A young woman struggles after a failed relationship.
|Shelly tried to force back the dawning day and linger in the peaceful unconsciousness of sleep, but raucous birds twittered in the trees outside the apartment window. Somewhere a car door slammed. A lawn mower sputtered to life. Angry voices penetrated thin walls.
“Oh no,” she muttered, sitting up and holding her head in her hands. “Why can’t they let a person sleep?”
She sighed, heaved herself to her feet and trudged into the bathroom. Lifeless brown eyes stared back from the smudged, water-spotted mirror. Her gaze flickered over the frizzled dark hair and sagging body.
“What the hell,” she mumbled, kicking aside a dirty towel and ignoring the wafting odor of mildew.
In the kitchen, she twisted the hot tap and idly watched the water splash over the array of lipstick-smudged glasses and ringed cups. As steam began to rise, she reached into the cabinet for a mug. Finding none, she rinsed a used one, dumped in a measure of instant coffee, filled it from the tap and turned off the hot water.
Meandering into the living room, she scooped aside an accumulation of newspapers and unopened mail and sank onto the sofa. She dug into a crumpled pack for a cigarette, struck a match and blew a cloud of smoke toward the ceiling. Through the blue-gray haze, her listless gaze roamed over the room.
The overflowing ashtray beside her was flanked by two soft drink bottles, three empty beer cans, and several glasses sporting a sticky film of dried bubbles. Miscellaneous articles of feminine attire were scattered among still-banded editions of the Daily Chronicle.
“John would have a fit.” She snorted out a derisive laugh. “It doesn’t matter what John would think,” she muttered. “Doesn’t matter what anyone thinks.”
Tears sprang into her eyes. “Oh, John, John. Why? What happened? We were happy together. Weren’t we? I thought you really loved me.”
Tears streamed down her face and dropped unnoticed on her heaving chest. The cigarette smoldered in her fingers. The ashes lengthened and bent as the flame crept slowly closer to her flesh. Finally the growing heat penetrated her dulled senses.
“Damn!” she exploded, quickly stubbing it out. “Damn everything – including you, John Morgan.”
She sucked on her smarting fingers. “I gotta get outta here. Gotta get away. The beach. I’ll go to the beach.”
The outside air was already heavy with the suffocating heat that was to come. She drove rapidly, weaving through the light, early-morning traffic.
If only I could just get away, she thought. Leave it all behind. All the pain. All the unpaid bills.
Her thoughts flitted over the stack of windowed envelopes. The exorbitant phone bill, inflated by John’s numerous calls. The invoice from the men’s shop; one from the sporting goods store. All charges that John had made against her accounts.
How could I have been so stupid? He used me! All his talk of big opportunities was just that - talk. While I bought the groceries and I paid the rent.
“Bastards – all of them!” Everybody. Out to get what they can. What a sap I’ve been, to fall for the oldest line in the world.
“No more. No more,” she muttered. “From now on I look out for me – only me. The rest of the world can go to Hell for all I care. They can just leave me alone!”
She dodged into another lane, ignoring the angry horn blast from another motorist.
“I’ll beat the hoards of sunbathers and pick a nice secluded spot. I just dare anyone to bother me!”
She swung the car onto the beach road. A scattering of elderly fishermen lined the pier as Shelly pulled in to park.
Averting her eyes from the lone couple walking hand-in-hand through the surf, she hurried to spread her towel in an isolated, out-of-the-way corner of the beach.
The salty breeze whispered past her ears. Gulls wheeled and screamed overhead as they flew to circle the distant fishermen. Shelly watched the waves roll shoreward and let their gentle lapping lull her troubled mind. The heightening sun warmed her skin and she stretched out to maximize the effect of its soothing rays.
Occasionally the happy squeals and shouts of a growing number of bathers penetrated her drifting consciousness, causing her to wince and turn away.
Suddenly, a thud against her abdomen startled her awake. Jerking upright, she found her hands grasping an over-inflated volleyball. Blinking and squinting against the reflected sunlight, she sensed a thin figure charging toward her spraying sand with every step.
“Gee, ma’m, I’m sorry. It kinda got away from us.”
“You should be sorry!” she snapped, trying to brush the sticky sand from her legs and towel. “Can’t a person have any peace at all!” Her gaze swept upward over the tall, lean body of a young man.
“I really am sorry,” he said. “Did it hurt you?”
His startlingly blue eyes revealed a genuine concern and she stared. Through the windows of his soul she glimpsed a wisdom incongruous with the smooth youthfulness of his face.
“I…I…No. I’m okay.”
He knelt beside her. “You sure?”
Still holding the ball tightly, she nodded.
“Uh…May I ask…why you’re over here all by yourself?”
Shelly lowered her eyes and shrugged.
Someone called, “Come on, Rod.”
“Get the ball,” said another.
“Hurry up, will you?” yelled a third.
Shelly smiled and held out the ball. “Your friends are getting impatient.”
His hands took it, but his gaze held hers firmly. “Why don’t you join us? There’s no sense in you sitting here alone.”
She shook her head. He rose to his feet, tossed the ball, caught it and gave her an infectious smile. “If you change your mind…”
Shelly watched him lope back across the sand and resume the game. Soon she found herself smiling at their crazy antics and friendly insults. When the next wild hit sent the ball rocketing in her direction, she leaped up to retrieve it.
“All right, you guys,” she said, ambling toward the makeshift court. “In self-defense, I think I’m going to have to offer you another player.”