Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Short Story: The Return

Bed and Breakfast in The Keys

Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing, save the limit of our sight." ~Rossiter Worthington Raymond

The Return

by CJ Heck

Gillian grabbed her bag from the luggage carousel as it noisily passed in front of her. Finally. It had been well over an hour since her flight landed. The airport had grown and changed since she was last here, but then so had everything related to travel since the fateful day of 9/11.

Pulling the handle up, she tilted the suitcase onto its wheels, and pulled it behind her through the terminal to the automatic doors and the sidewalk. There, she hailed a taxi. It was time to face the memories.

It had been more years than she wanted to think about, since Gillian had been in the Keys. She had made a fateful decision here twenty years ago, one that would change her life forever.

Until now, she had been unable to gather the courage to face the Keys again, or the time she had spent here. With a sigh, she knew the truth was, she had been unable to face him again.

Not so, the memories. Unbidden and haunting, she carried them with her always, treasured and fiercely guarded. She realized with a deep and growing resignation, now she would hold onto them forever, because it's all she would ever have.

The decision she made so long ago had turned out to be the wrong one -- it had only taken her a few hours to see that, but sadly, by then she thought it was too late.

Coming here today was no mistake.  It would be devastating, and the hardest thing she would ever have to do, but now it truly was too late.

Gillian was jolted out of her reverie when the cab driver suddenly stopped the cab at a corner directly across from the beach. She had forgotten how really beautiful it was here. There was so much about the Keys she had missed.

She was surprised and yet glad, the building still stood; however, the once brightly painted facade was now badly weathered, now only a faded patchwork of condemned signs and crumbling plaster. Its boarded windows were long past feeling any warmth from the sun. 

She felt a clash of emotions, finally standing here after all these years and remembering. Only by steeling her heart with a deep breath, was she able to climb the steps to the spacious and once vibrant veranda.

Looking around for a safe place to prop her suitcase, Gillian noticed that the front door was literally hanging off its hinges. Why anyone could just open the door and step inside. Gathering as much resolve as she could muster, she pushed the entrance door aside, being careful not to allow it to fall to the floor.

The once magnificent foyer brought another flood of memories and her breath caught in her throat in a sob, surprising Gillian. She could almost hear the soft music coming from the dining room on the right, where they had danced until three in the morning.

The stairs that rose to the second floor from either side of the foyer were higher than she remembered, and also very rickety. Ignoring the obvious safety hazard, she began to climb and now realized that the trip up was almost as difficult as the trip back in time.

In ruins thick with dust, and thicker still with memories, she felt her past and present collide. Gillian sat down hard on the top step and allowed her tears their freedom. The pain and sorrow flowed for all that might have been, and she watched as each cleansing tear dropped on the dirty floorboards.

It had been right to return. Here was where she could allow herself to remember and grieve and the healing could finally begin. Gillian's memories enveloped her, one after another.

Barefoot and holding hands, with all of their dreams fresh and new, they walked down these same steps and then across the street to the water’s edge. She remembered looking down at their clasped hands, wondering where her fingers stopped and Michael's began and how wonderful that felt.

With their pants rolled up mid-calf, they had flirted with the waves, stashed baby sand dollars in their pockets for safekeeping, and he wrote her name in a heart in the sand with his big toe, and they had talked and laughed until they cried.

Sunset on the Gulf
She thought again about that last night, how the colors of the sunset had blended the blue-green water of the Gulf right back into the sky as hand-in-hand, they walked back to their room.

[We were so happy, Gillian thought, as a fresh wave of pain gripped her heart.  

And after making love, we would lay basking in the afterglow, my head resting in the cradle of his shoulder, and we would whisper long into the night.] 

Her heart ached as she thought about that last night together. She realized that she had never felt such joy and sweet abandon before, or ever since.

They had talked about him, and her, and they whispered of us. They never spoke of anything that might get in the way, or if something ever were to, how they would push it aside -- they never gave a thought to an end at all.

They even assumed her abusive marriage was finally over. After all, she had left Theo for Michael. She had called and told him it was over.

To Michael, kind and good, a truly honest man, he knew instinctively how to treat her. Abuse wasn't even a word he knew. A gentle and caring lover, Michael had known how to both give, and receive love. What they had together was tender and beautiful and she had loved him with all her heart

Then out of the blue, Theo had shown up, intending to play his trump card. Weeks after she had left him, he arrived unannounced on Michael's front porch when they returned from the Keys.

He reminded her they were married and he wanted her back. He had appealed directly to her keen sense of right and wrong -- he had been a master at pouring on guilt for even the smallest infraction. 

In his words, Gillian had been adulterous and he would be magnanimous. He had decided he would forgive her. He promised things would be different and he told her she owed him another chance.  

Michael had begged her to stay. He warned her that Theo would never change. Against everything her heart was screaming, she had listened to Theo and she made her decision.

She hurt Michael beyond words and she had also hurt herself -- and there wasn't a day that went by that she didn't regret her decision.
With a sigh, Gillian realized it had been right to return to the Keys -- even if it was twenty years too late. It was time to face the past. 

How she wished she had called and told Michael she had made a mistake, but there are some things that once done, can never be undone. 

Getting through Michael's funeral today would be the most painful experience of her life. 

Swiping at her tears once more, Gillian had a sudden realization. 

Some days are diamonds. Some days are dust. And some days ... well, some days will never, ever, be anything but both.

Michael, I will never be able to go barefoot without thinking of you ...

[A short story from the book, "Bits and Pieces of a Writer's Soul", a collection of short and flash fiction, by CJ Heck]

"A writer soon learns that easy to read is hard to write." ~CJ Heck


nothingprofound said...

The Return is always difficult, but well worth the journey.

Unknown said...

CJ -

Your writing is so easy flowing and smooth and I can feel the emotions coming from deep within your heart. I must say I visualized the entire story as if I were actually seeing through her eyes. Very touching and beautiful!

Best wish my friend,


CJ Heck said...

Thank you most sincerely, Frances.