A Solitary Surprise

Ah, to be able to get away by myself and go for a long solitary walk while my houseful of guests chatter and demand my attention in their sweet, non-demanding ways.

“Have to take the dog for a walk!” I shout out. Leash in hand, dog giving me a wonderful excuse, I nearly leap off the front stoop and race toward the wooded path just a few yards away. The leaves are beginning to turn, so I’m surrounded by mostly green hues tinged with yellows, a sudden brilliant red, an aggressive spray of orange. My spirits lift, and I think alone at last, glory be.

But at the next step, I hear a tingling sound, like chimes, and as I follow the path, crunchy with fallen yellow birch leaves, the chiming becomes louder, more insistent.

Darn. My goal is to get away from civilization. What’s this? The dog’s ears perk up excitedly, and he drags me forward, even though I’d rather find another path.

Suddenly, we walk into a clearing where a small thatched-roof cottage sits unperturbed and peaceful. A curl of smoke rises from the chimney, and a glorious symphonic sound wafts from the open door. I step away, not wanting to disturb the occupant, but the dog races toward the door so excitedly that the leash pulls away from my hand.  He has crashed the party, so to speak.

His tail disappears from the front entryway into the cottage. Mortified, I step up closer, my nose twitching at the delightful smell of freshly baked butterscotch muffins. My favorite! How strange. I raise my hand to knock on the open door, but a voice, strong yet husky and strangely familiar, shouts out, “Come in, Pam. Come in.”

Prickles of surprise course up my spine into my scalp. I hear nothing from the dog. My stomach gurgles in hope, and my foot moves forward, despite my reservations.

I enter a room so cozy and soothing I want to sink into the nearest chair and stay forever. The space is filled with a few comfortable high-pillowed chairs and a loveseat covered in blue-flowered upholstery. The wood floor is covered with a soft blue chenille area rug.  Red pillows and soft cashmere throws add a colorful accent to the inviting room, infused with light from three, large-paned windows.

A figure stands in the far doorway that leads to the kitchen. I can’t identify her at first, she is bathed in afternoon light from the stained glass window that graces the top of the front door. But she moves slightly, and I gasp.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” she says lightly.

I stare at the image of myself, standing as still as a statue while I regain my bearings. She is tall, 5 feet 7, with wavy blonde hair dotted with graying streaks. Her gray green eyes are strong and direct, her full mouth pressed upward in a gentle smile.

It can’t be.

She is exactly what I look like. She moves her head back and forth, as if to discourage me from trying to understand this phenomenon, and then she points toward one of the chairs.

“Have a seat. Let me tell you a story about life, and how little we know of what and who we really are.”

I bolt out of that door faster than a rabbit released from a trap. Even while running, I ask myself, what am I so afraid of? Learning the truth? Or discovering that life has many divergent truths?

Either way, I’m a coward.

Ten minutes later, exhausted and out of breath, I stop. What have I done? I turn around, looking for the dog. He hasn’t followed me. He’s back there, at the cottage. I retrace my steps quickly, heart beating faster than I’ve ever allowed it to. My head spins with a thousand thoughts but only one question. Why did I run?

When I reach the spot, it is only a clearing with some low-hanging underbrush. No cottage. No smells of warm butterscotch muffins. No woman, and no dog.

I have lost my chance at discovery.

“Urf!” My dog is back, leashless, but smiling widely.

I agree with him. We have many solitary walks ahead of us, searching for that path to the answers.


A Walk on the Beach

The sun is hot, hotter than it’s been all week. But I’ve lazed around; I’ve read fun sexy beach books; I’ve slathered on the lotion and sat like a beached whale; and I’ve swum with the jellyfish. Finally, I am ready. “Mom, let’s go for a long walk,” I suggest. My slim, petite mother looks at me hesitantly.

“What about lunch?” she asks.

I laugh. She’s 5’2” and 100 pounds soaking wet, yet she eats like an elephant. Can’t take a walk in the early morning unless she’s had a banana and two bowls of cereal. Can’t walk mid-morning unless she’s had a peanut butter sandwich. Can’t walk at 1 unless she’s had two sandwiches, three cookies, an apple, and a tall glass of milk.

“Mom, it’s 12:30. We’ll walk on the beach to 32nd Street and eat there.”

“That’s 9 blocks,” she whines. She’s more limber than a football player and has more energy than a ballerina, but she’s worried about how long it will take us to reach the snack bar.

“We’ll walk fast,” I answer, and we smile at each other as we feel the wet sand squoosh between our toes, hear the roar of the waves just feet away, and watch the children scream and race back and forth among the froth.

We are ocean people, my mom and I, and we love our time at the New Jersey beach. We talk little during our fast-paced walk. I think of the gritty sand; the gloriously long, non-rushed day ahead; the hot hot sun on our backs. She probably thinks about food and how soon we’ll be at the 32nd Street snack bar.

Finally, 30 minutes later, the lifeguard stand appears. All we have to do now is walk up the beach to the street and the hamburger stand. I glance at my mom, who’s staring at something with a frown on her face. The hot air is waving like a mirage in the desert.  The distance to the snack bar looks like a mile. I know in actuality that it’s less than a 3-minute walk, but I also notice the children and adults hopping up and down as they walk toward the street.

“Carry me?” Mom asks hopefully.

“In your dreams,” I laugh back. I begin to walk fast, then I run. The sand is hotter than Hades. It’s burning my feet. I feel like Lawrence of Arabia, only he wore white robes and thick sandals.

I turn to look for my mom. She’s disappeared. Oh My God. Did she get sucked into the burning sand? Where is she? I can’t stand and look. I am seriously getting second- degree burns. I run to the hamburger stand and stop on the small wooden board “walk” they have placed for people in dire straights, like me.

“Mom!” I shout over the roar of people and ocean waves. I see a tiny spot, a shadow, move. Then I see her more clearly. She is standing next to a lone trashcan in the middle of the hot sand.

“There’s shade here! I’m not moving,” she screams at me.

I sigh and run back over the sand to rescue my stranded mother. As I suspect, when she sees me coming toward her, she sucks in a deep breath and races toward me, tears of pain in her eyes. We run together toward the snack bar, and I worry
about her lungs and her heart. I’m almost 30 years younger, and I walk every day for sport. Her face is hot and sweaty and squints in discomfort.

Finally, we reach the boardwalk and hobble toward the snack bar.

“I think my feet are burned,” she says to me, breathing hard.

“I think mine are too,” I answer. We look at each other and start laughing. Two fools are we.  I walk gingerly toward the teenager behind the counter to ask for a bucket of cold water for our feet, but first, I have to stop our giggles.

Ah, how we love the beach.