It was the shiver of a late April chill that woke me in the in-between hours; just before the stars released their grip on the night sky and gave way to the brilliance of the eastern sun’s first rays. It was Maggie’s favorite time of day.
How often in those first years of our marriage did I stumble downstairs to the kitchen in the early hours, bleary eyed and in desperate need of strong coffee, to find her sitting quietly at the kitchen table, cradling a cup of steaming herbal tea? Her mind would be miles away – I could see it in the depths of her eyes – and then she would smile; a smile meant to cheer me, if not herself. I had tried to be a dutiful husband, offering my company and companionship, but looking back, I’m sure that my doleful presence provided neither. There are some places in a woman’s heart, I have learned, that a husband simply cannot fill. Much to her credit, she never spoke words of restlessness at the time.
I knew there was no point in reaching for her now, she wouldn’t be there. I had long since been accustomed to waking to an empty bed; it was enough that I knew where to find her. She would be where I had first found her . . .
~ ~ ~
The morning mist mingled with hard-earned sweat, plastering my unruly hair against my forehead, and I swiped incessantly with the palm of my hand to keep the dripping strands out of my eyes. I had just purchased a cottage on the northern Oregon coast, and had taken up the routine of jogging along the beach during my seasonal stay. The life of a teacher may have its ups and downs, but summer holidays more than compensated for it all. My time to take Maya and escape suburban living . . . just me and my faithful dog; I was young and carefree then. And lonely. I just didn’t know it.
It was Maya that discovered Maggie to begin with, and for that singular reason I will forever be in her debt! We had the beach to ourselves that particular morning, and I watched with envy as she raced up and down the sand, running circles around my slow, but steady, strides. I chuckled at her antics, wishing I had half of her energy; it would take a good week to build up my wind again, and my lungs were brutally protesting my abuse of their capabilities.
I gave in at last – although, truth be told, I had little choice in the matter – and slowed to a walk. Maya panted in delight as I found the sensitive spot behind her ear and scratched vigorously, shaking loose the sandy clumps and bits of seaweed that had lodged close to the roots of her Irish coat.
“You know,” I scolded affectionately in a tone that cushioned the brunt of my words, “it will take all afternoon to coax the sheen back into these sodden, red tresses of yours.”
Warming to the ever-increasing pace of her wagging tail, I switched to my ‘doggy voice’, which sounded positively idiotic to my own ears, “Yes it will . . . oh, yes it will . . . that’s a good girl, Maya!”
I glanced about self-consciously, assuring myself that there was indeed nobody else about to hear my one-sided conversation; relieved, I walked on.
Hopelessly delighted to receive such unexpected attention, Maya darted ahead to scatter a handful of seagulls that had clustered around something unidentifiable, yet by all accounts, worth their while. She derived complete satisfaction from stealing treasures from the scavengers, and their affronted squawking echoed against the force of the rolling waves. I mentally prepared myself to accept whatever disgusting tidbit she would retrieve as a token of affection for me, and hoped the stench of it would not overpower my already fragile insides.
It was not the gulls’ prize that held her attention though, for instantly she assumed the poise of a true Irish Setter, nose and tail polar opposites of each other, fore paw curled to her breast; she was on to something. Seconds later, Maya was in a full sprint, rounding the rocky outcropping and leaving a spray of sand in her wake. I was left to follow – or not.
Dutifully, I followed.
She was beautiful; that much I could sense, even from a distance. It wasn’t so much her looks, I could make out no specific details, but the way she carried herself . . . the way she allowed herself to be engulfed by the uncultivated surroundings of the cove; she just . . . fit. It was my first glimpse of Maggie, and a picture that will forever be imprinted in the archives of my memories.
Whatever breath I had regained left me in an instant, and I stood staring like a schoolboy; God help me, I did. I took it all in. The unseen fingers of a light breeze played with her golden curls, curls that hung down her back and danced with every movement of her delicate head. The shape of her long, straight back beneath the wool of an oversized cardigan, the molding of her ankle-length skirt around the gentle curves that whispered, ‘ woman’ to the man inside of me, and the musical ring of her laughter as Maya chased down the rocks she had been methodically skipping.
To this day, Maggie has never lost her laugh.
And that was it for me – and for her as well, when she’s honest enough to admit it. We fell for each other fast and hard, but our love was as strong as the rocks that sheltered our first embrace. There is a popular saying going around these days, but my Maggie and I were practicing it long before it became a wall plaque; it goes something like this: ‘Live Well, Love Much, Laugh Often’. Words to live by, and we did . . . along with a saying of my own, ‘Kiss Slowly’.
We spent the entire summer together hiking the craggy countryside by day and beachcombing, hand-in-hand, by moonlight. Maggie became my wife that fall, beneath the steeple of a pristine white oceanside church overlooking the cliffs. No music played, no voices raised in song; Maggie said it would drown out the melody of the sea. I think it was the Ocean Song that put the salt in Maggie’s blood forever; while she and I spoke solemn vows between us, she had a silent understanding between her heart and the sea. Both proved to be binding, in their own ways.
The roll of the waves and fall of the tide never left Maggie, and every year for the next four years we returned to the sea to spend our summers . . . and lose ourselves in each other. On the day our precious daughter was born, I presented Maggie with a gift: it was a key . . . the key.
The key to our summer cottage.
It would be our permanent home from then on. A place for us to raise our family; a place for Maggie to live without leaving part of her heart behind. A place that had never stopped calling her.
~ ~ ~
So I lay here, listening to the gentle roll of the morning surf followed by the splashing of waves against sand and stone; it was there – on that tranquil stretch of shoreline – that my Maggie would be.
Children were born and raised; the love between her and I aged with slow precision to a perfect, ripened blend; but the passion Maggie held for the sea never waned. You see, she hears its voice, and when the sea calls, Maggie answers; I expect she always will.