Here is an excerpt from my unpublished novel. It involves the main character and his ex-ish girlfriend's mother. The mother has recently recovered from a serious illness and is out of the house for the first time in months.
White Keds hooked on two fingers, Angela walked in front of me through the high grasses, sinking ankle deep into the sand. She whistled staccato notes that matched the rhythm of her march.
The high tide pushed lathered breakers halfway up the shore, not twenty yards beyond the last dune. Without rolling up her pants or slowing down, Angela headed straight for the surf—arms wide like preparing to embrace the entire Gulf of Mexico. The night was warm for February, sixty degrees or so, but the water would be no such thing. An unexpected wave smashed against her shin. She squealed, stumbled back, then pushed forward again.
Oh no, I thought, not so much concerned as exasperated. Must I always be threatened by the possibility of some woman drowning? But that wasn’t the problem, was it? No, it wasn’t the possibility of them drowning, it was the possibility of being called into action. Of my hand being forced. Besides, maybe she wanted to walk clear to the Caribbean, to push with all of her regained strength against the bullying forces of nature, now before it was too late. Who was I to intervene? If anything, I should join her.
But she stopped. The waves pushed her back, sucked her forward, but she stood her ground—now knee-deep, now shin-deep, and so forth. I took my shoes and socks off,just in case, and watched from the brink of the surf. Angela Bramlett was taller than Lily, more statuesque. Especially as painted against the bruised sea and sky.
“Are you coming, Justin?” she asked, barely audible over the waves.
“No, I think I’m good. Maybe you should come back though.”
“No . . . not yet.”
She took another step. Or appeared to. The heaves and lulls played tricks on my eyes. The sky itself moved beneath its illusory dome like an eyeball out of sync with its contact lens. Angela turned and it took several seconds to realize she was walking back towards me; but when she pushed through the last suck of undertow, she seemed to be sprinting. Splat, splat, splat—her feet off the packed, wet sand. Wide as the waning crescent moon in the east—her hilarious smile. Safely in the softer sand, she caught her breath with her hands on her knees.
“Not so bad once you get used to it,” she said.
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Lily never told me you were a wuss.” She fake-punched my arm. I had never thought of my disinclination to confront fear head-on as wussiness, but now that she mentioned it . . .
“No? Well, she should have. It’s the most important thing to know about me.”
She laughed. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was mostly being serious. Didn’t have the heart. Bingo. I headed back to the car and got to the splintered wooden walkway before realizing she wasn’t following me. In fact, she had disappeared.
“Mrs. Bramlett.” The noisy gulf swallowed my voice. “Mrs. Bramlett!”
Long, white fingers sprouted from a grassy dune and fluttered. “Right here.”
“You OK?” I asked, approaching slowly like one might sneak up on a wounded badger.
“I’m fine,” she said, “just not ready to go back yet.”
“It’s getting kind of late, don’t you think . . .”
“So, call Lily and tell her what’s up. Tell her we’ll be home soon.”
Dreading the interchange, I called Lily. Sorry, me and your old lady are kickin’ back at the beach and whatnot. See ya when we see ya. Wouldn’t wanna be ya.
She didn’t answer.
“Phone might be off,” I told Angela.
“Leave a message. Tell her everything’s OK.”
I hate leaving messages—the pressure and the dithering. Never mind the heebie-jeebies encounter with futurity, the cause whose effect dangles in the ether. At any rate, I followed the robot’s commands and left a cryptic message to do with oceans and convalescence. Hopefully, she’d catch the drift.
Angela patted the sand beside her. I sat down. A miniature avalanche of grit poured into the crack of my butt. What a life. I brushed my feet with a sock and put on my shoes. Angela’s feet were still bare. She wiggled her toes and one of them popped. Even her toes were long. Except for the little ones which were half nail, half stub. Lily’s little toes did the same thing.
As we looked out on the gulf, the tide slowly receded. Five minutes passed. Meanwhile, the beach lost its residual warmth and the temperature dropped ten degrees. Angela hugged her knees and gently rocked side to side. Five more minutes passed. Only the thinnest rim of the western horizon still clung to the purpling daylight. The rest of the sky darkened to near-black-gray, occasionally pricked by stars.
“Do you love her?” Angela broke the silence. In a way, I knew the question was coming. Not sure how but when it came it did not take me off guard. Not that I knew how to respond which was a wholly different matter. The easy answer was Yes. But it wouldn’t come out of my mouth. It sat on my tongue like horseradish, bitter and burning.
“Should I take that as a no?” she asked of my reticence.
“No, no, no . . . not a no . . .” I wasn’t sure what to say and I needed to be sure. Regarding the apprehension of love, inaccuracy is the most certain reality. And the most unforgivable, nonetheless. What was I supposed to say? What was the truth? Yes . . . I loved her and every other broad-hipped and mammaried homo erectus gracious enough to acknowledge my existence. Or was the answer No, after all. No . . . because love bandies us about willy-nilly, because it’s the heavy-weight champion of the world, because its sucker-punches are second-to-none.
“It doesn’t matter. If you’re supposed to, you will. If not, you won’t.”
“I guess that makes sense but how are you, I mean anyone, supposed to know? Seems to me it’s a dangerous guessing game,” I said.
“That sounds about right.”
“As in unfortunately correct or as in worth the risk?”
“As in how should I know?” She scooped a palm-full of sand and dropped it on her right foot. She scooped another load and dropped it on her left foot. “Help me,” she said, “help me bury my feet."