I came to the little house on the sea about four pm or so after driving – how long now, four or five days, maybe. Small little houses lined the rough asphalt road, forlorn and empty, longing for the summer sunshine, families and kids, dropped ice cream cones, barbecue grills, sand in the bedsheets. Instead the salt sprays blew against the exterior, warping the siding and etching the paint. I’d followed my nose, that prickly salty seaweed scent from the highway, turning the car down long stretches of houses, the leaded windows rolled down to catch the breathy breeze. I’d never seen the ocean, but knew its smell instantly; there was nothing else ever like its funky clean odor.
The little house sat at the end of the road, its front door bathing in winter light, its back porch sitting tall on stilts. Any of the houses would do, I supposed; I hadn’t seen any sign of people for the last half hour, and this one, just like the others, had wooden shutters hiding the windows, no newspaper at the foot of the drive, no flowers or shrubbery. Just a wind chime hanging precariously at the front door. I turned the car into the graveled drive, pulling it as far from view as I could, around the side of the house, a thousand points backward and forward. And then I sat, I don’t know, maybe ten minutes, just staring out over the dash, the sea shining gold in the afternoon sun, waves tickling the shore. I thought I’d gone deaf when I’d turned the key, silencing the car motor; I thought I’d lost all my senses, my body numb from the vibrations, my knuckles no longer white, my nose crusted full of a salt, my eyes glazed in awe of the water everywhere, drawing and pushing itself in and out again and again. It was the tinkling of the wind chime to restore faith in my ears, the touch of sand just outside the car door to restore touch to my fingers, the final exhaustive sigh of the car to crinkle my nose.
I opened the car door, slid from the seat and stood on wobbly legs at the head of the boardwalk leading down to the beach. Already sand irritated my skin, caught under my watch. I removed the watch and my shoes, rolled up my trousers above the knees, unclasped my bra, discarding it in the back seat. How long since I’d walked more than a few steps from the car – five or six days, maybe – as I stepped onto the creaking boards in my bare feet, my heels only grazing the splintered wood. It was twenty-two steps downward to the sand, another sloping eighteen to the cold wet slush. I hesitated, bracing myself for the unknown. Four tentative steps and water caressed my ankles as I gasped, my feet covered with icy water, goosebumps electric up my legs, across my arms, shivering in response. I stood there dumbstruck with the slushy sand sucking my toes, looking out, an irrational voice cajoling me to another step and another step, and one step more, as the water raced around my legs pushing toward the shore, sweetly singing for just another step into the depths. I couldn’t feel my legs or feet as they took another step, soaking my trousers with the next great rush, again grabbing my breath as they stuck to my thighs.
It was then I turned just slightly back to the sand and the speck of a little house, happier now with the tiny car in the drive, all of it rising above the dune, above the waves soon to overtake my hips. I waddled out, my mind now racing with glory – how incredible the ocean! – shivering uncontrollably, my legs heavy and stupid with cold, my feet thudding up the boardwalk. I peeled the trousers from my legs, tossing them haphazardly atop the car hood, searching insistently for an open door or window, a blanket or towel. One window, the last I’d tried along the back porch was unlatched and I, with the grace of an elephant, crawled through, my body hitting the wood floor with a bruising thump, laying there for just a moment to take in precisely where I was – and for the dust to settle.
Though the exterior of the house was uniformly plain, the interior I can only describe as a forgotten mausoleum by the sea. Pristine dust layered across each surface, yards of cobwebs laced the low ceilings; furniture vintaged by age overpowered by mold; orange and green rust pocked metal hinges and appliances; the walls pale blue – maybe? – decorated with water stains; beams of light seeping in from cracks in the shutters . Vacation houses and time-shares were supposed to line these the beach, yet no soul had crossed the threshold in years, only the wind, the rain, and the sea. It was then I worried: would I find earthly remains in the adjoining rooms? I reconsidered everything, from taking the car to the trip to stopping here and breaking into this house, close to tears for the obvious insanity of it all, my heart pulsing through the floorboards with untempered fear and unwilling curiosity. “What happens now,” I whispered, a grain of hope for no reply.