Melissa Brown sat on the back porch of her seaside cottage enjoying the cool weather after endless months of summer heat. She wore a pink velour robe over a white t-shirt and seersucker capri pants. She was not dressed for company, as her mother would have said had she been there. Mother was a thousand miles away back in Indiana.
Few snowbirds strolled the beach. They had come down south believing all the guff about slightly humid, sunny days and wearing bikinis as you played in the surf. Dry, cold breezes soon dispelled that PR fantasy. Slightly dazed turistas huddled along in newly-bought hoodies obtained at the local All-Mart as they took in the scenery.
Melissa could hear Ed in the kitchen, rustling up some grub.
“There’s some sausage in the fridge,” she called back to him through the open sliding screen door without turning her head. She was watching an Indian girl walking slowly by with her toddler daughter. Both were giggling. The mother was plumply pretty, twentyish in a pink and orange sari which she had pinned up just below her knees.
The child wore a blue jersey over aquamarine knee-length shorts.
“Damn, Mel, is this all there is?”
Melissa rolled her eyes and groaned. She stood up and stretched, still eyeing the Hindu duo, then went inside.
“The people they rent cottages to these days…” she grumbled, shaking her head.
Ed meandered outside for a lookyloo. The girl was pretty, he noted, and the kid was cute.
“So?” he said upon return.
Melissa hunted in the fridge, brought out tuna salad, an avocado, and a bowl of tomatoes.
“They’re practically black,” she said, slicing carefully into the avocado and deftly plucking out its large brown seed.
“More gray, I think, sort of pearly-beige gray.”
“Thank you, Sherwin Williams. Here’s your lunch — eat it!”
Melissa flounced out and upstairs.
“I think she’s kind of pretty,” Ed said softly, slicing into the tomatoes.
Melissa stripped and showered. She pulled on jeans, blouse and sweater, hopped downstairs as if she were still a Muncie teenager, and slipped on her Keds.
“Be back in an hour,” she called over her shoulder to her husband, who sat at the dining booth eating his pick-up lunch with a desultory air.
“Please don’t take it out on anybody,” he muttered wishfully as he heard her pull out of the carport.
A mile down the road, past a boat shop, fishing piers, and cafes with nautical names, Melissa pulled into the parking lot of a popular Southern grocery chain store. It was one of the oldest buildings still being used, with its distinctive post-deco signage. It reminded her of her hometown outside of Muncie, which featured a downtown business section virtually unchanged from the 1920’s.
She yanked a cart out of its queue and entered the chrome-framed glass doors, which slid open aided by an electric eye above them.
Inside, she piled her cart with fresh produce, canned goods, a dozen eggs, milk, coffee, and two loaves of bread. On a whim, she bought a large bag of jasmine rice, which was hard to get in her midwestern town; by the time spring rolled around, there’d be enough to haul back along with the new seashells she and Ed had collected. Her home living room had a beachy theme to it, including glass lamp bases she had been methodically filling with new shells every spring.
At check-out, in the next aisle over, stood the Indian girl and her tot, the latter sitting in the cart taking in the sights. She too had bought a sack of the same rice, fresh tomatoes, onions, and toddler food in a dozen small glass jars. Melissa glared at her until the child gurgled a stream of foreign syllables. A grandmother herself, Melissa warmed to the babble, no matter how alien to her ears.
The Hindu woman paid her tab and rolled the cart outside. Melissa did likewise a few moments later to catch a glimpse of the younger woman’s husband, who put the groceries into the trunk of their black sedan while she buckled their daughter into her special chair. Melissa stowed her buys in the back seat of her SUV and drove back to the cottage, more subdued and an nth ashamed. That the husband had been handsome and more western-looking (for an Indian) than she had expected may have been the reason.
She carried the groceries into the kitchen and began putting them away. Ed had left the house apparently, not answering Melissa’s calls up the stairs and or down in the spare bedroom, which had a computer desk upon which he occasionally surfed his laptop, off the living room. She sighed and gave him a ring. His tone for her was the melody of a rock song of he same name. She now heard it faintly off the back porch. Melissa barged out the screen door, saying,
“Ed Finley, did you not hear me call?”
She saw the backs of his big bare feet first. He lay face down in the sand between clumps of beach grass. The phone was near his face, which was tilted on the left side. Tiny grains of sand jumped up regularly from his lips. He was still breathing.
EMS workers carefully loaded the 6’3″ man into their ambulance, which sped up the main drag to the nearest hospital. Melissa sat as calmly as possible, holding his near leg while the medics cared for him. In the ER, she recognized one of the nurses as the handsome Indian she’d seen in the parking lot.