Author: Minisinoo PM
The gulf stretching on my left is as vast as the horizon and as endless as my grief ... X2 Scott POVRated: Fiction T - English - Angst/Drama - Cyclops & Jean G. - Words: 2,321 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 1 - Published: 07-22-03 - Status: Complete - id: 1440533
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The gulf stretching on my left is as vast as the horizon, and as endless
as my grief. Scott, X2, c. 2100 words
Warning: Mild sexual reference.
People cross the gritty sand in front of me, and a little girl in pigtails and a fluorescent pink (even I can see) swimsuit is playing beside a tide pool. The waves slide in and make the water swirl around her knees, then pull back, teasing, and she's picking out shells and sea creatures, putting them in a bright-pink plastic bucket that matches her swimsuit. Her skin is as pink as the rest of her, and her mother needs to put more sunscreen on her or she'll cry tonight.
Abruptly she shrieks and throws a shell high into the air, leaping backwards and stumbling, arms flailing.
I'm moving before I think about it. So is her mother. We both get there at the same time and I hang back. I'm a stranger. The child is babbling about lots of legs (a little octopus hiding in the shell maybe?) and sobbing, and her mother is holding her and that --
-- it goes right through me. Everything I've lost -- in actuality or in potential -- is right in front of me. A young woman and mother, a child, the simple comfort of skin contact. The ability to cry.
I walk away, off down the sand, away from the scene, away from the beach house to which I've been exiled for a week. The professor sent me down here. The worst of the winter had passed and Jean had been gone six months when he'd decided that I needed a vacation. So he sent me to Florida to compete with drunk spring breakers and little families in minivans -- and what, exactly, does he think I'm going to get out of this? I haven't spoken to a single person in three days; I think my voice is rusty. I get up late, eat breakfast alone, go down to the water and people-watch, go back, make a sandwich for lunch or put cottage cheese on tomato slices (Jean would be so proud of me), take a nap, get up, make another sandwich, then go sit on the rear deck and start getting drunk for the evening. Alone. The only thing in the kitchen is sandwich material, bottled water, and cranberry vodka. Oh, and coffee.
Now, I just keep walking. Away. And I wonder, if I keep going, how far could I get before I simply fell down in exhaustion? All the way to Fort Myers? It's a long key, Captiva-Sanibel, a pair of barrier islands off the southwestern side of the Florida peninsula, a few hours drive north of the Everglades. And maybe I should drive down there before heading back to New York, see the place -- but what would I see? Palmetto bushes and alligators and lots of Spanish moss? It's a stark landscape, southern Florida. I'm not sure if I like it or hate it.
There are pelicans out in the water, bobbing for fish, and the sun is hot on my shoulders and hair. After a while, I unbutton my shirt and take it off, tie it around my waist. I don't worry about sunscreen; my body absorbs solar energy. But the beach is the one place on earth where I never feel out of place. Almost everyone wears sunglasses. Sweat from exertion slides down my neck and out from under my arms before the sea breeze evaporates it. I'm not really looking at the people I pass (though there are some things that should be illegal in a swimsuit); they're a collage of leather-browned retirees, obnoxious teens, equally obnoxious young adults, and middle-agers with kids and coolers. But I don't want to see people right now. I can't even see myself. I don't know who I am -- all my self-definitions have become fragmentary, like puzzles with important pieces missing. Half a man. I've been putting myself back together for six months and I'm not sure I like the result, or want to live with it.
"You need a change of scenery, Scott." That had been Xavier's reason for my exile, and about a week before the school's spring break, he'd handed me a map and the keys to a beach house that Warren's family owns down here. (Three stories with a private garage beneath, a fully-appointed kitchen, a private beach, and a maid who'll come to clean up after me if I call her. Which I haven't. I can do my own damn laundry, thank you.) So here I am, and it's Wednesday, and I'm just . . . walking . . . following the curve of sand south, then crossing the pass into Sanibel. Three old black men in baseball caps are fishing for mullet off the side of the bridge and cars whip by me on the road. I'm glad I wore sandals so the concrete doesn't burn the soles of my feet, and I don't know where I'm going, but that's the story of my life right now. I just walk.
Some ways down the beach on the other side, I stop for a minute to catch my breath, hands on hips. I've walked so far that I've hit one of several conservation areas on Sanibel where sea oats and coconut palms and stunted scrub oak grow wild. Fewer people and more birds, and a little ways in the distance up a bank, I spot what looks like a park with picnic tables under the shade of straight slash pine and waxy-leaved magnolias, sprawling water oak and gray-barked hackberry, short Jamaican dogwood and tall cabbage palms. Seven or eight kids are there, all college age (no doubt spring breakers), sitting around in lawn chairs, drinking beer and laughing loudly . . . and God, we used to laugh like that, Jean and I, when we'd get away on our own and I could feed her tequila until she giggled at everything including the worm in the bottle and the one in my pants that stood at attention whenever she wore that itsy-bitsy bikini.
