Though Eleanor Winthrop’s late husband had all the personal flaws any one man could have—cigars, arrogance, a bad 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 Winthrop knew, he had always been faithful, she too, even now in the Autumn of her life. 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, and a stubborn Yankee proclivity for minding her own business, which she usually did. And she expected as much from others, of course, as she did from herself—except when things got too interesting; she just had to butt in.
She eased back in her beach chair, now, being careful not to twist anything out of place, curled her gnarled toes into the hot sands of Singing Beach, and stretched her worn aching joints toward the sea. As an elderly widow with hours of idle time, she had been munching a handful of cashew nuts while contemplating the possibility of her own death. As she pondered the hereafter, she looked out at the sea thinking how immense it was and blue and a little too cold for anything so dramatic as a drowning. Not today at least. Enjoying the day with her grandchildren there in the little town of Manchester-By-The-Sea, thirty miles north of Boston where her son lived with his wife and their two children, Amy and Alex, she noticed also that the water was alternately dark or blue as the occasional cloud passed overhead making the momentary darkness of its shadow seem darker for the suddenness of it, and the blueness and light seem that much brighter when it passed.
Eleanor often brought her grandchildren there. She loved the sound of waves crashing. And sitting there on the warm sand as wave after wave broke in a roar, rushing up to meet her, the sea became a refuge from all her worries. And though she sometimes brought her worries with her, the children giggling nearby helped her to feel happy and almost glad 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. As she munched on a cashew, she wondered if they had cashews there, in heaven, and beaches even, but decided that it was foolish, and that seeing Arthur again would be enough—though she would miss everything about life here on earth that was missing in the great beyond.
Thoughts of death were constant, now, but only vague and half formed—ephemeral, like memories of her childhood—fleeting wisps of some half darkened room with flowers in a vase and a fragrance 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 in her childhood among the lilacs and the wicker porch furniture 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.