With two minutes to go Rudy walked to where the water swirled around his ankles. His custom Bondeno dress shoes were arranged on the beach high above where the water could reach at this tide. His socks were folded and deposited in the right shoe, his silk tie rolled and neatly tucked away in the left. He’d had to roll the legs of his Balani trousers to his knees. He didn’t like it but there had been no time to change. It would be worth it.
He turned the urn in his hands, brushing the sand from the finely polished bronze surface. In a matter of seconds the weight on him would be just as easily swept away. Had he considered it, he might have put the ashes in a cookie jar, an inside joke with himself, for the symmetry of it.
Here at the moment of truth, he realized he hadn’t prepared any words for the occasion. Not that any were warranted. Except for the impending relief, he felt no emotion at what he aimed to do.
Still, a quick eulogy could aid in the catharsis.
How about, ‘So long, you old bastard’. Short and to the point.
Or maybe, ‘This is too good for you, prick’. It had a nice ring.
The ever-useful, ‘See you in Hell’, came to mind, though the idea of seeing his father again in any circumstance or location was so distasteful that he discarded the option and decided to say nothing at all. He’d focus all his senses on the release of the curse.
A wave broke, surging around his shins until gravity stopped its progress. The receding water sucked the sand from under his feet, pulling him off balance. He took a step back to steady himself and felt the stab of something sharp drive into the flesh of his right heel. When he jerked his foot up, blood dripped onto the wet sand.
He retreated a few steps up the beach and knelt, rolling his ankle to inspect the wound. A deep puncture in the center of his heel pad issued blood in a steady stream. A slim shard of amber glass protruded from it, a fragment of beer bottle tossed in the water by some asshole. At least Rudy came with honorable intent. The only things he meant to discard on the beach were an old man’s ashes and his own demons, neither of which would cause the next beach walker the slightest concern.
Rudy shifted the urn to the crook of his elbow and pulled out the shard. Blood poured from the spot like molten plastic. He’d just have to bleed. The tiny pixelated sweep second hand on his phone’s clock icon told him he had twenty-five seconds. He twisted the lid off the urn to break the wax seal and tossed the lid higher on the beach.
Twenty seconds. Slipping his fingers inside the lip of the container, his thumb outside, he clamped it in one hand so he could hold his phone with the other to track time exactly. He was vaguely aware of his father’s dust under his fingertips.
Fifteen seconds. Rudy took a few steps lower on the beach, into the ankle deep water of the wash zone. He’d envisioned wading knee deep. Time wouldn’t allow that. These few inches, where the waves died, where everything died, would do.
Had he been listening he might have heard the footfalls coming from behind, the steady splashes in the shallow wash. He was far too engrossed in his task to notice.
Ten seconds. Nine. Eight. Sev—
It struck him solidly between his shoulder blades and sent him sprawling. Instinctively, he reached out, opening his hands to break his fall. The urn tumbled from his grasp, rotating end over end with enough speed to release the contents in a pinwheel of dust, ash and bits of bone.
He landed on hands and knees, aware that a figure brushed past overhead, out of control, arms and legs flailing. Rudy didn’t see the body land. He was intent on the urn, already spilling half its contents into the thin layer of water.
Before he could move to scoop it up a larger wave broke, sending a thick sheet of water sliding up the beach and over it. He scrambled on all fours feeling about in the slurry made by the sand and retreating water, soaking his suit up to his elbows and hips. His knee found a flat object which, judging by his empty hands, was his phone. The urn rolled in the aftermath, completely submerged, tumbling on the inundated beach. Feeling for his phone with one hand, he managed to lunge onto the urn, recovering it like a fumbled football before the receding wave pulled it out. He drew himself to his knees, hugging the urn to his chest, peering into the water sloshing inside. The ashes were gone. Rinsed clean.
What the hell had happened? Who had run into him? No. Stop. He’d deal with that later. Pay attention, he told himself. Take stock of anything that feels different. He’d anticipated a catharsis, a sense of the poison leaching out of his system in time with his committing the ashes to the water. But he felt no relief. To the contrary, his back ached where he’d been struck and he became aware of the same dull anger that had begun inside him all those years ago. And after all his preparations.
His mystery assailant still sprawled on the beach a dozen feet away. It was a woman. The female invader raised herself from the receding wave. Her eyes blinked open, so opaline blue they startled him.
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