Easing back in her beach chair, Eleanor Winthrop stretched her worn and aching feet toward the sea while munching on a handful of cashew nuts and contemplating the possibility of her own death. An elderly widow with lots of time on her hands and too many memories, she often pondered the hereafter while curling her gnarled toes in the hot sands of Singing Beach in the little town of Manchester-By-The-Sea, thirty miles north of Boston. Basking there in the sun she was enjoying the day with her two grandchildren, Amy and Alex. How immense the ocean is and blue, she thought, but decided also it was a little too cold to invite her in for a swim. Sitting there she saw that the water became alternately dark or blue as the occasional cloud passed overhead making the momentary darkness of its shadow seem all the darker for the suddenness of it, and the sadness, too, after all that warmth and sunlight, thoughts that came easily now that her late husband Arthur was gone.
Though he had all the personal flaws any one man could have—cigars, arrogance, a temper, drawers and cupboards left open, lust—Arthur Winthrop was still a good man. He’d been a loving husband and a wonderful father, and as far as Eleanor knew he had always been faithful; she too, even now. But being in the insurance business meant leaving her in good stead after he departed, so there was little to worry about except loneliness and idle time, much of which she cured with her children’s children at the beach, ice cream, and a stubborn Yankee proclivity for minding her own business. Where those failed she could always read or work in the garden. Minding her own business came easy and she expected as much from others as she did from herself—except when things got too interesting; then sometimes she just had to butt in as Arthur had often reminded her.
Eleanor often brought her grandchildren to Singing Beach. She loved sitting there on the warm sand as wave after wave broke in a roar, rushing up to meet her, the hypnotic lull of the sea distracting her from all her worries. And though she sometimes brought problems with her that she couldn’t let go of, the children giggling nearby made her happy and glad at least to be alive. She often sat thinking about Arthur, and what it would be like when she could be with him again—the two reunited in death, or so she liked to tell herself. As she munched on a cashew, she wondered if they had cashews there, in heaven, and beaches too, but decided that it was foolish, and that seeing Arthur would be enough—though she would miss everything about life here on earth that was missing in the great beyond, her children and grandchildren mostly.
While thoughts of death were not uncommon, now, they were only vague and half formed—ephemeral, like the fleeting memories of her childhood—wisps of some room with flowers in a vase and fragrances only now remembered after years of forgotten sweetness, or the uncanny feeling that just for a moment, the slightest half of a second, she was back there among the lilacs and the wicker furniture on the porch at her grandmother’s house, and then they were gone. More often than not, they were interrupted by voices calling from nearby, a hungry seagull, or the exuberant cries of Amy and Alex racing across the sand.