The Hours by Judith A Lawrence

Sarah arrived at the beach rental in the middle of the night. When she stepped out of the front door the moon bathed a wide swatch of sand weaving in and out of the shoreline of brackish moss green waves topped off with yellow tipped foam peaks.

Back home she knew John waited for her decision. She was surprised but relieved that he gave in to her demand for a time-out.

Her chosen destination to make a decision to stay or leave her husband was this Massachusetts town of Plymouth Harbor where she spent summers as a child before her parents split and her life changed forever.

When Sarah was twelve years old, her dad had an affair with a young woman he met from work. In less than a year he obtained a divorce, shortly after remarried, and moved with his new wife to California. Soon the newly married couple was expectant. They named the baby Mindy.

It seemed to Sarah that she had been replaced along with her mother.

On her Birthdays and each Christmas she would receive a package of expensive presents selected by her Dad’s new wife, a sweet much younger woman. Sarah would send a thank-you note to his wife and pack the gifts away still in their boxes.

After the divorce her Mom went on a downward spiral, popping pills and drinking. In her last two years of high school Sarah studied at the library. Her mom’s ranting could go on for hours making it impossible to study at home.

Sarah would come home late to find her mother passed out on the couch. She was unable to rouse her most of the time. She would tuck a blanket around her and grab a bowl of cheerios or make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her dinner.

Meeting John when she turned seventeen was a turning point for her. Their personalities were so similar; they could finish each other’s sentences. A year later they were married and moved to a large airy apartment in Rochester, New York, not far from her Mom’s place so she could keep a daily watch on her.

After work Sarah stopped by her Mom’s on her drive home. She stayed long enough to make sure her mom ate enough of the meal she brought, washed up the dishes, ran a warm bath, disposed of the empty bottle of gin on the floor, and tucked her in a freshly made up bed.

At first Sarah filled up her mom’s refrigerator and cupboards with necessities but after foods repeatedly went to waste and canned and boxed foods went out of date, she found it was easier to bring a cooked meal over for her mom who otherwise lived on pretzels and potato chips. Always on the thin side, her mom’s weight had dropped considerably but she refused to see a doctor. John’s workday began early and was over by four o’clock so he took charge of the cooking.

They would dine together making small talk while they supped.

Sarah and John’s routine continued with the exception of an occasional night out for dinner and a movie.

Toward the end of their fourth year of marriage Sarah’s mom became very ill and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. When tests were completed the doctor said her mother had cirrhosis of the liver. She was pretty far gone. He estimated her mother had less than three months to live.

Two weeks after Sarah’s mom was admitted to a hospice she passed away.
Sarah sold the few things in her mother’s house that had any value and gave away the rest.

She kept the photo albums stuffed full of photos of her childhood before the breakup and kept her mom’s pale blue nubby robe that matched her eyes.

Now that John and she had more time together their conversation was muted in the extra couple hours of the day she had been granted after her mother’s death.

They usually sat in silence, one on each end of the couch watching the news, a sitcom eliciting an occasional chuckle, or a drama they often fell asleep to.

As Sarah dipped her toes in the cool ocean water and watched the boats and their twinkling lights in the distance she mused that it was soon after her mother’s death that she realized how desperately lonely she had become.

She turned to walk back to the cottage and spotted something on the sand close to the water’s edge almost out of range of the span of moonlight as if a spotlight had been staged to cover the exact distance.

It must be someone’s blanket she thought and was about to turn back toward the cottage but something drew her to walk down and investigate.

It was off-season so few people were vacationing in this cove of cottages.

In the distance she viewed the twinkling lights of towering hotels. A foghorn blast startled her. She looked out and spotted a jetty.

As she walked closer to the prone object she began to make out it was a figure lying there.

Her heart beat faster thinking it might be someone who drowned and washed up to shore.

She reached inside her jean pocket for her cell phone, glad that she hadn’t left it in the cottage. She had programmed an island emergency number to call for assistance.

As she got closer she could see it was a man with coal black curly hair sprinkled with glistening wet sand. He was wearing a soggy long sleeved off-white turtle necked sweater and faded black cargo shorts.

Stooping down to check his neck pulse for life she detected a faint heartbeat.
She rolled him over and began pumping his chest. Her summer spent as a lifeguard’s assistant watching swimmers being resuscitated finally came to good use. She hoped she was doing it right.

The man was thin and deeply tan. His chest caved in from lack of weight, but his arms and hands looked muscular from hard labor. He had full sand crusted lips. She thought he might be Dominican.

She continued the number of chest thumps, held his nose and breathed air into the man again and again. After what seemed to be an hour but was likely minutes, he coughed up a trickle of water. She turned him to his side until the gush of liquids and his coughing subsided.

It took him a while before he could speak and even then only a word before the coughing began again.

“Gracias," he sputtered.

“Were you swimming"

He shook his head no, but didn’t explain.

Can you walk?

“Si." He rose with her help and leaning on her shoulder the two walked back to her cottage.

“I’ll call an ambulance. They’ll take you to the hospital for treatment."

