The slow night darkened. Before him the tide had nearly come in. The sand was cool under his bare feet, but the heat of the sun hadn’t yet dissipated from his skin. The mountains that blocked the horizon were rimmed with purple, then orange, then yellow, before the space around them became the sky. He knew those mountains. He’d climbed them with his uncle. His uncle who’d been like a father. His aunt who’d been like a mother.
They’d not worry about him for some more hours. He often stayed out late, though not at bars or clubs. Usually where he was now. Sitting on a log on the beach and wondering what came next.
A dog and its master was a long way down the beach. He watched the dog run from beach log to beach log, smelling, lifting its leg, then to the next. Dog and master walked toward him. Their silhouettes taking on new meaning. He could see now that the woman had longer hair. Her dog was a collie and the white of its chest was gray in the failing light. The dog brought a smell of sea water closer to him than before. The woman brought a memory to mind that had been swept away by the currents of time.
“Evening,” she said.
“Hey. Hey pup,” he said to the woman, then the dog. It stopped and sniffed his hand. The woman stopped to watch it do so.
He looked up at her and said, “Don’t I know you?”
“Think you do.”
The dog, bored with the small exchange, scampered off to smell something new.
“We were once in love,” she said.
“I’ve never been in love,” he said.
“In love with this beach.”
A heron swooped low and landed in the tide down the beach.
“In love with places, not people,” he said.
“So you can’t love?”
“This is weird,” he told her. “I don’t really know you.”
“But once you did.”
He looked down the beach. The dog had gone. He didn’t know where.
“You’re dog left you.”
“He’ll be back–or I’ll find him,” she said.
He couldn’t tell in the twilight, but he thought she had a rather long, beakish nose. He couldn’t tell in his memory if he’d gone to high school with her, or community college, or what–but she did seem familiar.
“Have a good night,” he said.
“I want you to love me like you used to do,” she said.
“I never did.”
“I already said you have. But you left.”
He had left. Not her. But these shores and found himself for years, until months ago, in a landlocked country of dirt and sand and the hottest sun rocks he’d ever seen or felt. The cracking of the bullets leaving chambers and the whispered talk of chemicals. And now he was back and couldn’t make sense of any of it.
“I’m here now,” he said.
“And yet you don’t remember me,” said the woman.
He looked past her to the water. It lapped at the shore. He missed the things he missed while at war. Even as he experienced them he missed them as well.