, we're good," I said, dropping my last bag on the carpet "We made it, Pop."
* * *
Miraculously, the next day dawned clear and fair. The world was dripping, but the morning sun soon lifted all the dew.
There was a map of the Cape pinned in the kitchen. It took up an entire wall. When we located our position, we traced our fingers to the nearest beach.
We packed a bag with sunscreen and water bottles, and went to Nauset Beach -- stopping at Dunkin' Donuts to feed Daniel's new breakfast addiction. He ordered a honey-glazed donut.
Nauset Beach was wild, and reminded me of the strip of Wexford beaches in southern Ireland. Gray, stark. Almost barren. It was exposed on the Atlantic coast, and the waves grumbled and gnashed at the shore; everything here was large.
We walked together -- silently. The sand was sloshy and cold. I held my sandals and went through a bed of foam. It was like a briny crème brûlée. Burnt along the crust. The bubbles stuck to my ankles.
This was not a beach on which to talk. And soon we decided that it was a beach for solo reverie. So Daniel went ahead and I walked away from the water, up to a dune. I sat down, my back convex in its sun-hot hollow. I made pictures with a splinter of wood. I drew a mermaid. Then I sank my finger into the warm sand and wrote my ex's name. The familiar letters made him feel strangely near.
I wandered back down to the water. The tide bit my anklebones and the wind whipped around me. People may have walked by, but my senses were being erased. Everything became undine, as the ocean's roaring etched into my ear canals. I roped myself to the sea, and tossed my soul into the waves. Saying things under my breath. Thinking half-thoughts. Where would I go, this autumn and always? Where was my heart's home now? My ex had been, for eight months. He had --
Maybe an hour passed, when I finally glanced up. Though there were many shimmering figures on the horizon -- red, cherry, chiffon yellow -- I knew Daniel right away. Knew him when he was only a piece of sea grass.
By his walk, by his legs. Pearly-white. The beautiful set of his straight shoulders.
And I loved him all over again. I began walking, and when we met in the middle we twined our arms around each other. My soul felt like a clam shell that had been scoured, picked-dry. I was glad to feel the messy warmth of his skin. Of my person. His arm draped around me, sheathing me. Muscle on my bone.
"Do you know that I knew you from a half-mile away? And my heart jumped."
"I knew you, too, Sarah, when I saw your golden head. And you have a walk like you float."
"Eh, no. Everyone else tells me I stomp like a dragon."
"No, Sarah. I don't think you know how graceful you are. Mi angele."
I lowered my head on his shoulder, my cheek content against his turquoise shirt.
"Do you know what I saw back there?" he said. "A sea lion."
"Wait, like a seal?"
"I think it was a sea lion."
"I feel like it would be a seal," I said.
"Well," Daniel shifted his arm around my waist, "whatever it was, it swam beside me for ages."
"Of course it did," I twinkled. "Because serendipity sticks to you. You're a magic-magnet, Dan."
"I am," he agreed. "Does food sound like a good idea to you now?"
"Food always sounds like a good idea to me," I replied. "I want something -- oh -- really hot and greasy."
"Oh, yes," he let out a soft grunt. "I want a steak and chips right now."
"Then we will get you steak and chips."
"That's all I ask," he promised.
* * *
But his minimum request turned into a carnival of indecision. We stopped at five -- yes, five -- restaurants.
I knew what Daniel wanted, because I had seen it many times in Ireland. It was a particularly Irish meal: a platter with a slab of meat (thin, fried to grayish translucence and tenderness) and heaped with chips.
But we failed to find this steak, over and over. We stood outside a restaurant, studying the menu, the scent of broiling meat and the salty sea in the air.
"Wait, this has it!" I told him. "Or the closest thing to it. It's probably going to be grilled instead, and marinated and thick. But whoa, it's a really high-end restaurant. I myself will probably just get a salad here or something. A fifteen-dollar salad."
"No," Daniel scoffed. "I refuse. There is no way I'm eating here, Sarah, while you pick through some fifteen-dollar leaves."
"I don't mind."
"I like leaves."
"No," he said definitively. "Either you eat with me, or we don't eat here at all."
"Yeah," I had to admit, "there is nothing here I would order."
In a last-ditch attempt, we pulled into a deli corner-store. It was shingled, weathered and pussy-willow gray, like most Cape buildings.
We walked in. "Hi, there! We were wondering if we could get a steak here?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," the curly black-haired woman behind the counter said. "We have steak subs."
"What is that?" Daniel asked, and I knew his reaction before she defined it.
"Like -- chunks of steak in a roll."
I watched Daniel, rubbing my chin. He was just staring into the glass case, displaying bulbous hams and cheeses.
"But not --" I circled my hands, "like a whole steak?"
"Well, the chunks already come cut-up." The woman put on latex gloves. "I could maybe take those pieces and shave them for you?"
I glanced at Daniel again. His bearing was courteous as always, charming and airy. But his social veneer was not opaque to me, and I noticed the stiff crook in his mouth. He was not going to budge. I felt a twitch of annoyance.
Which was cushioned in humor.
Then drowned in love.
I grinned to the woman behind the counter. "The boy is from Ireland, if you can't already tell. And he has a very specific idea in his mind. But thank you for trying anyways!"
"I did try," she laughed, peeling off her gloves again.
We left the deli shop. "What you want doesn't exist here, Dan." I unlocked the car door.
"In any shop in Ireland," he fumed, getting in, "you can stop in and order a platter of fried steak."
"I know, hun."
We banged the doors shut.
Daniel stared through the windshield, at the box of begonias in the deli window.
"All right," he said at last. "I admit defeat." He was wearing a sepulcher face. "I reduce my demands to chips."
I squashed my forehead against my steering wheel. "You reduce your demands to chips!" I spurted. "Oh, wow." With my head still resting there, I clumsily clanged my keys into the ignition. "All right," I laughed. "All right, love. I can find you chips."
"Because I'm cut to the onions with this tedious, ludicrous travail of a monstrous, endless search."
"Well, I'm just sorry I foiled it all, back at that fancy restaurant."
"'S no bother."
"Noble." Backing the car up, I reminisced, "Do you remember that time, Dan -- sorry, I have to laugh at your pronunciation -- when I asked how you were doing, and you said you were feeling 'reduced'? But you say that word like 'rejuiced'. So I responded all excitedly, saying how glad I was to hear that."
"Do I really say it like rejuiced?"
"Yes, you do," I said.
Close to our cottage, we pulled into a roadside take-out restaurant. I ordered a veggie burger, and Daniel ordered chicken nuggets and fries. He did not touch the nuggets. He said they were vile.
And when we got home, Daniel said, "I'm knackered. I really do need to be rejuiced. So," he added, "I'm going to nap. But it needs to be a solo venture."
"Me, too. That sounds so essential right now. I will, too. So which room do you want?" in a business tone.
"How about I take the bedroom and you go upstairs?"
"Deal. I'll see you sometime later."
"Take your time," he offered.
I saluted him. "You know I'm always longer."
When we parted, I went upstairs to stale-smelling room that was still cozy, with two bunk beds, and one bed. I opened a window, to let in fresh air, and could hear a chickadee twirtling on a pine. The sun slanted in through the window, and a model ship stood on the bureau. The room was bright, and seemed to lend itself to dreams.
I nuzzled down on the low bed, with a nautical quilt of blue and green. And I dreamed honey-colored dreams, of a gardening husband. He had a fire-colored heart.
I smiled to myself. This sweetness was unexpected. I nestled back, deeper into the bed. I was happy to dream again. Even momentarily.
P.S. -- And, yup, that's us in the profile picture! ^.^