With a look of alarm on his face he violently shook his head no.

It occurred to her he might be an undocumented immigrant afraid of being deported.

She wondered if he had family or friends to call and handed him her cell phone but he waved it away mumbling a dialect she couldn’t make out.

The foghorn blasted again just as they arrived at the door of the cottage. The young man shivered at the sound.

Just inside the cottage door the young man sat down on the floor leaning against the couch. Sarah ran to find a large towel, her flowered terry beach jacket, and pink stretch pants for him to change into. She turned away to make a pot of tea in the tiny kitchen while he slipped out of his shorts and into her beach clothes. When she returned his teeth were chattering so she grabbed the chenille bedspread off the bed and tucked it around him.

The tea kettle whistled. She poured two cups of tea and returned to the living room. His head was leaning back against the couch pillow. At first she thought he was sleeping but then realized he was softly crying.

She sat quietly across from him on a footstool and waited for his composure. The sound of waves crashing the shore could be heard outside her door along with the mournful sound of the foghorn warning occasional boaters.

Despite the warm night her guest was still shivering so she sat on the floor beside him to lend her body heat.

He gazed out the window at the starry night, sighed, and lifting up her hand to kiss it said

“Gracias," once again.

Sarah nodded and smiled.

They sat there for a time not speaking, lost in their thoughts.

“Me llamo Leonardo."

“Me llamo Sarah," she responded.

Leonardo continued speaking in broken English.

Sarah loosely translated Leonardo was from Santo Domingo and hid in a fishing boat to enter the US. As they approached Plymouth Harbor the police boarded the boat searching for illegal aliens. He jumped ship and had trouble navigating the waters until he reached land and collapsed. He would have died if she had not found him.

It was unlike Sarah to bring a total stranger into her abode. John certainly would not approve, but there was something about this man that brought out simpatico from her. Although they were from separate worlds she felt oddly safe in his presence.

They continued talking for a while. He seemed to understand enough English to get by so she told him about herself using basic words.

Hours later they fell asleep on the floor huddled together, the bedspread wrapped around them.

Outside the moon shone brightly through the window, waves crashed against the shore, two sea gulls swooped down to peck the sand and not even the bleating foghorn sound disturbed their sleep.

In the morning Sarah arose to find Leonardo gone. Sometime during the night he left her side, changed back into his clothes, found a scrap of paper and a pen and wrote her a note translated to, “You are my Angel. I will never forget your kindness."

Sarah spent the next few days at the cottage. She hoped that Leonardo had not been caught by the security police and was sad there wasn’t more time for them to get to know each other.

Somehow her short experience with Leonardo helped her make her decision about John.

She decided that staying with her husband would not be beneficial for either of them. John was only content with structure.

Since the death of her mother, Sarah thought about her parents lives before the breakup.

Her mother so often acquiesced to her father’s wishes that she lost track of who she was. Sarah never wanted to be so unhappy with her life that she would seek to drown herself in a bottle or live her life like a contented cow in a meadow. She wanted to experience life, feel passion, and take risks.

For a time John pleaded with her to reconsider, eliciting a promise from her that they would first go to marriage counseling. After six months of counseling Sarah stayed firm in her decision. A few months later they were divorced. Eventually John met someone and moved on with his life. Sarah thought of Leonardo from time to time, wondering what happened to him. In dreams he would sometimes appear deep in conversation. On awakening she never could remember what he said.

Four years later, Sarah met and fell in love with Francois Petit, a French-American man she met at a book store. They struck up a conversation in the coffee shop when they noticed each had purchased a copy of, Poet in New York, a body of poems composed during the visit of the poet Frederico Garcia Lorco to Columbia University in New York in 1929.

After two years of courtship they married and went on to have two children, a boy and a girl.

Sarah lived a happy and fulfilled life with Francois, her children, and eventual grandchildren until her husband died suddenly from a heart attack in his sixties.

After Francois’s death she moved to Massachusetts to a small coastal town not far from Plymouth Harbor.

One day she stopped to lunch at a small quaint Spanish restaurant on the touristy side of town.

Seated by a window with a picturesque ocean view, she was savoring her favorite Spanish dish, Tortilla Española, a potato and onion omelet with roasted red peppers.

There were appreciative comments drifting over from a table nearby towards the man standing at their table.

The couple at the table waved to the woman at the register as they conversed. She responded with a jovial smile. The man called to the chef, a younger man, to come and be introduced.

She thought he must be the owner, his wife, and son. Although his back was to her there was something familiar about him.

As he made his way around the tables she studied his movements. When he reached her table, he stooped to ask her with a distinct accent if her meal was alright.

Oh my goodness, it’s Leonardo, she thought. Should I say anything? I doubt he’ll recognize me at this age.

Leonardo stood perfectly still staring at her for a minute, until a smile spread over his face, suddenly exclaiming. “Sarah, my Angel."

“The Hours" is from, “Uncharted Territories," a collection of twenty short stories about serendipitous events, scheduled to be published in March/April, 2023.

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