The worm hasn't risen in a long time, at least not while I'm awake, and the few times I've got up in the morning to find that I'd made a mess in my sleep shorts overnight, I've been struck by a helpless anger. Not embarrassment -- anger. I know I'm young, and healthy -- not even thirty -- and if I don't find release while awake, my body finds it when I sleep. But I don't want that. I don't want it. Jean taught me to feel okay about my body, but she isn't here anymore, and I don't feel okay. About anything.
Now I watch the kids by the picnic tables a minute more, until one of them notices me and stands, holding up a beer bottle and waving, inviting me up to join them with good-natured, drunken enthusiasm. I shake my head, try to make myself smile -- no need to be rude -- but I fear it comes across as a grimace. I walk on.
The gulf stretching on my left is as vast as the horizon and as endless as my grief.
The sun is headed down now towards the water, casting across the sky colors I can't see, only guess at. Seagulls call to one another, an awful noise. They're dirty birds, and aggressive. I prefer the little brown sandpipers that scuttle in front of me across the wet sand, seeking bright-shelled coquina or burrowing sand fleas. I stop and squat down, watching them for a while as they make zigzags, racing away from incoming waves. Life is like that, I think. We zigzag along and try to avoid the water, but its catches us anyway sometimes. (Literally.)
I never thought I'd be the one left behind. I was the putative leader of the X-Men, the one most often in the line of fire, and thus, most likely to die. And I was male, too; most women outlive their spouses, even younger ones -- especially spouses with a Type-A personality and blood that's half caffeine. Jean used to tell me that if I didn't eat better and drink less coffee, I'd have a heart attack before I was sixty. I've never met a fried food I didn't like. Yet here I am, a widower at twenty-eight. Well, effectively a widower, and if no one ever plans for death, somewhere in the back of your head, you know it'll happen and you make certain assumptions -- but all of mine had involved her outliving me. So I'd done what I could in advance, planned for my own cremation (because I don't want my body to take up space), filed to be an organ donor, and made a will, too -- a short one, but enough to stipulate that the money I'd inherited from social security orphan's benefits was to be converted into a college fund for graduates from Xavier's, kids who (like me) had no parents to pay for more schooling. Jean wouldn't have needed it, you see. She came from money, and she would have had all my other things, the intangibles that mattered more.
But I wonder if half my assumption hadn't been desire? I'd wanted to go first because -- selfishly -- I hadn't wanted to hurt like this. Women are called the 'weaker sex,' but they're not. They're the ones who give birth, and so Mother Nature granted them a higher pain tolerance. I think that extends to feelings, too. Jean was always the fearless one when it came to emotions, not me. I never quite knew what I was feeling, or how to name it. I just knew how to stuff it down and pretend it wasn't there. It's so much easier not to feel -- just keep busy -- and why the hell had the professor banished me here where there was nothing constructive for me to do? I just fill my days with sitting and walking and drinking -- speaking of which, it's time to head back. I hear my bottle of vodka calling me from the fridge.
Turning, I wonder how many miles I've come. Five? Ten? I'm tired, but it feels good. If I'm tired, I can't think too much, can I? Like when I'm sloshed and sitting on the deck of Warren's ungodly expensive beach house with all the glass windows reflecting the setting sun, bright enough to blind me. I really hate that house. All white and empty.
It's quite a trek back, and my feet are probably blistered in their sandals because I don't usually walk this much, but I don't feel the pain. Just on the other side of the bridge pass, as I'm sliding down rocks to the beach, I'm met by the sight of a big anahinga standing on the sand, her wings spread out to dry and her pointed beak raised, making a black cross of herself. Snake bird -- her neck is long and thin, elegant like Jean's. Funny, to see something of your dead fiancée in a waterfowl, and I'm not sure if Jean would be more amused or insulted. But she'd had the most beautiful neck, long and white, and when her hair was up, just seeing it exposed as she bent over a book or a microscope made me want to kiss the back of it, touch the hairs at the nape with my fingers. Such soft, soft skin.
Now, the sight of that bird recalls Jean as I last saw her from the cockpit window of the X-jet, her arms spread and the force of the water blowing her hair so I could see her swan neck, her face raised towards the plane behind her, a little desperate, her body all in black. A pose just like the one in front of me. She'd made a cross of herself, too -- a soteriological sacrifice.
Now, I drop to my knees, facing that black bird with the red, red sun going down behind it, firing its plumage. It tears me open, and I weep.
Notes: This story does not reflect background from An Accidental Interception of Fate. It might be considered a precursor (of sorts) for Grail. Acknowledgment to MitchPell, who got me thinking about beaches; this sprang out of it. There are images with this because it was designed to be a visual/sensory piece. And yes, anahinga can also be spelled anhinga; both are correct.
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