Pall Of Smoke
Pale dawning. She was alone on the beach with wisps of ground fog trailing the shuffle of her bare feet. The soft break of the low swell was glassy in the dead calm. Down the beach, a pall of smoke squatted above the laurel hedge, rising slowly above where the house once stood. Now charred timbers. One red truck remained; the crew of three probing debris and spraying hot spots. The pudgy neighbor stood gaping from his driveway.
"Not there, you say?" he said.
"But ... she's always there."
"What you see is what you get," the fireman said.
"But ... "
She had walked to the point in the darkness of early morning wearing just her gray night gown. Tide in, she thought, the rock pools all covered. Flood. Then ebb. The coarse sand of the upper beach, littered with pebbled stone from the cliff's wall, pricked and pained her tender feet; and she stopped, standing with a hand against the rough wall of rock. She stood quite composed looking out to sea, a smudge on her cheek.
With looping swirls of foamy sea water lapping her feet, she had turned and retraced her steps, the fire's glow in the distance, a siren's wail. At the little creek, she walked across the swale of drifted sand to sit in a hollow in the lee of driftwood and flotsam, the detritus of gales past. She sat on a log and remembered that she had not looked up the bird---a tern, was it? Smaller than a gull--- and then said, "My glasses."
Swirls of fog, a bit of breeze rising. She ran a hand through tangled, lank hair. Tendrils, she thought. Fragments ... vacant thoughts ...
Hunched, her body now slack, leaning against the shabby, rumpled bed, in the distance the whaler's stench coming down the breeze, a gull dancing the tide, turning now, sudden rush of water hissing up the sand, a horn sounding, yelling in the street, crow caws, and down the beach, the child calling