The metal bench is an eyesore, its patina not the lovely green-gray of time-weathering, but the red rust of saltwater and circumstance. Situated halfway between the ocean and the sharp, wind-carved ridge separating the reedy grass from the wide swim of a sandy beach, it leans slightly forward, anchored to a buried block of concrete not much longer or wider than the bench itself. At high tide, its thick legs disappear from view, leaving a latticework of seat and back, an iron net for wayward seaweed, a royal perch for white gulls.

Most people give the bench little more than a curious glance. Most people are visitors here, vacationers who come to trouble the beach in celebration, only to complain later about the plague of sand that won’t wash off in the shower.

A few sit on it and pose, smiling the fake smiles tourists smile when sharing frame space with a relic or a monument they care nothing about, apart from the opportunity it gives for yet another vacation photo.

Juliette sits on the bench every Tuesday when the weather allows, arriving before sunrise, leaving after.

She listens to the lapping of the waves, the familiar conversation of the gulls. She welcomes the sea spray on her face and tastes the salt and breathes in through her nose, smelling fish and fowl and life and decay.

And every morning she sees them.

* * *

Juliette drew her feet up out of the water and sat cross-legged on the bench. There was salt in her eyes. From tears, mostly. But also the sea. She had returned to the bench at the end of the day, in search of a sunset to erase the sunrise when she had seen Nick and Maureen walking hand in hand along the shore. She didn’t want to believe it was Nick, but no one else walked like he did - as if he owned the earth.

Maureen was wearing a sundress so white it blinked like a flashbulb against a yellow sky. Her skin was pale, pink around the shoulders. Nick would surely pick at the peeling sunburn in a day or two. Maureen would complain, swat his hand away, then take his hand and kiss his fingers. He would do it again moments later. Again she would complain. After the third time, she would stop complaining. Instead, she would collect his little annoyances and hold them in a queue, awaiting the right time to say something. But then they would make love and every little annoyance would be erased in sweat and sigh.

Nick wore khaki shorts and a faded navy blue t-shirt. Juliette knew the shirt. Soft, fraying along the neckline. She wore it while trying to make him breakfast just a week before. He had come up behind her then, not quietly enough to disappear into the white-noise sizzle of the frying bacon, but quietly enough for her to feign surprise. He had reached around her with his strong arms, wrapped her in a hug, pulled her close until she could feel his heartbeat. She had turned her head to the right, welcomed a half kiss that tasted of gray morning. His hands had wandered beneath the faded blue shirt, sliding up from her tensing stomach to trace curves he’d been learning in secret, stolen moments for nearly three months.

She had made her decision the moment she saw Nick with Maureen, but it wasn’t until that evening, as the sun set, that the weight of her decision caught up with her resolve. Still, she would not change her mind, no matter what the cost.

* * *

The sun is slow in rising today, she whispers to the gulls. She pulls her sweater tight.

* * *

Her father was there at the birth of her son, in the waiting room outside, pacing. Later, he handed her forms and pointed to places where she needed to sign. He touched her arm once, to wake her. She pretended it was to offer grace, or assurance, or an apology for her mother’s absence.

She named him James and told no one but her infant son in a whisper and a kiss. He was round and perfect and had Nick’s denim blue eyes. They took him away on the second day.

* * *

Every morning she sees them, Nick and Maureen, walking along the shore. Every morning except this morning.

This morning Juliette is looking at her hands, at the roadmap of veins painted under paper skin. She folds them together as if in prayer. It is a posture her heart has known for years.

It is James’ birthday. He would be sixty today. She imagines him welcoming his first grandchild, gently brushing away jests about his new title. Grandpa. She pictures his beautiful dark-haired wife, finally giving in to the gray she has colored for a decade, allowing it to define instead of worry her. She hears James say to his wife, “you’re the most beautiful grandmother on the planet.”

His voice is a lion’s purr.

Juliette feels cold metal pressing against bone through her thinning cotton dress. She blinks away the sting of the ocean. She listens to the soft recoil of every wave, the wind searching for trees to disquiet.

She remembers a tree. A towering maple in a grove of memories. She watches through blurry 17-year-old eyes as a single golden leaf falls. Glorious and graceful, it descends to land upon a turn of black soil.

He would be sixty today, she whispers to the wind.

The gulls are silent. Listening.

She has lived a good life. She has loved long and well, raised three children, sent them wise and confident into the adventure of figuring it all out. And she has been a faithful wife for half a century. She takes a deep, rasping breath. Her husband will be waking soon. She will bring him breakfast in bed. He will try to remember her name.

It is time to forgive herself.

She prays for a touch on her arm that speaks grace. When it does not come, she begins to raise her head, feeling every one of her years in aching joints. The sun mimics her movements, rising slowly. She opens her eyes just as the sun breaks the line on the horizon.


She has seen hundreds of suns rise. But this one is different.

This one sees her.
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