He could usually guess pretty accurately when the offshore squalls would arrive at the beach, but today he had been mistaken. Not by much, but enough to make him take shelter in the old shipwreck. They never lasted very long, and he would be back at his truck before he would feel the chill. This time of year the beach was largely deserted. The rain was usually mixed with sleet, or the peculiar kind of snow pellets that bounced along the ground. Those stung a little when they hit, but they didn’t wet him as much as the cold rain.
The shipwreck wasn’t much of a shelter. All that was left of the old sailing bark were a few ribs and some decking, and at high tide he couldn’t be in it at all. Through the open sides, between the ribs, he watched a sanderling flock running blurry-legged just out of reach of the surf, searching for a meal in the grey ooze. He smiled, then looked into his plastic grocery store bag to catalog his own beachcombing effort for the day.
There wasn’t much…a bottle with Russian lettering on it, a strange-looking plastic fishing float, and two whole sand dollars. He didn’t care much about the sand dollars. He could find them any time. His friends and their children liked them, though. Or said they did. He had also found a cell phone, but as he had little use for them either working or covered in barnacles, he left it nearly buried in the sand. He didn’t beachcomb for profit. There was none in it, anyway. If he had stopped to think about it, he would have discovered that the objects reminded him of himself, and he was giving them a home.
The squall had lasted only a few moments, and was now blowing inland. He pulled his hood over his head and walked to the surf line. The last snow pellets of the storm were making little popping noises on his nylon jacket. As was his custom before leaving for the day, he kissed his fingertips, then knelt to touch the water. He was finding it increasingly difficult to kneel, and to stand again, but to him it was necessary. It was the real point of being there. A small wave surged around his fingers and stirred up some sand around them.
Years before (he had forgotten exactly when) he had waded waist-deep into the winter surf with his wife’s ashes. It was next to the spot on the shore where he had proposed to her. He lowered the container, and the ashes mixed with the water. He set her free. Recently, he had taken the liberty of renaming the entire Pacific Ocean after her. Geographers, of course, would see neither the humor nor necessity of doing so. He didn’t care.
When he reached his truck, he turned and took a last look at the ocean. That was his custom, too. And that night, he dreamed of being set free.