Susan E. Lloy
She had a system. It had proved to be a useful tool throughout her life, which is near the closer end of finish. She had kept the same mundane job, which bored her to death, yet stuck to it because it had a skimpy pension plan. She settled in the same crap rental for countless years in order to harvest affordable living increases, even though the neighbours came and went, and with them her nerves. Continually adjusting to new inhabitants with their noises and particularities. Often, she felt like packing herself up in a box and mailing it off to some unknown exciting location.
Now things will change. She is heading back east. A place she hasn’t lived for forty years. Sure, she has visited countless times; nevertheless she is wary of her homecoming. Hell, she doesn’t even know anyone there anymore. However, the sea beckons her.
If one is from these parts the blue is hard-wired. Something that calls you back, something you can’t resist. Something so full of desire one can never resist its briny wet kiss. Now she’s left a place she has lived for most of her adult life and from years of hoarding, has been able to buy a humble abode in a place she has never been. The price was good and it has a sea view, but conveniences are far away.
She was accustomed to have all that is necessary within walking distance. Great speciality shops, pharmacy, hardware to name a few. Now she is solitary amongst fog and multi-coloured Lupins, a large rambling yard that she knows will be too much upkeep and a lengthy driveway that will prove laborious with dense snowfall. She has put herself in surroundings that go against all before.
She doesn’t know a soul here and there isn’t even a shop to post a note for a handyman. She looks online, but small towns are far away. She is fussy when it comes to atmosphere and likes her things placed in aesthetically pleasing fashions. Still, things must be installed. She gets out her electric drill and begins organizing fifteen wooden shelves to be mounted on one white wall.
They must be mathematically calculated so that they will be even and symmetrical. She grabs a few screw fasteners while standing on a stool and starts from the highest point. Each time she attempts to install a fastener, the old wall crumbles as if riddled by machine gun fire.
Framed glass-encased photographs that she obsessively rearranges in order of history, sentiment and lost youth are strewn across the floor. These recordings of time make her feel less isolated as if she is enveloped amongst old lovers and friends. She eyeballs the frames and marks the wall with a thin pencil point, however once installed they are entirely uneven and another wall has been peppered with small nail holes.
She lets out a slow moan looking in the antique mirror resting upon her great grandmother’s Mahogany bureau. Fuck, Izzy. What was in your head? Why did you come back here? But she has moved here and must make the best of it. All order blown away as if taken by the North Atlantic’s ornery winds and it is beginning to feel as if a bad omen has descended on her modest seaside home.
Izzy never drove, but has maintained her licence by paying the yearly fee. She had been too nervous to drive in Montreal with its angry, aggressive drivers, but here she needs a car and hit Kijiji, buying one quickly. She naively took the word of the seller that it is, in fact, a good car. He was simply selling because he required a larger vehicle.
The mileage is reasonable and he provided invoices of recent brake work and oiling. Even a set of winter tires, were part of the deal. She drives home taking the back roads to get comfortable with the car and, although she hears strange sounds from the engine, Izzy feels free, perhaps for the first time, in her life.
Winter comes early. November swooped in with all its gloomy might and with it—snow. At least twelve centimetres have fallen and no end in sight when Izzy looks out from her kitchen window. She hasn’t bothered to buy a shovel yet, and curses herself for procrastination. Her car is close to the house and she will need to sweep and grab a dustpan to be able to access the road, which will likely take hours. By the time Izzy has cleared the drive she is close to collapse. Totally surprised that she hasn’t dropped dead on the spot from a coronary. Imagining that someone would discover her in the spring half-eaten by maggots. A sad little tale that will stick to these shoreline folk like a starfish to a rock.
She shakes the idea from her head and looks up at her house with its blue shingles and white vinyl siding melting into the snowy backdrop. She feels lonely here with only the wind nipping at her face. Her feet half frozen to the ground. Smoke from the woodstove rises above the darkened clouds as if trying to escape to an uncharted solar system. With her cold feet, she returns to her home realizing that the steppingstones she has journeyed were unsound. Isolating herself in this companionless part of the world.
The home was to have been her haven, but it is a mess with tools, shelves and frames scattered across the rooms. She can’t even watch television or Netflix, as it will be another week before the Internet is connected. Never imagining in a thousand lifetimes this scenario when she was living in a city, far away. There isn’t one yummy morsel to eat. As she stands before her living room window she looks to the sea, ominous and unforgiving.
The following day Izzy drives to the nearest town to buy groceries, wine, beer, and a carton of cigarettes. On the return trip she hears grinding and clicking reminiscent of her father’s workshop with its drills and planers. Jointers and table saw. Lathe. Envisioning all the machines working in a furry as she drives along the coastline. Without a doubt, there is a major problem with the car and she curses the seller – wishing him erectile dysfunction and anal warts!
She hasn’t been to the beach yet. Locals say it is the most beautiful beach in Nova Scotia. Izzy loves a beach, but then who doesn’t? She is especially drawn to the deserted ones at this time of the year with limited light and a sombre tone. She hopes the solitude will centre her. She wishes to touch her seclusion. Taste it. Try to decode her reasoning for immersing herself in these surroundings. Inhabiting a house full of messes and failed handywoman executions.
If she were in the city what would she be doing? Sitting on the sofa drinking one-too-many Coronas. Feeling her bloated belly jingle each trip to the fridge. Wasting her time flipping stations and fuming that HBO has become repetitive and boring and still expensive. Annoyed by the noises of her neighbours, their vacuums, televisions, music and sexual moans.
