Verlie Burroughs is a west coast writer from Vancouver Island.
The beach is gay with a wild profusion of beach pea blossoms. Their stocks are thick and green, and the flowers are delicate and pink. In the Northern sunlight they cast a dancing shadow on the coarse white sand blown into dunes at their roots.
Past the dunes, the sky and sea meet in many hues of soft, cool blue. The beach faces north, and the sun moves across the sky in long light rays.
There is a storm-battered six-foot wall of sand, stretching a mile in a curve. From this wall drops a long wide stretch of fine gravel, reaching finally to the ocean, the Pacific ocean.
There is a lone figure on the beach, darting in and out along the tide line like some hungry sea-bird. She is leaping the waves as they wash ashore, playing tag with the ocean
Her name is Eliza. She is the Lighthouse Keeper's wife. She is an adventurous young woman who gets edgy in the confines of the lighthouse routine.
Eliza is bored by the regimentation of the lighthouse duties, a repetitive schedule of weather readings and radio reports.
She is tired of the whine of the diesel generators.
But her duties are simple, to cook meals for John.
John works night shift, so Eliza has whole long days to herself while he sleeps.
Over the years she has developed a passion for beach combing. She has found a secluded beach far from home. A beach where she would like to live if she could.
Eliza has been walking for hours, first up along the top of the beach, and now heading back at low tide. She stops to rest, looking out over the water, hoping to see something; a boat or a whale, a seal or a sail.
The sea and sky are empty. As she turns her gaze back to the beach she catches a green flash out of the corner of her eye. Her senses quicken, and she sets off in a run toward the sparkling green object.
"Looks, like a big one!" she says to herself. "Man it looks huge if it's all in one piece!"
As she approaches the glistening orb she gives a shout of delight. Yes! It is a big one as she had hoped.
The glass ball lays on the sand like some prehistoric dinosaur egg. As she leans over to pick it up she expects to see it crack open revealing some carnivorous monster.
It is so big she can barely get her arms around it. She smiles triumphantly at her prize and examines it for cracks and flaws.
"Perfect!" She loads the glass ball carefully into a net bag which hangs from her shoulder. Then, with a sense of accomplishment she swings herself around and climbs the steep sand up to the top of the beach where the forest starts.
"You are a beauty," she whispers to the glass ball as she pulls it out of the bag.
She is standing in a little hollow beneath ancient trees. In the dim filtered light her eyes rest on a remarkable sight. "And you are number two hundred and thirty-five."
She is standing knee high in glass balls of all sizes, filling the hollow entirely.
"And you are the biggest yet!" she places the green ball in with the rest.
Then in a flash she is up again, and off down the beach, heading for home while the quick day edges on into evening. She walks fast, full of energy.
As she walks she thinks of Leon. Leon used to live by the river, he was a painter. He had a kayak in which he travelled the coast making sketches and water colors.
She met him one day at the river where she had to cross it to get home. There was no bridge. On that day when she came out of the woods Leon was standing there. They had both been startled.
She had rushed off for home. They didn't say goodbye.
They had continued to meet secretly, briefly, haphazardly, but she didn't think of these memories anymore. It was the memory of their first meeting that still burns brightly in her heart.
As she walks up the last hill to the lighthouse she savours the fresh evening air, and the lonely sound of the wind through the trees, like voices murmuring.
As she rounds the corner a familiar dull roar greets her and her steps grow heavy on the porch steps.
The screen door slams behind her. She kicks off her boots. The house is quiet, sound proofed with double glass windows to keep out the fierce winds. John is out doing a weather.
She can see by the clock he will be gone for twenty minutes. She is glad. She unlocks her desk and pulls out a large black notebook. She digs in the leaf of the back cover and pulls out a list of glass ball findings and systematically records today's find.
As she closes the book a page slips out onto the floor. She picks it up. It is a poem written years ago. It reads:
There is a lull,
the day is soft,
the water laps gently,
the seagulls call,
the creek runs,
and I wait.
She recognizes Leon's handwriting. She carefully places the poem back in the book.
It is to her like a faded flower, pressed flat, and yellowing with time.
When John comes in she is busy preparing dinner.
"Hello," he calls, "Did you have a nice walk?"
"Great," she replies, and recounts the story of finding another glass ball.
"Ah clever girl." He hugs her small frame until her neck hurts.
They spend the evening this way: talking about the weather, the storm, the darkened somber mood.
They drink wine. They eat dinner. He goes in and out for the weathers. She realizes too late that she has drank too much wine and as usual in this state she thinks of Leon, but this time it is a painful memory.
It is summer. They swim together in the ocean far out to the rocks where the Sea Lions sun themselves. She is not a swimmer, but he is guiding her along with his voice, telling her now to float, now to take a deep breath.
Swimming beside him makes her feel brave.
The ocean is so cold that she is shaking violently when they get back to the beach. After they are dressed she is still shaking, and Leon holds her against him for a long time until the chills subside.
That was the last time she saw him. The coast guard found his kayak near a steep beach that stretches a mile in a curve.
© 2011 Verlie Burroughs