The heat of his coffee mug seeped through the ceramic to his calloused fingers, the steam of the black coffee rising onto his face, fogging his thick eyeglasses. At the far end of the diner counter the only waitress on duty read a tabloid magazine, noisily chewing on her gum. She looked up at him looking at her, blowing a bubble. Pop! He looked away, out the window. The wind chimes by the front door were tinkling like crazy, right on the verge of flying away. The gray waves of the ocean slammed against the rocky cliffs, violent and repetitive. Sand blew across the empty road, the whistling wind making it dance.
The old man took a sip of his coffee, hot and bitter. Why he drove there he wasn’t sure. It had been years since he’d last been here, only the one tragic time. What a beautiful day it had been, opposite of this stormy day.
“God knows it’s your birthday so he made it extra warm and sunny today. Just for you,” his mother had said as she buckled him into his car seat. Her smile revealed her white teeth and a dimple on her left cheek, which the old man had too, hidden beneath his white beard.
He remembered that he could see his young reflection in the tinted lenses of her large sunglasses. His father drove and the old man, then just a little boy, dozed most of the way.
A loud clap of thunder made the waitress gasp and the lightening lit the terrifying ocean for a second.
“Baby bear,” his mother said as she shook him awake, “we’re here.”
He remembered the feeling, the first in his life, of the sun-warmed sand between his toes. His father took out a blanket, an umbrella and a cooler from the back of the car. Lastly, he took out a shiny red beach ball and handed it to his son.
“Happy birthday, son,” he said as he placed it in the little boy’s small, smooth hands.
Another boom of thunder, this one sounding closer, the lights in the diner flickered and dimmed. He took another sip of his coffee.
The ball didn’t bounce on the sand. At first, he was upset and didn’t know how to play with it. He remembered that eventually he’d gathered enough courage to run up to the edge where the water met the cooler, darker sand and he’d place the ball at his feet, sinking in the moist ground. The water would gently sweep in, softly lifting and taking his ball and then he’d lunge forward, saving it before it was taken out to sea. This entertained him for a long time. His parents called him to eat but he’d waved at them and shook his head no, he wasn’t hungry. At some point later in the day he’d looked back and saw his father lying on the blanket, hat on his face, napping. His mother was watching him and she waved and the boy waved back as a wave came and took his ball away.
to be continued…