Perhaps, she would have ventured out for takeout Thai to escape them or strolled the streets. Gazing in the windows of others. Imagining their conversations and decrypting body language. Questioning, why do I need to live here? Rereading The Andy Warhol Diaries before bed, which make her feel like a loser with her near non-social life. All the while, Andy and his consorts are whipping it up at The Factory or Studio 54 with one party after the next.
She makes a grilled cheese sandwich and sits before the living room window watching the grey sky. She thinks back to her childhood that she spent with her parents, cousins, aunt and uncle. Swimming in lakes at summer cottages and before that, camping each summer. How she was always in trouble for mischievous behaviour.
Izzy remembers running from a lake to the campground ahead of her cousins and telling her aunt, who was eight months pregnant, that her cousin, Lily, had drowned in the lake and her other cousin didn’t know what to do, so he was just looking at her body floating in the still water with a halo of reeds circling her head.
Izzy thought this quite hilarious, though then she was very young. She upset everyone. So much, in fact, that her aunt, uncle, cousins and her parents packed up their tents and headed off to their respective homes. Izzy got seriously scolded and remembered a Wild Canary hit their windshield and died on the way home. Now, all her kin have passed and there is no one left to relive these yarns.
Izzy cranks the engine and hears an awful clamour from under the hood. Undaunted she turns the beast around the drive and heads to the main road, which leads her to the beach. The road in is plowed to a gate, but from then onwards she must walk. She pulls onto the flattened snow and parks. The engine rattles and protests until it finally quiets and stills. She takes the long path with mounds of snow softly rising on each side. As she approaches there are wisps of sea grass stretching towards the sky. Others are trodden down by damp snow. Along the shoreline, where the waves break the edge, a few seagulls peck the sand. There is a loon bobbing not far from shore and its lonely call seeps deep within her.
She has brought a thermos of tea and a blanket to sit on. The wind is light, but there is good surf off a point at the far left section of beach. A rock outcrop, about a quarter mile, stretches beyond the last stretch of sand and to her surprise she spies a figure on a surfboard patiently awaiting a decent wave in the dark swell. The figure occupies all of her concentration as she watches, what she assumes is a man, riding wave upon wave. Izzy sits there until her tea is long gone and her feet feel frozen to the ground.
The surfer has vanished too. She picks up a few beach treasures along the shoreline before heading back to her car, yet when she arrives the engine won’t start. She curses her ignorance of motors or the inner workings of mechanics and Izzy begins to cry. She is raw and shudders at the mere thought of walking to the main road. The blanket she has brought is damp and stiff and has begun to freeze. She thinks to herself, Fuck, I can’t even call an Uber.
As Izzy pounds the car with her fist and kicks the wheels with her near frostbitten feet she hears footsteps in the snow. A figure wearing a black wetsuit emerges from the path carrying a surfboard under his arm. He is covered in frost and a series of tiny icicles hang from his facial stubble.
‘What’s the trouble? Are you alright?’
Izzy cries so hard she finds it difficult to stop shaking.
‘It won’t start.’
‘Oh, that’s nothing to be so upset about, now.’
‘You, don’t know the half of it. Everything here is shit.’
‘Come on, it can’t be that bad. Why don’t you come with me and get warmed up. I live very near to the beach. In fact, just up from the left side of the shore. I’ll give you something to warm your bones.’
Izzy gulps back her tears and agrees to follow.
‘I never felt this cold in my life.’
‘I’m Bob, by the way.’
This is untrue, as she has felt miserably cold many times in Montreal with its horribly frigid, endless winters. She follows behind him on the narrow path. Up ahead stands a trailer with smoke rising from a narrow chimney pipe. She can smell the fired wood hanging in the twilight air. The sky is a deep teal and the stars have joined the night.
There is an old battered sign mounted to a post in the ground, which reads
‘Barrels Or Bust’ on the entrance to the property and a broken-down-four wheeler with two flats parked to one side. A handsome fire pit made of beach stones rests just short of the trailer and one can catch a good view of the sea. Three surfboards are piled up against an outbuilding.
As Izzy enters the door she feels at ease. Perchance it’s merely the warmth of the inside air from the wood stove providing instant comfort, like a tight long-felt bear hug.
“Make yourself at home, Izzy. I’ll just get this surf garb off.’ Bob motions for her to sit at a table and pours a generous neat whiskey. He goes into some darkened passageway and draws a curtain. She hears snaps and assumes the quick stretch of rubber, then a shower running in the back.
The trailer is rundown, but there is a homey atmosphere about it. Seashells and surf books align the living area. Pots hang from a hook on the ceiling. Bob reappears soon after with a flannel shirt and corduroy pants. He is of similar age and unquestionably attractive.
‘So Izzy, are you feeling your toes again?’
‘Sort of, I mean yes. The fire and whiskey help.’ He smiles at her. She notices many framed photographs of a surfer hanging on the wall and resting on a shelf. She sees an article Nova Scotia surfer ‘Surfer Bob’ wins again, in a framed clipping from a newspaper, and next to it, a photograph of a surfer gunning the barrel of a giant wave.
‘You surf! I watched you the entire afternoon. I’m amazed that you can tolerate the cold, especially at this time of the year. I grew up in Nova Scotia and even in summer its unbearable.’
‘One must love it and dress accordingly. I’ve surfed these waters since I was a boy. Can imagine no other place I’d rather be. This spot is serene and there aren’t many folk around, which suits me fine. Have you ever been on a board?’
‘No. No. Not me. When I think of it, I envision warmer waters.’ Bob pours Izzy another drink and tells her a little about himself.
‘We’ll look at your car tomorrow morning. I’m pretty good with engines. You can take the spare bed in the back.
As she looks up into the darkness through the old skylight, flurries begin to fall. They drift slowly down joining her thoughts that have settled on this stretch of shore. AQ