The Boardwalk Bench – Sidney Walsh
Maurice awoke that morning from his dream of a world that no longer existed.
He rolled over slowly and sat up in his bed. He rubbed his eyes as he slogged over to the bathroom sink and doused a splash of cold water across his face. He made his way down the descending staircase into the kitchen, where the steel coffeemaker lit up its flashing green light in preparation of its daily morning brewing ritual. It wasn’t long before the distinctive aroma of darkly roasted Ethiopian coffee permeated throughout the entire kitchen and Maurice poured himself a cup and took his seat at the kitchen’s corner table.
He sat alone at the tiny square table and quietly sipped his coffee. Directly across from where he sat stood a vacant additional chair: her chair. For a moment, he saw Leigh-Anne sitting across from him, just as she had for so many years before, her light blue eyes peeking over the top of her coffee mug, a strand of curly brown hair across her face before gently being brushed back behind her ears. He saw her giving him that same playful look, as though she had played a practical joke and was waiting for him to finally figure it out. He took another sip as he continued to look her over: her radiant beauty, her quiet strength, her unique ability to level him with just one look-the kind of look that only exists between two people equally trapped in love. The kind of look that inspires men to fight and win wars, or causes them to be waged. It was just a moment, another morning lost within a conscious dream where he was revisited by her ghost, before being transported back to reality, to sitting alone at the kitchen table, across from nothing but that empty wooden chair. Her image vanished as the sun’s morning rays beamed in through the kitchen window, just as it did every morning.
He remembered everything about that day three years ago. On that fall New York morning when her doctor walked back into the room and asked them both to sit down before he took off his glasses and plainly stated that there was no easy way to put things: the cancer had spread from her breasts to her brain and lungs, further treatments might be available, but the prognosis was fatal. The average survival time was estimated at six months. He remembered how tightly she held his hand as they listened to the doctor’s words. He remembered the evening three months later, when she told him she couldn’t bear to put him through this any longer. He remembered how angry he had become at her words, as if it was him, not her, who was in need of additional strength and support, as she continued to bravely fight her battle. He remembered how they made up that night, the drive they spontaneously took from the city to escape down to their beach house on the New Jersey shore. How Leigh-Anne had teased him throughout the entire drive that she would no longer race against him as they swam in the ocean, because even in the midst of her crippling terminal illness she would still beat him, and she didn’t ever want to hurt his confidence. He remembered how they spent that entire evening, the two of them nestled under a blanket as they sat on the beach, and watched the waves roll in under the moonlight. How he had given her a kiss on her forehead before she fell asleep in his arms. He remembered waking up in the morning to the sun’s early dawn, the rays of light that beamed onto her golden-brown hair, how he had pulled her closer in a vain attempt to share one more precious moment with her, only to feel the stillness of her silent body. He remembered how he had remained seated there, unable to move for countless hours, afraid that if he got up it would mean everything was real, and that she would be gone forever. She had lost her battle, yet Maurice had never loved her more.
He took one last sip of coffee and placed his cup into the sink. He slid on his shoes and slipped out through the kitchen’s back door, leaving it unlocked, as he slowly made his way down from the driveway, up onto the sidewalk, and proceeded on toward the sandy beach road ahead.
It was a cool fall morning. The blue, cloudless sky overhead stretched out for endless miles along the coast, and the brisk ocean air carried with it the heavy scent of salt as tiny flecks of sand flew in the air above the deep blue waves of the Atlantic ocean’s early morning tide. Alongside the jagged coastline, a wooden planked boardwalk ran parallel to the ocean’s waves. Maurice walked up onto the north side of the boardwalk and began his journey south. The boardwalk was empty, save for the occasional morning joggers, who quickly shuffled past him with their heads down as they exhaled deep breaths of the chilly morning air. Concrete benches were interspersed at thirty foot intervals along the boardwalk, and on each bench there was a plaque mounted in the center that memorialized the name of the person that they had been dedicated toward. Though he didn’t know any of the people listed on the benches placed throughout the boardwalk, Maurice read each and every one as he walked the length of the boardwalk from north to south. It was at the south end where the boardwalk came to a narrow triangular peak that overlooked a large rocky cliff adjacent to the sea wall. At the peak’s end stood a lone wooden bench.
It was there, at the lone bench at the far end of the boardwalk, that Maurice removed his hands from his jacket pockets and slowly traced his fingers across the words engraved onto the plaque on its center: In loving memory: Leigh-Anne Walsh.
He took a seat on the bench and looked out past the jagged jetty rocks, past the rolling whitecaps from the Atlantic’s deep blue waves, and stared out into the early morning horizon. It was there, at the lone bench at the far end of the boardwalk, where morning after morning, day-after-day, he would come to sit down and close his eyes. The remainder of his life he spent each morning by the sea, seated in silence on the lone bench at the far end of the boardwalk as he looked out in solemn reflection.
Each morning a new beginning, another chance at revisiting a world not yet born into existence.