She was gone and no amount of prayer, no matter how fervid or sincere would bring her back. It was nearing dusk and a light drizzle and lingering fog shrouded the small New England town. Matt walked along the narrow, deserted streets, hands thrust in his pockets. The air was heavy with mist and Matt had become covered in a fine, wet dew. He didn’t care. In the distance he could hear the steady roar and crash of the surf. It sounded like a maddened howl. Like anger and despair. He scratched the stubble on his cheek. He hadn’t shaved in three days, not since the last time he’d been with Victoria. Vickie. The last time. He tried to push her from his thoughts but it was impossible. Over the last three days her beauty, her essence had been carved into his mind. Forever. He didn’t know that would happen. A seagull screamed overhead. Matt looked up but the dense, dreary fog made it impossible to see anything in the sky. Sudden anguish washed over him and he felt like crying. Instead, he wiped the rain from his face and quickened his stride.
The streetlights came on, illuminating little in the gloom. Night was descending. The fog infused Matt’s surroundings with an illusory, dream-like quality. Everything was reduced to skeletal shadows. A world of soft charcoal rubbings. It suited his mood. The peal of a churchbell cried in the distance, its somber tones echoing through the town. It was Sunday. Matt had to report to work in the morning. He shuddered to think of it and quickly forced his thoughts to another place. The bell fell silent. Matt was glad.
The mist and drizzle had changed to light rain by the time Matt started down the path toward the ocean. The path was single-file, worn by tourists in a precise line. Woods stood on either side. Matt used to play there as a boy. He hadn’t been back in fifteen years. The woods had become ugly. The season had stripped the trees barren. What had been healthy, pristine forest was now littered with beer cans and soggy fast-food packaging. Broken glass lay scattered along the trail and Matt saw a spent condom hanging from the branch of a bush. He shot his eyes away from it. And then, after a soft left turn, there was the sea.
Matt reached the beach soaking wet. He didn’t care. Maybe if he was lucky he’d get pneumonia. That would at least keep him out of work for awhile.
He thought he heard Victoria’s voice for a moment but it was only the wind and the spill of the surf. Sandpipers played along the edge of the breakwater; scurrying away from the advance of water and foam, then scampering back as it withdrew. Matt watched the sandpipers run for awhile. Then he turned and headed back toward the motel.
He pictured Victoria under the languorous fathoms, her blue eyes staring blind and swollen at her dark immersion, her pale skin paler still and starting to turn to wax, her red dress ebbing and surging with the slow churn of the tide.
What had he done?
He headed back up the path and faded into the fog.
The sandpipers stopped and watched him until he vanished, then they resumed skittering along the beach.